For many gearheads, “the perfect car” doesn’t exist. There’s always something to change and make better, whether it is a classic Camaro or an everyday Corolla. After taking on a project car, we share the belief that making the car on your own is an achievement of a lifetime. And that is where the real fun lies when working on a project car. Every time a highly tuned A80 Supra or a 240ZX passes us, it leaves us with the thoughts to make something like that. After all, what can be better than customizing the car according to our use?
Any car can be a project. But after all, we should consider specific parameters before choosing a project car. A great project car should be affordable, easy to work on, built like a tank, and able to take much more power than it originally featured.
This is why most of us would accept that tuner-friendly JDM cars make great project cars. However, what many gearheads overlook is just how many American cars also make ideal projects. Below is the list of five American cars that make the best projects and five that are not worth modifying.
10 Great Project: 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
The Chevy Cobalt SS is an everyday car with lots of performance to offer. It fulfills all the needs of a commuter and provides a fun driving experience. It might not look appealing, but it can compete with a Mustang if adequately tuned. Cobalt SS models are also moderately priced on the used market, and you can expect anything but less than $8,000.
Apart from this, there are tons of mods available for the car, from body kits to performance upgrades. And the best part is, everything is so affordable. This makes it one of the best project cars you can work on.
9 Great Project: 1994-2004 Ford Mustang SN95
The Ford Mustang SN95 debuted in 1994 and is the 4th generation mustang made using Ford’s Fox Body chassis. SN95 stands for Specialty/sporty North American project #95. The New Edge design referred to a more modern-looking Mustang SN95 and, more powerful too.
The SN95 came with a variety of engines offered, not to mention the fair prices on the resale market add to the ratings for a project car. Modifications are also available in a wide variety, making it even more worthy.
8 Great Project: 2008 Dodge Challenger
The Dodge Challenger needs no introduction. The current models are proper dragsters and not at all beginner-friendly. The Challenger is swift and can cover triple-digit speed in seconds. First debuting in 1969, the Challenger experienced a revival in 2008 and is still running strong and showing no signs of slowing down.
This is a proper American Muscle car gearheads crave when choosing a project car. You can easily find a used 2008 Challenger for around $15,000. Modifications are no problem for this one, either, as there are numerous upgrades available, from engine tuning to exterior and interior.
7 Great Project: 1979-1993 Ford Mustang Fox Body
The predecessor to the Mustang SN95, the Fox Body Ford Mustang debuted in 1979. Ford made the Fox Body chassis as one for all which serves 2-doors, 3-door, and 4-door designs. A variety of engines were offered ranging from a 2.3-liter inline-4 producing 88 hp to a 5-liter V8 producing up to 230 hp. However, what sets these apart is just how many aftermarket support they have.
Since it is old, it doesn’t come with many features and technologies, which leaves us the space to make it better. You can do almost anything with the Fox body, and it is happy to pack engines of even bigger sizes.
6 Great Project: 2000 Jeep Wrangler
Debuting in 1986, the Jeep Wrangler is a midsize SUV having DNAs of WW-II Jeep. The public offering of the Jeep Wrangler came with a flood because of its unique and distinctive design. Moreover, this SUV can go anywhere and is perfect for off-roading. It came with a 4.0-liter inline-six producing 181 hp and 222 lb-ft of torque.
The Wrangler is capable of having any mods you want to make on it. Apart from this, the parts’ availability is also abundant. The prices are comparatively modest as a result.
5 Best Left Alone: 1971-1980 Ford Pinto
The Ford Pinto was the first subcompact car offered by Ford in North America. They developed it in only 25 months instead of the regular 43-month cycle. Japanese-produced cars were a big hit during that time. So, the Pinto was one of the initiatives by Ford in the subcompact segment. The Pinto came with a lot of expectations but, unfortunately, had some flaws.
Notably, reports show that the Pinto caught fire multiple times when involved in a rear-end collision. This was because of the fuel tank placement at the rear end. Spending hard-earned money and making a project car just for it to catch fire isn’t worth it.
4 Best Left Alone: 2004-2008 Chrysler Crossfire
The Chrysler Crossfire was eye-catching, but at the same time, it failed to live up to enthusiasts’ expectations. The Crossfire is based on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK and shares almost 80% of its components. This makes the Crossfire a bit hard to maintain.
It also shares the same powerhouse as the Mercedes SLK320—a 3.2-liter V6 offering 215 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. Though it seemed to be fun to drive, it made little sense to pay the Mercedes-level price for the maintenance. Thus, the Chrysler Crossfire might not be a perfect fit for a project car.
3 Best Left Alone: 1975 Chevrolet Monza
The Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfire all shared platforms with the Chevrolet Monza. Debuted in 1975, the Monza had faced a lot of troubles before even its launch. The initial offering by Chevy was a rotary engine which they had to dump because of the emission norms and high fuel consumption.
But the new V8 powerhouse was also not engaging enough thanks to the emission norms. It is tough to find, which is why the modifications to this car can also be a bit of a hassle. No doubt we can custom-make the parts, but for a project car, it fails to keep the price affordable.
2 Best Left Alone: 1997-2002 Plymouth Prowler
The design of the Plymouth prowler is very subjective. The Hot rod design language from the 1930s is what Plymouth wanted and offered the Prowler. It complied with all the modern features like airbags, keyless entry, power windows, A/C, etc.; however, it was not at all fun to drive. The V6 powerhouse under the hood could produce about 250 hp and didn’t come with a manual gearbox option.
Since Plymouth’s withdrawal from the market in 2001, it has become really hard to find any support from the company. The modifications can be either visual or tweaking the engine a bit. Because of its very different design language, it is really hard to even find the counterparts of its fit.
1 Best Left Alone: 2004 Chevrolet SSR
Some cars make you wonder what on earth the given design brief for the car was? One such example from the early 2000s was the SSR. One can argue that it was a response to the likes of the Chrysler PT cruiser or the Plymouth Prowler. But the sales figures of those cars do beg the question: Was another one of the same kind ever needed in the first place?
Apart from the funky looks, the SSR came with a lackluster 5.3-Liter LM4 V8 engine and a 4L60-E automatic 4-speed. Chevy picked this combo from a midsize SUV. It’s got a plethora of problems, including but not limited to overheating, multiple electrical gremlins, exhaust troubles, a very shoddy interior, and transmission failures. Any amateur mechanic should shy away from picking one of these as a project car.