It’s said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step, and applying that same logic, a restoration of 1,000 parts begins with the removal of the first rusted fastener (or, perhaps, the spraying of a penetrating oil to later accomplish this goal). The point of either bit of wisdom is this: To complete a journey, or a restoration, first you must begin one.
It’s been a while since our last $5,000 Challenge, so this time around we’re featuring a range that includes easy projects, moderately challenging projects, and one that should be tackled by a patient expert only, preferably with a passion for (and understanding of) vintage Mopars. To simplify things, we’re listing these projects in order of difficulty, from beginner to expert; which one would you choose to begin your classic car restoration journey?
Mercury’s sixth-generation Cougar debuted in 1983 with a surprise: The sportiest XR7 model packed a four-cylinder turbocharged engine beneath the hood instead of a V-8, and row-your-own gears were standard. Like it’s Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe cousin, the Cougar boasted a blend of comfort, nimble handling and reasonable performance, at least by period standards. Today, the car’s nothchback styling stands out, and this five-speed-manual example appears to need little more than a good detailing to prepare for the upcoming show season. We’d think about hunting down a set of original alloy wheels, but overall this looks to be an inexpensive and entertaining way to get into the collector car hobby. The asking price? $4,900.
Let’s be clear up front: The only thing Chevrolet-ish about this purpose-built ¾ scale race car is the shape of its body. In case you’ve never heard of the Legends series, it’s a nationwide amateur racing class designed to be safe and affordable, and may well be the most cost-effective way to dip one’s toes into the motorsport waters. Though not street legal, Legends cars are allowed in SCCA Solo autocross competition as well, giving owners another outlet for competition. Power comes from a 1250cc Yamaha motorcycle engine, sealed to prevent unauthorized modifications, and the car’s 132 horsepower is “more than sufficient” given its 1,300 pound weight (with driver). This example appears to be in good overall condition, so we’d check the dates on the driver’s harness and change if needed, clean and re-oil the air cleaners, then go racing. The asking price? $4,900.
Old pickups continue to grow in popularity, and both auctions and car shows tend to be jam-packed with over-restored, better-than-new examples. Pickups were meant for work, though, and no one is going to use a freshly restored vintage model to haul lumber or gravel. This Apache, on the other hand, would likely take to such tasks without complaint, once it’s gone through to ensure the mechanicals are in good working order. On the other hand, this truck looks to be a solid candidate for a full restoration, and one that could still be driven on weekends as the work progresses. The asking price? $4,599.
Volkswagen Beetles are polarizing automobiles, with an equal number of fans and detractors. From a mechanical perspective, they’re about as simple as an automobile gets, and can be disassembled with little more than hand tools and patience. Restoration parts abound, thanks to the model’s ongoing popularity, and there’s no shortage of “how to” repair guides available, making a Beetle project safe for even beginning enthusiasts. With Type 1 prices on the upswing, this example could prove to be a sound investment as long as most of the restorative works is done in-house. The asking price? $2,800.
We can’t remember the last time we came across a Dodge Royal Sierra station wagon at a car show, and that’s reason enough to campaign for this car’s salvation. Just 5,507 examples were built in the model’s debut year, and that total includes both six- and eight-passenger variants. That makes this a rare car, but bringing it back to life won’t be an easy project. Any needed replacement panels will likely need to be formed by hand, and it’s anyone’s guess as to the availability of trim bits, replacement upholstery and new carpeting. For the brave-enough Mopar fan, the end result will be a hemi-powered station wagon guaranteed to stand out at just about any car show entered, though that day will likely be a few years in the future. The asking price? $2,750.