Hooniverse Asks: Have you ever spent too much money on a project car?

Having a project vehicle that you truly enjoy driving is a wonderful thing. Case in point; my 1991 Mitsubishi Montero. It’s a joy to drive. Even though it’s slow as dirt. It can go anywhere. I love how it looks. And now I’ve just recently upgraded it with much better suspension.

But am I putting too much into this thing?

I know already that the answer is yes. Still, I don’t see myself selling this one anytime soon. This Montero is going to stick around for a bit, so I should make it as enjoyable as possible, right? Certainly there’s a limit to this. Or at least there should be, considering I’m not some wealthy dude. There are no aspirations of turning this into some kind of Icon-like build. I want to be able to beat on my Montero, and have it respond with a smile. And so far it’s doing just that.

That also means a $3,500 truck is no longer a $3,500 truck. At least on paper.

Do you have any stories of spending too much on a project car? Share your adventures in the comments below.

47 Comments

    1. Sounds like a couple of old guys I heard talking at an historic race meeting… “Racing still costs the same as it used to back in the 60’s. I spent all my money on it then, and I spend all my money on it now”

      1. Well, y’know what they say — the best way to make a small fortune racing…is to start with a large fortune.

  1. Dude. It’s an unwritten rule of project cars that you never add up how much money you spent on the project car.

    I’ve definitely spent more than $3,000 on my Justy (including purchase price, thank christ). I don’t want to know how close I am to $4,000, or if I’m past it. On its best day, that car is probably worth $2,500.

    1. I would disagree on that. Ignorance doesn’t change anything in real terms. As a sociologist, I suppose I am way too far on the opposite end; my Excel files document every expense, autocorrected for a presumed sales price, then spitting out a price for every kilometer driven.

      Honestly, I don’t know anyone who has spend “just the right amount” of money on a project car – otherwise, it’s not really a project – and those who say they are way in the green have often fooled themselves or the next owner.

      1. I don’t write it down, because in my wife’s estimation, any amount of money spent on a project car is wasted. She’ll come back from the mall after spending $400 (claiming she “saved” $100 because there was a sale), but give me hell if she sees I’ve ordered a $100 part just to keep my car on the road.

        1. We’ve got three bank accounts between us – ours, hers, and mine. Problem solved. That said, you already know that I haven’t had a project myself for years, rather treating our dailies as projects. Which, in turn, is strangely positive for those three bank accounts…

          1. My sister and her husband divide their accounts as you do, and it seems to work well. It’s not difficult to see why disagreement about finances often contributes to divorce. Excluding what is shared in shelter and food, my “personal expenses” are low, which makes it even more obvious in the checkbook when try to invest in my neglected hobby. Compared to friends of mine who burn money in golf, luxury cars, clothing, weekend entertainment, “outings with the boys”, etc., I live pretty frugally, but unfortunately that argument doesn’t justify any allowance for car projects.

          2. This is probably beyond the scope of this forum, but these things are not that hard to find out of. People are different, of course, and have different approaches, but a friendly “let’s try this for a year” should be doable? If you disagree with some of her expenses, too, I suppose this would mean increased freedom for both of you. I blow most of my money on tools and travel, but I see how time accumulates a fair sum for this hobby to come back.

  2. Remember the TashInomi daily expenditure principle. It’s only too much money if you could have amused yourself similarly for less per day. We’re competitive with avid golfers on that measure I figure. Compared to helicopter skiing, yacht racing and fancy horse show people, we’re positively frugal.

    Just don’t ever try to restore a Corvette that needs body work that you can’t do yourself.

  3. No, I spend only ten times the purchase price, just like everyone else. That’s average. I’m normal, right?

      1. I have a couple vehicles with zero purchase prices. For that brief interval before I spent any other money on the project, the ratio, like the goal for the project, was undefined.

  4. After being bitten by the British car bug with my TR7, I found a basket case ’67 MGB to build. While the motor and transmission were sound, everything else was a mess: rusty bodywork, knockoff hubs, wire wheels, interior, brakes, suspension; you name it, it all needed attention. A dog-eared Moss Motors catalog was a constant presence on my toilet tank.

    On my first victory lap after getting it running, the relatively pristine factory aluminum hood flew open and bent itself all over the windshield frame. Enough to make a grown man cry.

    A quick estimate on the back of an envelope one day put me over $5K in parts and bodywork alone, and it still wasn’t done. Then divorce and loss of storage found me letting it go for the fire sale price of $600. My last memory of it all is running behind the buyer’s trailer to pile on more parts in boxes as he attempted to escape.

    I would have saved myself a lot of trouble by having a toasty bonfire fueled with hundred dollar bills instead. Or, I suppose I could have bought a boat.

    1. “Or, I suppose I could have bought a boat.”- Then had that bonfire on a raft. ..,. best quote I have ever heard was from a guy who owned a company i worked for. He bought a boat, it led to a larger boat (65 ft) which cost a large sum to for dock fees so he started to ponder a 2nd house to dock it. By this time his wife was involved, so the house grew. Got the house, the rehab cost so much and took so much time he couldn’t run the boat enough to justify keeping it so he sold it. Still has the house but now has a boat smaller than the original, about 19 feet. His line was “I had a 24 ft boat, should have kept it. It cost a million bucks to lose 6 ft.”

    2. I had two MG Midgets that were project cars. Both were non-runners. One was a ’76 and the other was a ’78. They arrived with two engines, twelves wheels and tires, boxes of parts and a lot of good will on my part. All for $1200. Which means I had no idea what I was doing. Every dollar I put into them was a loss. So naturally I sold them for a loss.
      I’ve owned a bunch of classics and several of them were Brits but these were the ones that I felt were the dumbest that I ever bought.

    3. Addendum: That was $5K in 90’s money. That’d be well over $8k now, more than enough to buy a nice used Miata. Sigh.

    1. Tomorrow, we’ll send our Camry to a shop to get a whole list of maintenance items done that I don’t want to touch (like oxygen sensor, dynamo belt etc.). We were quoted 800$, which is half the car’s value by now. You never come out on top with cars, even those that aren’t projects.

      1. Nope, and it shouldn’t be the goal. I see it as money spent to have fun. Some people pay hundreds of dollars to go watch sports in person. I don’t. I consider money spent on a project car in the same category though.

      2. On the other hand, I normally see it as: $800 is only equivalent to one or two car payments on a new car, which is what most other people spend every (other) month.

        1. Absolutely true. The per-kilometer-cost of this automobile is almost exactly half of what a new car would cost me here – and, to my mind, it provides more than half of the A-to-B-service of said new vehicle, which is what I need from it.

  5. I just pulled the valve cover off my E34’s M30 and its full of expensive looking glitter, so I’m definitely headed in the right direction.

    1. Ouch. Sorry to hear that. I adjusted the valves on my M30 a few months ago and relieved I didn’t see the same.

  6. Remember the Tanshanomi daily expenditure principle. It’s only too much money if you could have amused yourself similarly for less per day. We’re competitive with avid golfers on that measure I figure. Compared to helicopter skiing, yacht racing and fancy horse show people, we’re positively frugal.

    Just don’t ever try to restore a Corvette that needs body work that you can’t do yourself.

        1. I was thinking more about the wind noise from the refined aerodynamics of the Montero. I don’t think adding the snorkel air intake would change things much in that respect.

          1. Ah. Yes. It’s quite a brick.
            Actually I do have a sore spot re: the wind. My driver-side vent window. The latch to seal it shut is a bit loose, so it doesn’t quite pull it as flush as it should. Makes the cabin louder than it needs to be, and I need to look into how I might fix that.

          2. The olden days method was to use the back part if a match book between the latch and the window frame piece.

        2. I was a little surprised at how little noise the KO2s added to the minivan, especially considering I was going from a touring tire to an AT. They’re noticeable at highway speed, but not intrusive.
          The added unsprung weight, though, is significant– 15 lbs more at each corner. I need struts with more compression valving to improve the ride. The stock ones just can’t handle that extra mass.

    1. Nope. I don’t notice any noise from it at all. But now I’m going to listen more closely… likely hear something, and begin driving myself insane.

      1. Speaking of the Montero, when did you install the front skid plate? I don’t recall seeing it before now.

  7. the most expensive project car for me started out pretty reasonable. It was a 2005 Audi S4 with the V8 engine for $2k. The engine was in the trunk and I had to drag it out of a backyard by rope to free it from it’s spot before towing it back home. $25k and easily 3000hrs later, it’s still not running right…

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