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The Best Project Cars For Beginners And Expert Mechanics

Updated July 17, 2020 1.2k votes 142 voters 5.9k views30 items

It’s a life-changing moment when hit with the glorious epiphany that one is a gearhead. A revelation so powerful, it's reminiscent of falling in love for the first time. Eager greenhorns and n00bs may find themselves wanting to jump headfirst into full-on project cars. That enthusiasm is wonderful and will get you through the late nights, early mornings, blood, sweat, and tears that come with any car restoration project. However, it’s prudent to plan ahead so as to set yourself up for success with starter project cars. One of the ways you can do this is by choosing good project cars for beginners that you can build fond memories with, over models that will give you nightmares. This list goes beyond just the top ten and has a great combination of fun, cool, and cheap project cars that will surely spark your interest.

The best, fun project cars for beginners are user-friendly, generally inexpensive, have easy-to-source parts, and an active community you can turn to for support and guidance. The model you ultimately choose will also depend upon your personal tastes, driving style, and budget. You might be looking for a drifter that won’t break the bank, a complete frame-off restoration, an off-road vehicle, or a customized daily driver. We’ve gathered the opinions of the internet’s most experienced gearheads to rate the best classic project cars and imports, awesome project muscle cars and trucks, and best first project cars for those just starting their wrenching journey.

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    1st-5th Gen Toyota Corolla

    Technically, just about any year Corolla makes a great project car for beginners. They can all be pulled apart with a simple set of metric tools, and come with user-friendly drivetrains - including the legendary 4AG motor in all its glorious variations. However, the models produced from 1966-1986 have the best body styles, and are easier to work on than more modern, computer laden models. This range of production years of course includes the legendary Levin and Trueno (AE86) series, and those classic Pony-car inspired beauties with fun details like fender-mounted mirrors. 

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  • The Miata is one of the greatest project cars for all levels, but n00bs especially benefit from it. For those craving a canyon carver, the simple layout, near perfect weight distribution, and fun factor make this model an ideal first project car. If you want to get extra crazy, you can build your very own “Monster Miata” by cutting into the firewall and shoving an 8 cylinder into the engine bay.

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  • Bimmer fans wax rhapsodic about all three of these models, and endlessly debate over which is the best project car. The E28 is the predecessor of the M5, the E30 revolutionized the 3 Series, and the E34 offers sedan and hatchback body styles as options. Regardless of which one you choose, these legendary BMWs offer user-friendly layouts with large aftermarket support. They are also low maintenance with relatively inexpensive parts, which makes them perfect for greenhorns looking to build their own ultimate driving machine.

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  • Most older Toyotas are excellent project cars for n00bs, and the first two generations of the MR2 are no exception. These platforms offer a variety of engine options from the factory that can be easily swapped for customization - choose to stay stock and keep it naturally aspirated, kick things up by going big-bore, or add forced induction via a turbocharger or supercharger. Plus, the 2nd gen has T-Tops if that’s your thing. MR2s are fun as hell to drive, easy to work on, and have a strong cult and aftermarket following. If you ever hit a road bump in your build journey, there are countless friendly forum members to provide support along the way.

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