If you've ever been anywhere near a car show in the last 30 years, then odds are good that the words "restored car" bring to mind visions of Shelby Mustangs, Yenko Camaros, and Hemi Whatevers. Yeah. Those are all very nice, but let's get real here: They're not exactly the best cars to restore.
A good car restoration project should first be a car worth restoring. It should be a piece of history worth preserving. Those classic cars all fit that bill, but a good project should also be one you can actually start and complete, preferably without mortgaging your soul. That means looking for cars that are fairly rare but still available, relatively cheap to buy without massive rust holes, and which share a lot of components with other, cheaper, and even more readily available cars. Preferably those in your local junkyard.This is our list of 25 cars that would make great restoration projects for gearheads who are also cash-conscious. Some are antique cars that would make for showpieces and others are more recent models you can still see on the streets. Some are investor cars, for sure, but most are just plain fun from wrench to road, and won't drive you homelessness in the process of getting them there.
1980s Buick T-Type
Grand Nationals have always been cool, but they're not getting any easier to come by, and those who own them rarely want to sell. However, the Grand National's "lesser" sibling the Turbo T can be just as awesome, as well as much cheaper to buy and to restore. Plus, parts tend to be more widely available and even come with a cool T-Top.
1969 to 1978 Datsun Z-Car
Classic Japanese sports cars are getting cooler and cooler every year. They don't get much more classic than the original Z-Car. Do a "visual" restoration on this one, using all new components where possible. And for your own sake, at least install a chassis stiffening brace under it. Z-Car chassis were wet noodles when they were new, and haven't gotten any better in the four decades since.
Chevrolet El Camino
El Caminos share every major mechanical and most trim components with other GM cars and restorable examples can sell for pretty cheap. If you like the styling, 1980s cars (in particular SS models) are especially worth looking into, since they're basically just GM A/G bodies with beds. That makes them super cheap and easy to restore, even if you do have to hunt down original trim bits.
Old Hot Rods
Same principle as old race cars, but even more so. The fun part about restoring old hot rods is that you don't have to buy any stock components. And that's always the most expensive part of any restoration. Re-creating someone's art - something built 40 years ago or more - is a great way to really put yourself back in the day and connect to your gearhead roots.