Car Models

The Best Cars to Restore Without Going Bankrupt  

Richard Rowe
2.4k votes 410 voters 28.9k views 20 items

List Rules Vote up the car restoration projects that provide the most bang for your buck

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. 
Chevrolet El Camino
Chevrolet El Camino is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Cars to Restore Without Going Bankrupt
Photo: Useute/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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. 
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C3 Corvette
C3 Corvette is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Cars to Restore Without Going Bankrupt
Photo:  Sicnag/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
Most Corvettes older than this one are ridiculously expensive, and newer cars are boring. The C3 was a stunner in the days of disco, and it still is today. In fact, it was probably the last of the really striking Corvettes produced up until very recently. Fairly cheap to buy if you look for one in restorable condition, and they share almost every major mechanical component with contemporary Chevrolet vehicles. That makes C3s pretty cheap to restore. Just make sure to get a complete car with all the trim bits; those things will nickel-and-dime you to death. 
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Old Hot Rods
Old Hot Rods is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Cars to Restore Without Going Bankrupt
Photo:  Brian Hillegas/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
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. 
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1973 to 1986 Ford Pickup
1973 to 1986 Ford Pickup is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Cars to Restore Without Going Bankrupt
Photo:  sv1ambo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
If you're anywhere between 15 and 65 years old, you probably have some fond memories involving an old Ford pickup truck. While not the most technically desirable, 1973-later trucks are still pretty cheap, and 1986-earlier trucks predate fuel injection. And, of course, they share components with every Ford ever made. Just a great, fun restoration project that's hard to mess up, and will really stand out when painted and polished to better than new. 
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