Picking a project car is no easy task. There’s a lot to consider, such as budget, build goals, how easy it is to find parts, and how rare the car is, to begin with. Plus, wannabe project car owners will have to decide whether they’re willing to take on most of the work at home or whether they’ll be relying on a shop to do most of the heavy lifting for them.
Now, relying on a shop is always going to be the pricier option, and there are plenty of owners out there who wouldn’t want anyone else to touch their pride and joy anyway. So, the only option is a home build, but that comes with its own set of challenges. A good candidate for a home build needs to be easy to work on, have a thriving aftermarket, and be affordable to buy in the first place. Plus, it needs to look cool at the end of it. These ten cars tick all those boxes, and there’s enough variety here for almost any type of project car builder.
10 BMW M3 E46
The E36 and E46 are the two cheapest ways to own an M3 right now, and either make a great choice for a project. However, the E46 is a particularly attractive option, as it’s the newer of the two, so finding a decent condition example won’t be as difficult.
E46s come with plenty of power when they’re stock, but they’re easy to upgrade thanks to the wealth of aftermarket parts out there. They’re currently a favorite among the drift community, but they’d work just as well as a stripped-out track day toy or a slammed static.
9 Mini Cooper
Prices for classic Minis have shot through the roof in the past few years, so anyone wanting to acquire one as a project car is going to need a big wallet. However, they come with a unique, quirky character that other, cheaper options just can’t match.
A newer Mini is one of those cheaper options, but on cool factor alone, we’d have to choose the classic style. They originally found fame as world-beating rally cars, but there’s plenty of scope to transform them into retro track monsters too.
8 Honda Civic
They might come with more of a stereotype than most, but there’s little doubt that the Honda Civic is one of the easiest cars to work on at home. An unrivaled supply of aftermarket parts plus the large modding communities in the US and abroad make the Civic an ideal starter project.
It comes with the bonus of being a practical daily driver, that is unless it’s immediately slammed to the ground by its new owner. Even if it’s in static form though, the Civic remains one of the simplest cars to modify, and if it’s done right, it can look undeniably cool too.
7 Ford Bronco
Modifying a car isn’t all about ground-scraping street builds or race cars, as an off-road or overland build can look just as cool and open up a whole new world of adventure. For a classic SUV that’s easy to work on, it’s difficult to go wrong with a Bronco.
Since the new Bronco was debuted, prices for the older cars have increased a lot, but more high-mileage examples should still be within the reach of a lot of buyers. It’s a little more unique than, say, a Jeep Wrangler, but a Bronco still has that square-bodied retro look that makes it perfect for a modified off-road build.
6 VW Beetle
The Beetle, or Bug as it’s sometimes called, is one of the best-selling cars of all time, so finding a used example should be as easy as pie. The last Beetle rolled off the production line in Mexico in 2003, but there’s still plenty in active service around the world, and as a result, there are plenty of parts available.
Their evergreen popularity has ensured that there’s plenty of inspiration out there for almost any type of build, from a slammed beachside static to an off-road Bug. There’s very little you can’t modify with a Beetle, making it one of the most versatile platforms out there.
5 BMW 3 Series E30
If an M3 seems a bit too pricey, there’s always the option of a regular 3 Series. The E30 generation of the car is a perfect candidate, as it’s got that iconic retro look, but in the non-M form, it’s still fairly affordable to buy.
There’s such a good aftermarket available that, once a full body kit has been installed, most people won’t be able to tell a regular E30 apart from an E30 M3 anyway. Since those M3s are way out of budget for most buyers, a regular 3 Series is about the only affordable option.
4 Lexus LS400
They’re still a relatively left-field choice compared to some other JDM cars from the era, but a Lexus LS400 ticks all the right boxes for a very reasonable price. Fans of the big-body Japanese sedan look will find exactly what they’re looking for, and there’s an upgrade-ready V8 under the hood.
Adding stance seems to be the obvious choice here, especially since the car’s big proportions mean it doesn’t lend itself well to more athletic pursuits like track racing. However, tinker with that V8 enough and the LS400 could make for a very impressive street-racing sleeper build.
3 Ford Mustang
One of America’s favorite cars, the Ford Mustang is about the easiest performance car to buy used in the US. Any era of Mustang is ripe for customization, but the Foxbody cars are at a particular sweet spot right now in terms of price vs build options.
Parts are generally about as easy to come by as a Toyota Prius, except you’ll actually have fun driving the Mustang. Just try not to drive it into any crowds because, y’know, the stereotype is bad enough already.
2 Subaru WRX
Another favorite among younger, first-time project car owners, the Subaru WRX is both tough and easy to work on. It provides a higher level of off-road capability than most of its competition, but it’s still a great candidate to slam too.
Whether it’s a rally monster or a ground-scraping static, a WRX is an affordable and easy way to get into the world of modification. Much like the Civic, it’s tricky to make the Subaru stand out, but if it’s done right, it can look just as cool as anything else at a car show.
1 Mazda MX-5 Miata
JDM fans who want an easy car to work on at home could go for any number of options, but the most common choice is a Miata. Rock-bottom used prices ensure that almost anyone can pick up a Miata for peanuts, then modify it with any number of aftermarket parts.
Whether they opt for a high-end custom-made kit or just buy a wide body kit off eBay, there are so many options out there that almost every type of project car builder will be covered. Stance, drift, track, or street, no matter what an owner wants to do with their build, with a Miata they’ll be able to do it.
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