Good Project Cars for Beginners

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If you’re a hardcore auto enthusiast, aka, a “gearhead,” you’ve probably thought about starting a project car. With project cars, the idea is usually to rebuild from the ground up. As such, some may view this automotive pastime as a potential drain of time and money. But for real enthusiasts, every fix and modification gives them an invaluable sense of achievement that make all the investment worth it.

The good news is that working on a project car doesn’t have to be too expensive or complicated. Good project cars for beginners should ideally be at a manageable level. Meaning, the project should cost little, must be easy to execute, and has the needed replacement parts readily available.

Moreover, newbies should also keep in mind considerations like “How much money am I willing to spend?” and “How far will I go to remedy the existing problems?”

Now, to help you with your journey in finding your first project car, here’s a list of the most affordable, most reliable, and easiest cars to restore:

Scion xB (2004–2006)

The price range of this relatively agile vehicle is around $7,000-$10,000. However, even with the price tag, the Scion xB is still a popular option for people who like engines that can be easily boosted. The car is also known for its unique visual appeal and roomy interior. This urban cruiser is usually modified using body kits, billet grilles, and lowering coils.

2004 Scion xB
2004 Scion xB 5 | Source: zombiedrive.com

Lexus SC 300 (1992–1996)

Next in line is the Lexus SC 300. Price range: around $3,000 – $7,000. If you’re looking for the most bang-for-your-buck model years, consider those between 1992 and 1996. The SC 300 is well-liked for its engine bay because it is ideal for a turbocharged Supra powertrain. Aftermarket support for the Lexus SC 300 is also strong, which is why it remains a favorite project car among restoration newbies.

Lexus SC300
1995 Lexus SC 300 | Source: bestluxurycars.us

Nissan 240SX (1989–1998)

If you are into drifting, this sports coupe is for you. It is no doubt the perfect project for its price range of $1,200-$5,000. It’s like getting a high-performance car at a lower cost. Many have fallen in love with this old Nissan model because of its manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive configuration.

Nissan 240SX
1988 Nissan 240SX 7 | Source: radkamaric.com

Mazda Miata (1990–1997)

One of the best project cars under 5k is this classic Japanese vehicle. The Mazda Miata, in terms of affordability and fun, is a definite champion for a majority of car enthusiasts. This sports car is known for its handling prowess, making it a popular vehicle for race platforms. When it comes to the model year, many restorers opt for the 1994 model because of its larger engine, brakes, and wheels. Another reason for the car’s popularity in project car circles is its extensive aftermarket following.

Mazda Miata
1994 Mazda Miata | Source: mycarboard.com

Honda Civic (any generation)

A lot of car experts, car enthusiasts, and automotive writers are claiming the Honda Civic as the best first project car for anyone whose budget is around (or under) $5,000k. It has been crowned as the cheapest, most reliable, and highest-revving vehicle for a project car. With its lightweight chassis and bottomless engine swap options, the Honda Civic is regarded as a car of endless customization possibilities. If you’re looking for a model that can provide plenty of value, go for the CRX (1988-1991) or the EG (1992-1995).

Another great thing about the Honda Civic is the availability of aftermarket parts compatible to it: finding parts is never an issue and modification options are innumerable. Just look at how wide the selection of Honda Civic parts and accessories is at CarParts.com: https://bit.ly/3eZ4SQU.

Honda Civic
1992-1995 Honda Civic | Source: en.wheelsage.org

Any other budget-friendly project cars we missed? Let us hear them in the comments section.

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