Today we’ll be discussing how to build your very own, all-grown up, big-boy toy: the classic, high horse powered American automobile, affectionately known as the “muscle car,” “hot rod,” or “bad ass ride”.
I’ll pull some basic muscle car building pointers from my magic cap, describing some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past three years and $20,000 during the successful restoration of my 1969 Chevy Nova.
1. Do your homework! Read everything you can about the car/part/whatever. Talk to anyone and everyone you can. Ask every question possible. Write down everything. Order every parts catalogue or specific car magazine you can find (many are free online). Join discussion groups for your car. Homework is the most important thing you can do to assure you don’t waste your money or screw something up really bad!
2. Set your budget. One of the first things to consider is how much money you have, and how much you can afford to dump into your project in the very near future. Don’t underestimate this. For example, let’s consider my ’69 Nova, which definitely fell under the “Crap” heading. It was a “roller”?no engine, a dead TH-350 transmission, no heater controls, ugly wheels that stayed on the axle ends, cracked and broken glass, and the rear springs that used to be the back seat.
However, it did have a new B&M four-speed ratchet shifter, little rust, and new weather stripping. That’s what $2,000 gets ya, bubba. Double that if you want a Crap Chevelle. I spent the first day shop-vacuuming pounds of mice turds from the floor pans.
3. Where will you work on it? I was lucky enough to have access to a warehouse/shop for the engine and transmission install, but when I got back to the ’Boro, I had to work in the backyard. If you are lucky enough to have a garage and a significant other that will let you clutter the space with your car junk, give thanks that you won’t have to put your tools up in the middle of a job because of rain or darkness.
4. Work from the inside out! 5 Large on a show quality, custom paint job and one-off custom wheels DO NOT a rod make. Spend your hard earned bucks on the stuff that makes it go vrrruumm! Bubba, I’m talkin’ engine and transmission. If possible, buy a crate engine (brand spankin’ new, tested and from the factory to the dealer to your door?free wooden crate included!
The Nova got one for under $7,000, and it even has pretty shiny chrome and a nice red distributor cap! Then, if you are really ballsy, rebuild the tranny yourself with a race/street package?they are about $400, or you can pay someone about $1,000 if you supply an old tranny.
Don’t be a poseur! Looks don’t do nuthin’ but stroke your ego. The cash and work was worth it when I smoked my first yuppie in a Porsche Boxster. The look on his slack, pale face and the tears welling in his pretty blue eyes was priceless, cuz he knew my tricolor Crap-lookin’ Nova didn’t cost no stinkin’ $60,000. Suckers.
5. Details. The mere mention of this part of a rebuild causes my skin to redden and dampen, the veins in my forehead and neck to protrude, my teeth grind like broken metal gears, and my bottom lip quiver in an overwhelming flood of fury. Before I tirade, raging through pages and pages of vicious obscenity, let me say this: these are the details, large and definitely small, that will drive you nuts replacing or fixing, and will, in the end, cost more than your fancy engine and tranny did. This is what separates the men from the boys (or women from the girls, if you please). This is the money where your mouth is. For my interior example, my [profanity] heater control assembly, you know, the little sliding levers were $300, and they are reproductions. For the inside door, nice new front and rear panels will run you $450 [profanity] dollars, and that doesn’t include [profanity] oversized shipping. And after several infuriating days spent replacing the [profanity] headliner, you still must consider the seat recovers, carpet, floor mats, custom door handles, locks, seat belts, steering wheel, pedal pads, lighting fixtures, weather stripping, and the obligatory $240 [profanity] dash pad. You just spent another $2,000+.
6. All that other stuff. Oh yea, for those hipsters out there, and you know who you are, you get to purchase a cool new high-fidelity audio system. Tack on another Large, plus.
7. You get what you pay for. When it comes to body work and paint. I’ll pull this out of the magic hint hat: You get what you pay for. Cheap = Crap, Expensive = Excellent. You get the idea.
8. Wheels and tires. Beside paint, this is the most important and frustrating decision you will make. Choose wisely, young Padawan apprentice, because you are going to be spending many hours cleaning and polishing these roundies. Oh yea, don’t forget about shiny new bumpers, door handles, emblem replacements, chrome stripping, mirrors, etc., and the outside biggie?the glass. Sure, your front glass may be a cheapie, perhaps $150, but that rear glass is a real kick in the teeth. I just had the pain of shelling out $400 for a new one, but, oh man, does it look sweet.
Time consuming, expensive, but blingy enough to impress your friends and others.
9. Tips and tricks: Here are a few intangibles you must know in order to build the ride of your dreams:
(A) Your friends will deceive you. They will tell you ways to do things on the cheap, and how this cheapness equals Excellent. Beware, these people are lying to you.
(B) Stick with your gut. People will try to persuade you based on their opinions. This is great if they learned from personal experience, but otherwise they are blowing smoke. Decide for yourself. It’s your car.
(C) Be very, very patient. If you rush ANY aspect of building a car, one of several things will invariably happen:
1.) You will break something. 2.) You will be very disappointed. 3.) You will luck out and everything will be fine. [Note: 1 or 2 will happen 95% of the time.]
Of course you want a car that shoves you back in the seat like a jet when you mash the go-juice, flooding your veins with sweet adrenaline. And sure you want one that is so visually stunning you receive a comment or two each time you drive it to get a burger. And not to mention the overwhelming pride every time you lay eyes on your baby, knowing that it was your hands that bled on it, your sweat and tears that fell because of it, and lots and lots of your cash that went into creating such a rolling work of art.
If you have a vision, do your homework, and are patient, you can build the sweet American muscle car of your dreams.