Do This Instead of Building Your Own Project Race Car

by Will Lipovsky · 5 comments

project race car
For my twelfth birthday, my parents gave me a DVD of The Fast and the Furious. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I remember watching it over and over again, pausing to get a better look at the cool cars. The car that held my attention was Paul Walker’s Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Once I turned 16, I bought one.

One reason the 2nd generation Eclipse is such an alluring car is because of its performance capabilities. The turbo models come with 210 horsepower from the factory, which is nice but it’s capable of 1,000+ horsepower. The idea that you can buy something and figure out how to unlock its full potential is a gearhead’s dream come true. It’s a gift the Car God’s left for us to unwrap.

Still, modifying cars is expensive. The most obvious cost is the price of all the go-fast parts: intake, exhaust, suspension, dataloggers, clutches, built transmissions, built engines, turbos, superchargers, nitrous oxide, I could keep going.

Furthermore, what about your time? To me, that’s the biggest reason not to own a project car. Modifying a car takes FAR MORE TIME than we always think. Engineers spend years designing the car. We can’t just go ripping into it and expect everything to work out right away. Plus, the value of the car doesn’t increase in proportion to the amount of money you put in. Rather, in most cases, the value declines once a car is modified.

With the cost of parts, devaluation of the machine and time – tinkering with cars could really be a terrible financial decision. When we’re young, we should focus on building resumes, saving for college and doing things that add long-term value to life.

Ask yourself, “Why does the idea of modifying cars intrigue me?” Is it because you like taking things apart and putting them back together? Is it because you like tuning cars? What part of the process appeals to you most?

Get the same sensation by doing something that’s more productive. Maybe driving isn’t what you enjoy, rather, it’s the process of perfectly tuning a car. Program other things. Make a business of it. Here are some things to focus on instead:

1. Get Obsessed with OEM

This is me. It’s hard to find ‘tuner cars’ that are stock. This makes a stock car more rare than a modified one. That’s alluring to me. The car will actually go up in value over time as well. If you like wrenching on a car, make sure your OEM car is well maintained and fixed quickly. That’s enough wrenching to keep me happy.

2. Buy a Car with Previous Upgrades

If you put a $1,000 exhaust on a $1,000 car, the price of the car doesn’t double. Let someone else take that hit. Buying modified is always cheaper than doing things yourself. Just make sure the mods were done properly.

3. Buy a Car That Hates Performance Upgrades

If you buy a car that doesn’t respond well to performance upgrades, you’ll be disincentivized to modify it.

4. Focus on the Bigger Picture

Think of your past cars. Were they good purchases? Are there better uses of your money? Do you want a house? Do you want to become wealthy? Make those your goals. They are more worthwhile than a fast car for most people.

Final Thoughts

Heavily modifying a car just isn’t worth the financial calamity – not for me. If you can rationalize it, that’s up to you.

I still love cars to death – I’m just focused on maintaining my current Eclipse and repairing it myself when parts wear out. It’s a nice medium between never working on a car and having a project car nightmare.

What do you think of spending money modifying a car? Have you ever wanted to own a souped-up car?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • LeisureFreak Tommy says:

    I’m a car freak. I love cars. All cool rides. I have to agree with you on the performance issue. If you don’t have unlimited funds then it is just an expensive mindset to get into. The trouble with Wanting to have the fastest is there will always someone with more money or the latest that is faster. I believe keep close to OEM and only do tasteful modifications that I love, not try to outdo or compete with other people. My ride is a 1999 FRC Corvette. Limited production run and the precursor to the Z06. Bought March 2009 and still rocking my world when I get behind the wheel. Mods- Blackwing intake (was already on the car when bought) and GM OEM Z06 Titanium Exhaust. The Z06 guys would remove their OEM exhaust for aftermarket and their OEM was a total upgrade for me on the cheap. My tip. If you live in a cold weather area then buy in the winter. Performance/Hot Rod cars are usually cheaper then.

  • Grinch says:

    Good points. Maybe that is why most Corvettes I see are driven by white-haired guys. There are plenty of affordable options today. I believe we are in the golden age of performance, when a stock Cadillac can set records at Nurburgring and turbos are as common as pickup trucks. But the last ever rear wheel drive manual transmission V8 sedan dies next year, the Chevy SS. I got mine this year.

    • David @ says:

      Heh. Don’t forget that most people can’t afford a Corvette (both for financial and practical reasons) until they are older too 🙂

      And good for you to have bought a manual transmission. Pretty soon they’ll all be gone!

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