Without a plan, project car sits idle

If you have ever built a house, or a shed or a table … or attempted a home renovation of any kind (no, refilling the little spool in the bathroom doesn’t count), you know what kind of a planning disaster it all can be.

There are endless decisions to make and remake, often on the most seemingly insignificant details. There’s also the organizing and scheduling of the trades (you did hire someone to do this, right?) so that everything gets done well and on time. And you wouldn’t dream of beginning without a plan and a - cha-ching! – budget.

That same logic can be applied to any type of car “renovation” that’s on the go. The Wheelbase Media cadre of car guys found out the expensive-money-pit way with a certain 1970 Plymouth undergoing rebuilding and modernization.

You can partly blame it on technology, or more likely on the Ooooo-I’ve-just-gotta-have-the-latest-and-greatest syndrome. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s a real medical condition.

Fifteen years ago, the car would have most likely been restored with minor upgrades for safety and some more power. There was actually not much else you could do to the car at the time because no decent technology was available. “Just spray cans, a wire bush for your drill and Bondo, that’s all you had,” editor Jeff Melnychuk says.

Today, there’s so much that can be done, from swapping in a modern fuel-injected engine to modern suspension and the best electronics. There’s plenty of support from companies to do it. Sure, you can still go the restoration route, but I have to say it’s really tempting to make an older vehicle more mechanically modern for the purposes of actually driving it, unless there’s a good reason for leaving it alone.

And that’s why you need to keep a sharp pencil, definite plan, budget and the willpower – editor Jeff’s fatal flaw - to stick to it. If you’re trying to put the best technology available into the vehicle, you’ll continually be rebuying components as new technology becomes available, especially if your project is going to take a few years as ours has. It can be never-ending and wallet-busting. That’s right, we’re reusing a pair of old Spanx as the coffee filter at work.

As more technology became available, the Plymouth was to receive updated front and rear suspensions and four-wheel disc brakes to make it safer. The guys put together a good engine shifted by a stock-style three-speed automatic transmission.

There was no real plan, I’m told, as the car was viewed as a work in progress that would be driven with new equipment added along the way. The only trouble is that the car was getting nowhere as the brakes were replaced three times with bigger, better and more capable parts as they became available (note to self: keep editor Jeff off eBay).

It gets worse. The front suspension was completely replaced – twice – with progressively better equipment. The rear suspension began with heavy-duty leaf springs, then lightweight composite (fiberglass) leaf springs, then a complete remake as a modern setup with no leaf springs at all.

Remember that decent engine? Sold it. A 1,000-horsepower fuel-injected and supercharged V-8 was eventually built. Ahem, fellas, have you all gone completely mad?

Nope. They became caught in the trap of following technology, rather than making a plan and sticking to it.

After finishing two other project cars that were begun well after the Plymouth, we had a painfully long meeting about why this particular ride was taking forever and costing so much.

We lacked a goal, a budget and a completion date; the point being that we would never build a house this way or no one would ever, ever, ever get to live in it.

I would venture this is the reason many projects are never finished and eventually wind up on eBay – they’re considered money pits. And we can see why.

After three years, our project Plymouth had cost us $70,000 with just two-thirds of that money winding up in the car and the whole thing looking exactly as it did several years ago: like a half-finished project car.

So, there was much regrouping and a goal was chosen: stockish looks and supercar performance. Hopefully it will get there without having to replace anything else. There’s even a concept drawing, very detailed parts lists, and I have to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

There’s a budget and no one (not even the boss) was allowed to change anything unless it was cheaper and it hadn’t already be purchased. So far, so good.

The car is well on its way with real progress and completion set for July of this year.

The moral? If you have a project at home that needs anything from a little work to a complete overhaul, have a goal, budget and time line. They’ll save you a lot of pain you’ll be driving your machine around instead of growing frustrated (and broke) and selling it as an incomplete project to someone who really knows how to get the job done.

You can email Rhonda by logging on to www.wheelbasemedia.com and clicking the contact link. Wheelbase Media is a worldwide provider of automotive news and feature stories.

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