January 26, 2023

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

Rusty No More

Car people come in a few different types. Some like to buy complete, finished cars. They’re smart. Others, like me, like to buy projects because we like the challenge of building something. 

Those of us who like projects are optimists. We can see past rust, dents, holes, missing parts, and years of moss for the finished product that’s hiding underneath. And after some mental gymnastics, most of us have figured out how to justify the costs involved in bringing a basket-case back to life by considering our time spent to be entertainment rather than reimbursable labor. It almost makes sense. Almost.

Ok, maybe not.

But as the market moves, so too do our project cars. Even the rough cars tend to go up in value with the shiny examples at auction, and it’s a problem. Especially when one is presented with “opportunities.” 

Just this past week, I was over at my dad’s house for dinner when he mentioned a longtime friend who is looking to sell off a piece of property. On the property are several dozen old cars and trucks, all buried in blackberry bushes and varied hunks of scrap, and all of which need to go. I didn’t think much of it until he mentioned “64 Impala” and “68 GTO.”

“…and he’s got no time to deal with auctions, Facebook, Craigslist or the swap meet.”

Next thing I know, I’m stomping down blackberry bushes in my Converse to get a good look.

As I’ve mentioned, the market touches all examples. Linkage #008, which is at the press now, talks a lot about how the top end of the market is impacted by the middle market of muscle, with Impalas and GTOs bringing hefty pricing across the marketplace. Interest in cars like these hasn’t been this high in a few years.

“One guy offered $300 for the Impala,” said the owner of the ’64. “Another offered $500 for both cars. One guy wanted to buy the GTO just for its nuts and bolts, so he could build one that was 100% correct down the fasteners. But he wouldn’t take the whole thing.”

As I looked around the Impala, I noted it had solid rockers, solid quarters, no rust at all in the roof or around the rear glass, and maybe most surprising, no rust in the lower front fenders — a place where all GM products of the era tend to get thin. But the floors? They were shot. Completely rusted through. The car had at one point been in contact with the ground, which didn’t seem to hurt the frame, but was rough on everything else. Nothing short of a full floor replacement would have solved it.

Cue In-the-head math: Floors are about $1,200 from Classic Industries. And I’d have to weld them in, which might be fun. Wait, no, that’s work… 

All that said, it needed a bunch of other things, too. Some kids had broken a bunch of the glass, and the interior was shot as well. But other than the floors, this was a viable project — and well worth the sub-$1,000 price that would have likely bought it. Still, it’s a non-SS 283 car without any special options.

That used to matter a lot more in terms of value than it does today.

The GTO was another story. It’s a legit Goat, complete with the proper Endura bumper and hide-away headlights. But there’s no motor, no transmission, and only part of a rear axle housing inside the car. No metal is straight, and there’s rust in the quarters and floors. That one would require just about every panel in reproduction steel — but it’s probably worth it, as it’s a real GTO.

Cue in-the-head reasoning: These both have titles, and the swap meet is in April. They’d do well out there, and I’d just have to find space for them until… Wait, no, what will my wife say? And the neighbors?

Now, sentiment tends to lag behind market movements, both from buyers and sellers. Pinning a number on either car is a challenge, as there’s a lot of work involved to make them right. Still, if you subscribe to the notion that all markets are connected, they’re worth more today than they were six months ago, and that’s a problem when it comes to seriously cheap cars that you might have once overlooked because they were “too far gone.”

The voice in my head didn’t win this time. I didn’t throw any numbers out on either car before I left, and my trailer is still sitting empty as I write this. But a constant barrage of $2k and $3k Impala projects on social media has been gnawing away at my better judgement. I know both cars are still sitting there.  

Cue bad decisions creeping up again: I could clean them up a little and flip them. Pressure wash. Maybe not do any real work at all! 

Does anyone want to buy a GTO or Impala before I do? Asking for my wife.