Hooniverse Asks- What Was Your First Car Project?

When I bought my first car – a Chevy Corvair – I couldn’t even drive it home as I was but 15 at the time. That was okay as it was in such rough shape that it didn’t make it all the way home, needing to be pushed the final few blocks. Thanks to that pancake six’s mechanical issues demanding that I learn first-hand how to fix them, and as my driving was age-restricted to my Honda bike, I could take my time in getting the ‘vair back on the road.
That was my first car project, and somehow it infected me with the crap-car virus for years to follow as I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time over the next decade under the hoods of a lot of heavily worn cars. But I still remember most vividly lying beneath the ass of that Chevy, staring up at its crank, cleaning what seemed to be the entire La Brea Tar Pits from its pan, and eventually the success of getting it on the road.
But that kind of major work isn’t required to feel the same satisfaction, and just installing an aftermarket stereo can engender a warm sense of accomplishment. What about you, do you remember your first car project? Was it something grand in scope, or as simple as your first successful oil change? You know what they say, you’ll always remember your first.

Image source: [stripersonline.com]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

38 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- What Was Your First Car Project?”

  1. acarr260 Avatar

    My first car project for myself was pulling our old '82 F-250 out from behind the barn. Then we gave it a tune-up and checked on the brakes. It was my first car, and it was free, so I couldn't complain. It packed a non-original 351W that ran on 7 cylinders (after the tune-up). It lasted almost two months before a guy in a Camaro ran a stop sign in front of me, resulting in a bent frame.

  2. muthalovin Avatar

    1990 Dodge Daytona Shelby. My dad bought it new in '90, and it had its fair share of problems. I inherited it in '99, at the tender age of 17. The turbo would only partially boost, and my dad and I could never find the reason, so that was our project. I ended up throwing a rod the next year, and we replaced the motor with a motor from a Shadow. That motor also gave up the ghost after about 2 years. We rebuilt it, and sold it. It is still running around, all riced out. So sad.

  3. topdeadcentre Avatar

    My first car was a $75 1973 Pinto hatchback. It took $25 to get it running (the distributor cables and cap were missing), and I drove it for two years. I got most things working well, but it was horribly gutless, losing oomph on hills requiring panic downshifting and pissed off drivers behind me.
    Seeing pictures of the little four-banger engines in posts on Hooniverse make me nostalgic for 19-year-old me and mid-1980s Boston, but not at all for the cars themselves.

  4. tonyola Avatar

    My first "solo" project (besides helping Dad with the family cars) was fixing the rust on my newly-acquired but very well used 1965 Mustang convertible – also my first car. It was mostly at the base of the roof and along the bottoms of the rear fenders. The results weren't wonderful but they passed the 20-foot test.

  5. SSurfer321 Avatar

    My first car wasn't a looker, 85 faded grey Mustang 4cyl aod, but was mechanically sound. First up was a fresh coat of paint. I did all the prep work for my dad to squirt it for me.
    First car I started modding was a 96 Mustang 3.8L. Custom hood, front splitter, CAI, custom dual exhaust. Little did I know at the time that it needed to be reflashed/retuned to run properly due to the exhaust modifications. I also later found out that the 3.8L likes to eat intake gaskets. I found that out the hard way…twice. Took it to a shop for repairs each time. I traded it in not long after the 2nd gasket failure.
    I didn't really start doing all of my own work until I got the F150 in 2005. It's my baby and I don't trust anyone else to touch her. I guess having a shop repair my Mustang improperly left a bad taste in my mouth.

    1. muthalovin Avatar

      The biggest project that I ever did was replacing the motor in my '97 F-150. Water seeped in through some bad gaskets, and I crushed a piston on my drive home from college. I sold some property I had inherited to pay for the refurbished motor, and my dad and I set about pulling the destroyed motor out, and putting the new one in. That was a tremendous amount of work, but pretty damn fun.

  6. Froggmann_ Avatar

    1963 Thunderbird.
    <img src="http://i133.photobucket.com/albums/q53/Froggmann/Misc/Previous%20Cars/t-bird.jpg&quot; width=600 /img>
    Almost all of the cosmedics were done when I got her but the brakes were trashed. Then the PS pump went out, then the day of the LA Riots the water pump failed int eh most spectacular fashion I have ever seen, then the exhaust manifold gaskets went out, then the exhaust manifold gaskets went out, then the exhaust manifold gaskets went out, then the exhaust manifold gaskets went out, then I got a bunch of front end work done to her because she was eating tires, then on the way to the Pomona Swapmeet one of the tires lost tread and sent me into the wall on the 91.
    <img src="http://i133.photobucket.com/albums/q53/Froggmann/Misc/Previous%20Cars/birdwreck002.jpg&quot; width=600 /img>
    Regardless I want another.

    1. dculberson Avatar

      Beautiful car, too bad about the tire and accident. I love that body style of t-bird.

  7. lilwillie Avatar

    The first car project I ever did was help Dad take the old, rusted out box off his '76 Chevy truck and mount a Ford F-150 box in its place.
    The Cheford was born.

  8. engineerd Avatar

    My first car was a 1984 Mercury Topaz I bought from my dad for $400 the summer between high school and college. He had bought it new and put over 100,000 miles on it before I got it. It needed minimal work when I bought it, mostly a CV boot and joint. He paid for those repairs from his mechanic. The only major work I did to it was change the valve cover gasket and the hoses. A few years later it blew the steering rack seals and was leaking from the rear main seal. As I was poor and living in an apartment that strictly frowned on any sort of auto work, I donated it.

  9. OA5599 Avatar

    Probably my first big project was the timing chain on the family's Dodge custom van (bed in the back and shag carpet on the walls) when I was 16. I had a hard time getting the crank bolt out with a 1/2 HP air compressor and a cheapo impact wrench, but once somebody told me to use a long breaker bar and then bump the starter, things went pretty smoothly afterwards.
    The family was taking the van on a cross-country trip, and we had planned to leave at 5PM the day I finished up. Around 4, I had everything buttoned up, finished a fresh change of oil, and took a two block test drive. With no leaks and no leftover parts, I went inside for a quick shower, packed the luggage, and we left on schedule. For the first hour of the trip I had the doghouse off and the distributor bolt a little loose to set the timing by ear as I went down the road, then I bolted everything down and we continued the next 2500 miles of the trip trouble-free, and the timing chain was still good when my dad sold the van many years later.

  10. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Replacing the spark plug wires and distributor cap on Mom's '73 Bonneville when I was 14.
    Who would've guessed that getting the firing order wrong could actually break the timing chain?

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2, dude.

  11. CptSevere Avatar

    Before I joined the Army, I had a couple of bikes, and drove (abused) my Mom's cars. As soon as I got out of Basic, at Fort Stewart, GA, I got myself a $350.00 '56 Cadillac. It was a beater, of course, but it was a Cadillac and it was mine. I didn't know diddly about mechanics at that point, but I was learning on both the Caddy and the M113A2 APC that I was assigned to. We called the Caddy our off duty personnel carrier, and had some seriously great times with it (I put three guys in the trunk once and snuck them into the drive in theater when we were all broke). When I PCS'd to Italy, I wanted to drive it to Florida and park it at a buddy's shop, but the transmission fried. I didn't have the time or money to fix it as I was about to take a two week leave, so I gave it to a buddy who ended up wrecking it. It's a good thing that the stolen pyrotechnics I had stashed in the right fin didn't go off.

  12. faberferrum Avatar

    First project car was a 71 BMW 2800 CS. I bought it sight unseen, changed the oil ,and drove it around for a summer before discovering the floors were made of tar, rust, soundproofing and nothing else. It's currently halfway through the process of welding in new metal everywhere.

  13. buzzboy7 Avatar

    Soon after I bought my Beetle I started covering up the "drain holes" in the floorboards. Fiberglass all the way, FTW.
    <img src="http://img244.imageshack.us/img244/8019/dsc01836hn1.jpg"&gt;

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      So how's the water supposed to get out?!?

      1. ptschett Avatar

        [youtube 1qB0lb401ZU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qB0lb401ZU youtube]

      2. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

        Famous ads notwithstanding, the secret is not to ford streams with it.

      3. buzzboy7 Avatar

        Didn't think of that before hand. After a 5 hour drive through heavy rains I had to bail my floor pans out like it was a boat. I'd say a good 2-3" of water. If I did it again, I'd drill a hole somewhere.

  14. dukeisduke Avatar

    My first "project" car was a '64 Grand Prix that I bought for $395, that I bought from a guy that I later found out was considered a crook in local Pontiac circles. It had 178,000 miles, the base 389 4-bbl with the evil Roto-Hydramatic ("Slim Jim") transmission, power steering, brakes, and windows, and A/C, along with the factory 8-lug wheels. The thing smoked like there was no tomorrow, and as far as I got with it was replacing the steering gear with one from a '77 Trans Am (three turns lock-to-lock, baby!), putting on a set of radials (which later ended up on my '68 Bonneville), tuning it up, and removing the shag carpet (hey, this was 1980) that someone had laid over the original carpet.

  15. Fej Avatar

    1989 Honda Civic DX Hatch. 235k miles, had blown it's second or third headgasket, an automatic trannsmission on the verge of spewing its guts onto the pavement, and a swamp in the back. Original owners daughter was selling it, with all the paperwork back to '89, for $200. After listening to her talk about how she couldn't keep the car and just didn't want it to end up in the junkyard, I offered her $60 and she said deal without hesitation. I somehow managed to drive the damn thing home and set to work cleaning it up. Saying the interior was disgusting was an understatement, gutted the interior and had cleaned all the panels, took the carpet and floor mats to the carwash, and spent a few hours cleaning the seats. Mechanically, it was damn near a disaster. The "mechanic" that she had taken the car too had done horrid things to the cooling fan system. There were temperature sensors from RatShack everywhere, wires of varying colors running all over the place, a light switch from a house where the coin tray should have been controlling the fans, and I swear to the baby jeesus there were wires "soldered" together with what looked like blue jolly ranchers. I decided it was best just to ditch the whole mess, don't really have to have the fans where I live. While I was doing all this my parents were having some work done in the kitchen, and the contractor noticed me working on the car and started talking to me about a his old civic sedan that was sitting in his yard with a broken timing belt which just happened to be a 5 speed. He told me I could have it for free and I picked it up a week later and used it as a donor car for 5-speed conversion on mine. The conversion was kind of a pain, dropping the auto tranny and swapping the pedals were the worst parts. Would have been a complete nightmare if I didn't have a donor car. After doing the conversion and taking the head to a machine shop I was into the car less than $200.

  16. oldcarjunkie Avatar

    The first repair I ever did was an alternator on my old '78 Z28. Armed with a Haynes manual, cheap socket set and no knowledge I managed to do it. The rest of the car never needed much as it was a cherry but years later I bought a cheap '74 Triumph Spitfire and usually had some sort of project going on. Currently it is a '73 Mazda 808 Coupe.
    <img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/55/134593246_f52aef2eaa_m.jpg&quot; width="240" height="100" alt="1978 Chevrolet Camaro Z28">
    <img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/51/134598112_c41bdf7415_m.jpg&quot; width="240" height="180" alt="My ExCars 1974 Triumph Spitfire 1500">
    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2535/5784979726_66da5bbb5c_m.jpg&quot; width="240" height="180" alt="1973 Mazda 808 Coupe">

  17. Jim-Bob Avatar

    My first project car is a 1979 AMC Spirit that was given to me for free in 1989 when I was but a wee lad of 15. It had a 232 L6/Torque-Command 998 automatic in it and was fairly trashed. The first thing I can remember doing to it was a good cleaning followed by rebuilding the back brakes. As for what happened to it, well I still have it. It is sitting in my garage waiting for me to get it going again. Currently it has no engine or transmission in it and has probably been immobile for more of the 22 years I have owned it than it has been mobile. I am installing a fresh 360 that came out of a stillborn 1973 Javelin AMX project I had a few years back and it will be backed up by a torque command 998 that I pulled out of a six cylinder Concord. After that it will probably be sold. Sadly I am too poor to have all of the projects I own and I need to eliminate most of them in order to bring a sense of order back to my life. The "Sanford and Son" lifestyle gets old after a while when all you have is a 1,000 sq ft tract house with a 1 car garage but you own 5 vehicles-only 3 of which run.

  18. Cretony38 Avatar

    a $150.00 '61 Cadillac Sedan De Ville. It took 2 of my friends as financiers to afford it. And another year to get it running. Its nickname was "Crash" from the condition we bought it in.

  19. Alff Avatar

    First car project – installing a rockin' Kraco stereo in Grampa's pickup when I was 14. First mechanical project – surreptitiously replacing much of the rear suspension in Dad's Volkswagen after pointlessly trying to impress a date by getting airborne across the train tracks.

  20. mad_science Avatar

    Did you end up getting a project?

    1. salguod Avatar

      A daily driver project? Nope. Money for said vehicle has since evaporated into other needs. Maybe later in the year.

  21. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    1980 Mazda B2000 that had been driven into a shed and forgotten. This was slightly after someone had hit something large and firm with it. Dad found a front clip off a 78, which looked much better and amazingly bolted on. Some wrenching, adjusting with a hammer, and a few bits and pieces later, it was up and running. I should have kept that death trap a lot longer than I did.
    Off to Craigslist!

  22. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

    My first attempt at a project was this '62 Corvair, which I bought in about 1982 or '83:
    <img src="http://home.comcast.net/~fjp912/vair0002.jpg&quot; width=500>
    Well, I made every rookie mistake imaginable. That car looks great doesn't it? Except for the little matter of the big black blotch under the rear bumper. I had no idea at the time that a car could have such great looking sheetmetal topside and be NOTHING BUT RUST underneath. The floors were a collection of rust, bodged amateur repairs and thin air. The crucial front cross member was questionable. And those black stains mean what you think they do, yes, the car was a rolling Superfund site. For all its faults, it actuially ran and drove quite smoothly — which was part of what suckered me into buying it. Once I took full inventory of what was needed I realized it would be cheaper to buy a different car, which I did.

  23. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    I broke my cherry on my mom's Nova, a real stripper. I learned all basics on her: oil changes and tune ups, exhaust replacement, and I changed a lot of flat tires. Damn bias plies. Fixed and replaced a few radiators on it, and did a lot of body repair after I slid it into a yellow Firebird coming down an icy hill. And boy did I learn how to wash and wax on that thing.

    1. CptSevere Avatar

      Van, I really like what you write here. Get one of these account thingys, please, and join this outfit. I like upclicking your stuff. Face it, you're a Hoon.

  24. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    My first monster was a 68 LeMans sedan that I'd walked past a thousand times on my paper route. When I finally had what I thought would be enough of a wad saved up, I asked at the house and bought it for next to nothing. It hadn't run for 10 years and the tools lying on the floorboard next to the disassembled console should have told me something. Nevertheless, I got it running and it made it home under its own power, despite only being able to make left turns due to an improperly-installed steering box. The TH200 lasted exactly three days. Sigh. I converted it to a TH350 and added some glasspacks and it made for a hell of a high school cruiser. I got rear-ended the last week of my senior year, which put an end to the car. Man, I miss it.

    1. CptSevere Avatar

      I would, too.

  25. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    Well, my first was a 58 Chevy Sedan Delivery, given to me by my Dad when I was a senior in HS in 1966. Pulled the head in the driveway and took it to the garage down the street and had them do a valve job. Got it back and put the head on and began tightening the head bolts, when a buddy asked me what the torque was on them. Torque? What do you mean, torque? You know, torque, like with a torque wrench. Torque wrench? Sigh, 45 years is a looong time ago. How I miss those days.

  26. craig f Avatar
    craig f

    78' Oldsmobile Torrinado, I learned that a built 350 in a front wheel drive car was a bad idea (torque steer any one?). Followed by a 77' Whestphalia that I rebuilt the motor on twice in four years. I've learned the error of my ways (after a Mini and an RX-7) and now drive a Volvo 240.

  27. CptSevere Avatar

    Yeah, that sounds about right. You just go about whatever needs to be done, and learn it as you go. That's how I learned, too.

  28. Black Steelies Avatar

    My big Buick needed brakelines replaced before it was legal for 17 year old me to drive to work over the summer. I had hoped to help our family friend with the project [dad knows jack about cars] but it didn't happen. Later though I replaced the plugs and wires, rebuilt my driveshaft u-joints, and did a front brake job- rotors, bearings and pads. I don't remember which project came first.