A project car with a real-world budget

Words and photos by Jok Nicholson

When I was about halfway through the most successful magazine project car ever (Project 4-Link), I was thinking of the number of young racers that could not imagine having the cash to build a dragster like we did. It is common knowledge that most magazine project cars end up being $40,000 to $60,000, top of the line vehicles. In today's economy, I feel it is the right time for a project like I have now started.

"Back-2-Basics" will prove it is possible for a young racer to get started drag racing in a safe and fast doorslammer for under $12,500. That is still quite a bit of money but I wanted to make this a project that could be a good bracket car that could run with and without a delay box as well as be a contender in IHRA's 10.90 Hot Rod class and NHRA's 10.90 Super Street class. I have always felt the more adaptable the car is, the more fun you can have with it. To that end, I started looking for the right car to get Back-2-Basics started.

I began by reading every printed want ad I could get my hands on, looking for what I felt would be a fun car to drive and affordable. I knew it had to be a used racecar because constructing even a basic doorslammer from scratch would blow right over the budget I had. I looked at hundreds of ads and sent out tons of email to racers who were advertising their cars. I came to this conclusion after two months: If it is a Camaro and is a "roller" (meaning everything but engine and transmission) it will probably bring about $8,500 to $12,500 depending on how nice it is.

Mopar and Fords can be found for about $1,500 less, due to less demand I think. I found all sorts of nice Novas and Camaros "turn key", with engine and transmissions, from $12,000 to about $16,000. There were plenty of Demons and Dusters that were turn key in the $10,500 to $15,000 range. I found some terrific cars out there and if you are looking here are a few sites I went to when I was looking: www.racingjunk.com; www.dragraceresults.com; www.classracer.com; www.superstockforum.com; There are probably more out there but this is a strong selection.

A lot of you who read my Dead-On column know I have always been a Mopar guy. Well, that has changed! My final decision was down to three cars: a '65 Mustang set up for big block Chevy and 'glide; a '72 Vega set up for small block and 'glide; and a '69 Dart set up for small block Mopar and 'glide. My final decision was made easier when it seemed they all had about the same basic equipment, they all needed some TLC (garage time) and they were proven cars. I chose the one that cost the least, weighed the least and would have the lowest priced parts I needed: the 1972 Vega.

A lot of my friends--and my wife too--thought I was nuts for buying a car without seeing it in person. I did not feel that way. In talking to the guys I bought it from they came across as very down to earth and nice guys. They gave references I could call to ask about the car or people in town that knew them. We reached an agreed price and I sent a $500 deposit. Balance would be paid in cash upon delivery. Another selling point was that the guys I bought it from were from eastern Tennessee and they said for the car price of $5,000 they would deliver it to me! That is 13 hours one-way so that saved me hundreds of dollars in gas not to mention vacation time I want to save for racing. I did buy the delivery guy and his mother a great steak at a small "grill your own" steakhouse here in Janesville, Iowa.



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