Realistic Project Cars

by Alan J. Claffie
Not that we're really in the market for another car - the three Hyundais are plenty, plus there's that MG up in the barn up north that'll be coming down this way sometime after racing season for rehabilitation and, eventually, enjoyment. But sometimes you're out on a ride and something catches your eye and the wheels start turning and you say "hey, I could probably do something with that".

Whether the sellers of these cars know what they have, and the potential that these things have, and they take such into consideration when they price these things, is up in the air.

Out and about this weekend, we found a few examples. The first one is probably the best candidate for a successful project as it's something that's been done to death. We found a '92 Acura Integra on the side of the road with a big 1400 scrawled across its windshield. A quick look at the black coupe (we didn't get pictures but you can probably google the particular car and get a pretty good idea of what we were looking at) showed a clean original car with the typical Honda rust on the right rear quarter. Paint was good, and interior decent although grey and not black. Not noted was whether the car was automatic or a standard - I did the same thing when I first looked at what became my MX3 back in '96.

At $1400, the price was probably right. Too bad it breaks one of the big rules, which is to never build a project car out of something that has to go through inspection.

On the ride home was a pretty good example of someone thinking he has something far better than what he actually does. The eye caught a fairly ratty MG Midget and we stopped to investigate. The writing on the windshield must have been a misprint - $2840? Almost three grand for a parts car with an aftermarket grille for a Ford F-150 somehow tacked onto the front end? The brake rotors were coated with rust, much more than surface rust. The rockers were bubbled with more of the same. The exhaust was broken off at the rear axle. It had some redeeming features: wire wheels with good tires, roll bar, and no apparent crash damage. We didn't look under the hood so that's a bit of a question mark.

But $2840? Did that last zero slip in by mistake? My MG was (is) pretty rotted out, and it needed a little work, but it was only $850 and I drove it home. Here's a car that the guy wants three times as much and it's not going on the road until it has brakes and exhaust just for starters. A quick check on Ebay found a running driveable 73 Midget going for $1025... There's a running, driving, registered, smooth, shiny 76 Midget with a "buy it now" price of $2750...

Half the time there I thought the seller was going to come out and want to discuss the car but after seeing the price tag I don't think such a discussion could be done with a straight face.

A little closer to home, at the junky used car lot in town (which briefly hosted a pretty ratty MGB a year or so back) we found something completely different. How about a mid-80s Jaguar XJS coupe? Clean, one color, mostly shiny, matching wheels, nothing outwardly out of place, and $2000. Sure, they're mechanical nightmares, nothing works right, nothing under the hood is easy to work on, and the repair manual is probably heavier than the car itself. But what lines! And V12 power! And if the V12 won't run right, they make kits to turn these things into Chevy V8 power.

The car is at a place that sells used-up Neons and Tauruses. I'm sure they'll have all the technical know-how needed to get the thing running and keep it running including all maintenance logs and repair histories. For two grand, it's a sure bargain.

On a separate note, we'll send our thanks to the Maryland state police officer lady who did her part in getting dangerous criminals off the streets by pulling us over Sunday and informing us that our tint might be too dark and that it has to get checked out. Seriously? Seriously. Drove up behind us in the next lane over, then cut over and popped the lights on. First thing she says is that aftermarket tint has to be inspected at a state inspection station and OK'd by their placing a small (well, it better be small) sticker on each window that has been tinted.

What's amazing is that I made sure that my tint was going to be legal when I had it done a couple years ago, because I didn't want to get hassled by policemen or policeladies like some guys do when they go nuts and put on 20% or 15% tint. I went with the legal limit (35%) all the way around and never got any problems with it until yesterday.

Down this way, seven out of every ten cars on the street have tinted windows, and a good number of them are far darker than mine. Do they get hassled by the police? Did they have to take them to get inspected? Do they display the proper decals?

More importantly, don't the police have more important things to do?

I suppose it's a ringing endorsement of how nice and peaceful and crime-free it must be in Calvert County, that any and all street crime and traffic are under such good control that the tint patrol is all that's needed to make sure that nobody is doing anything remotely wrong in the entire county.

Because of one bored policelady, I have to take my car to the inspection station between the hours of 8:30 and 10AM - which is a stretch of time I'm never awake - to have the windows measured and a fixit ticket signed off. And they only do it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they won't do it if it's raining.

What a pain in the neck.

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