Saving Money

September 25th, 2009

Over the years, I’ve had lots of people ask for advice on their car projects. The questions are usually technical, but more often nowadays they’re asking what they can do to save money.

The answer to this question is always the same. If you want to save money, don’t cut corners! Cutting corners doesn’t save money because in the long run, it will be your biggest expense.

Building a car from scratch is a long, tedious process at best. I’m not saying it isn’t fun; it is probably one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. But, you’ve got to have a plan, and one that should not include cutting corners.

Putting a car together is just like building a house: You can’t start the roof until you’ve laid a proper foundation. You can’t get ahead of yourself. How many of you guys have painted something prematurely into the project, only to find out that guys like me have to heat and bend them on the chassis. Say goodbye to your shortcut.

What are the worst shortcuts? The “biggie” is not fitting up the complete car with all the sheetmetal in place before going to paint. For some reason, people think that since the fenders, hood and deck lid came off of a car just like theirs, they must fit. Wrong … every time wrong! When you fit up a car, it has to be all the way — I’m talking a rolling chassis with the finished wheels and tires (make sure it steers and doesn’t rub anything), and a complete engine and transmission. Go ahead, adjust the doors with no weight in the car and see what that little shortcut gets you, or better yet, try chopping a top not using a complete chassis as a foundation. It’s not a pretty sight.

When you take the time to put it all together first, you win in spades, you save lots of money, it’s fun, and you can deal with problems as they arise instead of costly compromises later. Be patient. I know the car looks cool with a little color or chrome on it, but it looks a lot cooler when you’ve only had to do it once.

Another major cost savings is avoiding “project burnout.” You can bet on at least three burnout points during a build, so be careful not to stumble. Watch out for the one between chassis completion and fitting the body and sheet metal. The next is not wanting to tear down your car for paint because it’s cool having what appears to be a finished hot rod in the garage. The last is assembly and wiring … fun but frustrating. Burnout leads to shortcuts, and those can lead to costly mistakes. Hot rods cost enough as it is, so make a plan, stay cool and don’t burn out.


Martin Nooney’s SO-CAL built three-window coupe was a well-planned project start to finish.

Nooney’s Step-Boxed™ SO-CAL chassis …. simple, yet very effective.

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