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Building a Car, Getting It Done and Saving Money 

Over the years I’ve had a lot of people ask for advice on their car projects. Most often the questions are technical, but today they’re asking what they can do to save money.

The answer is always the same. If you want to save, “Don’t cut corners”! That’s right, cutting corners in the long run will be your biggest expense, and you could end up hating the project, as many do.

Building a car from scratch is a long and tedious process at best. Now I’m not saying it isn’t fun; it’s a lot of fun. But, you’ve got to have a plan, and it cannot include cutting corners.

John Devine’s Deuce Hiboy
Here’s a great shot of John Devine’s Deuce Hiboy as I explained…a  “complete roller” ready for paint.

Putting a car together or car mod is just like building a house. You can’t start until you’ve laid a proper foundation. You can’t get ahead of yourself, you know what I mean. How many of you guys have painted something premature in the project (let’s say spindles, because you got a deal, or included them with some other parts you were doing), only to find out that they have to be heated to fit. Say good bye to your shortcut.

What are the worst shortcuts? The “biggie” is not fitting up the complete car with all the sheet metal in place before going to paint. People seem to 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.

John’s Hiboy
Here’s another photo of John’s Hiboy completed and ready for years of great service!

When you take the time to put it all together, you win big time: you save lots of money, it’s fun, and you can deal with problems as they arise—not through 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 involves not wanting to tear your car down for paint because it’s cool having what appears to be a finished hot rod in the garage.

The last is assembly and wiring, which is fun but also frustrating. Burnout leads to shortcuts, and remember they can be expensive. Hot rods cost enough as it is, so make a plan, stay cool and don’t burn out.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.