Jim’s Blog: Your Cheapest Thrill?

The barn find trend may be dead, and as some of you noted last week, maybe that’s a good thing.

The trouble with barn finds, at least generally, is how expensive they really are. They are thrilling to some, at least in the moment when one is on the block, sitting there in an untouched state. But the premium for that thrill isn’t usually worth what it takes to bring one home, or bring one back to life. 

People don’t park cars and forget about them because of how good they are, or how well they were running the last time they were driven. Nope. They’re usually broken. And at least somewhat disassembled. 

That got me thinking. If a barn find is the opposite of a cheap thrill, what’s the best actual cheap thrill you’ve had with regard to buying an old car?

For me it was a faded maroon and white 1965 Tempest my old boss bought at the auto shop where I used to work. It was about 2002. Full disclosure: I didn’t own it, but I was the one who took it from $2k ratty old grandma car to $3k ratty old wanna-be muscle car.

My boss demanded we make it into a GTO, so we did that. We added 275-series BFGs on Cragars out back, which rubbed. Didn’t matter. The wheels and tires were off another project, so they were already there, and the car was cheap and not that good. Air shocks took care of its attitude problem and most of the rubbing, and although the little 326 was a 2-bbl motor with a lot of miles, it was still a fun car to drive.

I learned how to replace lower rear quarters on that car. Then I used it to pick up parts for the less-cool stuff that came into our shop.

I can’t remember where that car went. Maybe it sold to a customer, or maybe it went to the boss’ kid. Either way, it was cheap fun while it was around. We didn’t worry about hurting something rare. Instead, that car was just about building something cool. I don’t know if I’d treat it the same way today, but I’m glad we did what we did back then.

How about you? What was the cheapest car thrill you’ve had? 


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  1. Jim a few years ago, I was able to pick up a South East AZ one family owned 64 Impala cpe. I picked it up for $4K including shipping to LA. It was not a SS, but was loaded with it’s factory 327, AC and even power windows. The seats had been done in the 80’s with the correct color, but def not correct style. The roof had also been repainted about the same time that made the white body pop under it’s aqua top and interior.
    I had brought the car to drive while living in LA and because my M3 was requiring a $200.00 maint charge every 6-8 wks for the mileage that I was doing. What I couldn’t believe was the doors that the Impala opened for me.
    I would find myself in Brentwood with the upper-crest stopping me to talk about one they took to prom, I would be in Hollywood and tourist would think I was in the music business and I even joined a low rider club and cruised areas that were the inspiration to Rap songs in Central LA.
    About 6 mos had past and I was loving every min of this ride when the car gave me trouble going to work. It seemed that the car’s after market valve covers were causing some breathing issues. I fixed the problem and while at the shop in Thousand Oaks, CA. I mentioned the desire to possibly and a hour later I was confronted by Richard Carpenter from the Carpenters as he had a desire to buy it. However, the two tone lead him to believing that it was a vert and since it was not he decided not to.
    I sold the car about a month later at a lowrider event at Elysian Park for $7500.00. I have been told that the car still makes appearances, but with the correct interior now by the happy owner that purchase it for me. So, a stock appearing Impala’s will always a winner in every crowd.

    1. Great story — and you’re right about Impalas from this era. SS badging used to be a lot more important than it is today.

  2. My cheap thrill was a 1973 Buick Apollo in 1994. I traded a $500 83 Crown Vic for it. It had a 71 455 Buick from an estate wagon under the hood when I got it. The turbo 350 was junk and so was the exhaust, the rest of the car was bone stock. I traded some wheels I had for a built Turbo 350 trans and my Brother in law gave me an old set of pipes off his 68 Special. I bought a Camaro parts car for $200 that had a 373 posi in it that got swapped to the Buick along with it’s bucket seats and shifter. I ultimately parted out the Camaro for $600. I also tossed a swap meet HEI distributor and Edelbrock carb on it. I now had a running and driving Big Block Buick in all it’s mint green glory! It was fast and fun! It was pretty amazing what I managed to put together for under $1000!