Top 5 Low-Cost, RWD, and Unconventional Project Cars

As a little fun project, I put together a list of potential project cars that are rear wheel drive, have cheap upgrade paths to get into a considerable performance state, and yet fairly easy to obtain(if the government doesn’t crush them all) . Although there are definitely easier projects (Miata, E30, 240sx, etc.) to take up, wheres the challenge, and fun in that??

Now, some of these projects require a lot of part sourcing and custom work to get all set up but if you’ve ever worked on a Datsun you begin to think that any of that is nothing. Most have downsides but I’m not going to go too far in depth about that. (Stay positive!)

After rigorous craigslist and forum surfing (lol), here’s the list I came up with: (They scale from easier to modify to harder.)

1) 1989-1992 Toyota Cressida – I’ve actually owned 2 Cressidas, this model and the model before this and I can say that they make great cars whether you want to daily it or do something more. Compared to the other luxury sedan models of other makers, the Cressida was in a great spot for its time. It doesn’t feel as heavy as the other cars of comparable size/weight.

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Pros:

  •  Limited Slip Differential can be swapped in from a Toyota Supra of the same year.
  • Accepts various cost effecient engine swaps: 1JZGTE, 2JZGE+T, 7MGTE, 1UZ (even LS1) and corresponding 5 speed transmissions (W58,R154)
  • 5×114.3 Lug pattern gives access to a variety of wheel and brake options
  • Access to Coilovers/adjustable suspension 1 2 (shoutout to serialnine!)
  • Extensive Community with a variety of modification paths
  • 4 Doors

Cons

  • Looks like a Ford Crown Victoria
  • 4 Doors – Makes rear wheel fitment slightly difficult
  • Heavyish

2) Volvo 240 or 740 –  I was contemplating whether I should even include the Volvo cars in the list but not mentioning these swede saloons would be a mistake. The aftermarket and community for these cars are actually quite extensive in Europe and America. But either way they’ve found a way to make a rather dull set of cars rather exciting(Turbos and V8’s o my!).

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Pros:

  • Came Turbo and Jags that Run makes a V8 swap Kit (My Favorite)
  • Extensive Community with a variety of Modification paths
  • Suspension Mods avaliable
  • associated with the name “turbo brick”
  • 4 doors (there are coupes also)
  • Its a Volvo (reliable,durable, safe)

Cons

  • Fairly dull looking
  • Its a Volvo
  • Heavy

3) 1984-1988 Nissan 200sx:  The 200sx lives in the shadow of the drifting phenom that the 240sx has become. Aside from the 200sx and 240sx there isn’t very many other Nissan model that can fill the budget/rwd project car role. The 200sx on paper doesn’t offer much to work with aside from being rwd. Yes, there was a turbo model and a V6 model but, everything else (suspension, brakes, durability, engines even) were sub-par. However, as a precursor to the 240sx it shares adaptability and thus access to the wide variety of the 240sx aftermarket.

Pros:

  • Access to 240sx aftermarket suspension, engine swaps (VG, CA18DET, SR20) and other drivetrain pieces.
  • 4×114.3 offers plenty of wheel choices and brake options. V6 models come with 5×114.3
  • Light
  • Community for support/part soucring
  • Looks like a Corolla GT-S

Cons:

  • Custom Work
  • Parts Sourcing/research for 240sx part swaps

4) Merkur XR4ti/Mustang SVO:  The XR4Ti is known as the Ford Sierra in Europe and was widely used in motorsports throughout it production run. Its RWD layout and the sohc 2.3L turbo engine give it an easy modification path.

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Pros:

  • Stock turbo setup that can handle quite a bit with basic bolt-ons or modified for much more
  • Relative to the Ford Sierra RS/Ford Sierra Cosworth
  • Huge Aftermarket/following in Europe
  • 4×114.3 lug pattern
  • Good wheelbase size
  • Cosworthy

Cons:

  • Narrow Upgrade path
  • Parts from Europe
  • Heavyish, Suspension is funky
  • Electronics/interior
  • Looks are subjective

5) 1976-1987 Chevrolet Chevette:  The Chevrolet Chevette is a shunned car in American however its deviants are still popular in other countries. Drag racers have used it for years because of its light weight and accessibility to other GM drivetrains. You can see some interesting swaps. With that being said, its RWD, its light, and it has potential. Its front suspension is capable. And its engine bay is large enough to accommodate for a big block Chevy, but I’ve seen ecotech swaps, V6 swaps, and turbo swaps. Its accessibility  to other GM parts and its poor initial value puts it in the same situation as the 200sx.

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Pros:

  • Light
  • Cheap American parts/upgrades(v6, v8, rear ends)
  • Cheap,Cheap,Cheap
  • SLA front suspension, solid rear axle
  • Racing history in Europe/Canada
  • Variety of engine swaps available.
  • Decent wheelbase despite size

Cons:

  • Poor Braking options
  • No American tuning community
  • 4×100 lug pattern (can be a pro as well)
  • rust prone.
  • Not as durable/reliable
  • most likely in poor condition(dirt racing, ice racing, poor care)

I’ll be posting other oddities as I find them. They are theroy-crafting fun. Enjoy!

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