Project cars can appear as any make or model, but based on a quick online search, they usually consist of American muscle cars or Japanese imports – because it’s very easy to get parts for these automakers. Some people only perform restorations, while others fit certain modifications to their cars. While many of the project’s vehicles—particularly Land Rovers and Jeeps—are upgraded for off-road adventure and challenging terrain to a tug of war, others are designed for relaxing Sunday cruises on the coast.
Whatever the reason for the project car, one doesn’t just have to go to America or Japan. Here are five British cars and five Italian cars that do surprisingly good projects.
10 British – 2001 Jaguar XJ8 ($7,000)
The Jaguar XJ has been the British brand’s flagship sedan since the original Mark I from 1955. The model changed names several times, switching to the original S-Type and ending with the 420G before installing the XJ panel.
The X308 The Generation XJ was one of the most luxurious cars of the ’90s but became quite obsolete in the early 2000s. Because of their reputation, this generation XJ has become so affordable that they make great project cars. Someone even swapped out a 4.0L V8 for a LS3 6.2 liters, which creates a hot column and solves many reliability problems at the same time.
9 British – 2000 Range Rover Classic ($5,500)
Range Rover has become a legendary off-roader thanks to its factory capability and a wide range of available modifications. While it will embarrass most other off-road drivers around an obstacle course or mountain trail, it has its share of reliability issues—and Land Rover products still do.
The Range Rover generation, directly following the Range Rover Classic, was a major improvement in chassis technology and electronics. It was available with two variants of Rover V8s and BMW 6 diesels respectively. The V8s come in either 4.0-liter or 4.6-liter, making 188 horsepower and 218 horsepower, respectively. With a little fidgeting, the Range Rover can become a great weekend off-roader or an old-school luxury SUV.
8 British – Austin Healey Sprite 1961 ($4,500)
The Austin Healey Sprite is as basic as the small British Roadsters that have ever come. It was among the first relatively inexpensive British sports cars sold to the public, costing just £680 in 1958 (equivalent to about US$15,000 today). It was fitted with a small 0.9L (58 koi) inline 4 engine, producing 43 horsepower and 52 pound-feet of torque.
The Austin Healey Sprite was a perfectly capable little car, hailing multiple victories in both British and American auto racing competitions in the late 1950s and early 1960s. With its basic design, the vehicle is very easy to repair, with many specialist dealers importing parts and additional modifications to make the little Sprite great to drive.
7 British – 1979 MGB Roadster ($6000)
The MGB has a long history of production, having seen many changes being made to it – especially to comply with US regulations. The MGB doesn’t have the best reliability rating when it comes to getting started every time, but when it does, it’s a great car to drive and modify.
The MGB was originally equipped with a 1.8L inline-4, however, the MGB GT can be customized with either a 2.9L i6 or even a 3.5L V8. The first iteration of the MGB Roadster was in production until 1980 and the North American versions were fitted with rubber fenders to comply with the US 5 mph crash regulation, while the European version has nice chrome fenders that work well with the car’s styling.
6 British – 1977 Triumph TR7 ($5,500)
The Triumph TR7 was produced at the same time as the MGB Roadster and had a more streamlined and futuristic design, like that of a Lamborghini. The TR7 was originally available with a 2.0L inline-4 but was upgraded with a 3.5L V8 in the US TR7 V8 (later renamed TR8) export model.
As with most British Leyland products of the 1970s, the TR7 was not known for its reliability, performance or driving experience. The V8 injected some grunt into the car, but it was still pretty awful to drive. Fortunately, many aftermarket tuners have redesigned and rebuilt TR7s into great classic sports cars, which makes them absolutely perfect for projects.
5 Italian – 1989 Alfa Romeo Spider ($7000)
The Alfa Romeo Spider – also known as the Duetto – is by far one of the cheapest ways to get some Italian motoring passion in one’s life. It almost certainly comes with a certain amount of frustration because these old Italian cars don’t have a better reputation for reliability – like the British Leyland.
The Series 3 Spider/Duetto for the North American market is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline engine, producing 126 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. The Spider is a great starter car for anyone interested in a project car, especially one to enjoy driving along a coastal road.
4 Italian – 1974 Fiat X1/9 ($12,000)
The X1/9 was a mid-engine sports car from Volkswagen Italia – Fiat. It’s built to be cheap, cheap to run, and easy to fix, while still looking exotic and fun to drive. The X1/9 was built from 1974, right through to 1989, and has featured a few mechanical updates over the years.
The X1/9 was initially powered by a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, producing only 63 hp, but all American versions were later upgraded to 1.5 liter, vibrating power to 67 hp. The Fiat X1 / 9 is still a relatively inexpensive classic sports car that has great handling and commands attention wherever it goes.
3 Italian – 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano V6 ($6000)
Alfa Romeo Milano was the brand’s sports car in the 1980s. It was the epitome of Italian design at the time, featuring the same boxy design as most Alfa Romeos during this time. The sedan was called the Milano in the United States but was known as the 75 in Europe.
Milano was available in a great version I’m knocking V6, either 2.5 liters or 3.0 liters. The car also has an almost perfect weight distribution thanks to the design of the transaxle transmission. Alfa Romeo Milano is a great starter project car because it has the passion and soul – when it works right.
2 Italian – 1982 Fiat 124 Spyder ($7,500)
The Fiat 124 Spider was the Alfa Romeo Spider’s biggest competitor but was a bit bigger and more spacious in the cabin. The 124 had several engines to choose from, starting with 1.4 liters, going up to 1.6, 1.8 and finally 2.0 liters for the Abarth.
The 124 Spider is among the most popular classic road cars thanks to its looks, driving experience and racing ability. Many owners have converted their 124 cars into race cars and rally cars thanks to the handling and lightness. Regardless of the end result, the Fiat 124 Spider will make a great project.
1 Italian – 1991 Alfa Romeo 164 ($6,500)
The Alfa Romeo 164 was the company’s executive sedan to battle the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. It was available with front-wheel drive as standard but could be upgraded to all-wheel drive as an option. The 164 had a few 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, but the highlight was the 3.0-liter Busso V6s.
The 164 might not be the most beautiful car some have looked at, but it’s really cool, nonetheless. The straight lines on the side and the boxy shape give the car a sporty and luxurious look. The 164 is one of Alfa Romeo’s coolest sedans – thanks mostly to the silly 164 Prodrive prototype.
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