Sunday, August 9, 2015

Passed-on Passions: A Mustang, Sprite, MGA, & Greenbrier

This next feature comes from Marve Harwell who put together another Deusy of a comparo. The project car, the epitome of wide-eyed optimism. What fond memories linger of unloading the newly acquired free time eater onto a lovingly cleared patch of garage floor that may never be seen again.  The plan begins with an unrealistic budget, optimistic time table, and a laughable overestimation of our skills, but ends years later as rolling shelf for old tax paperwork and lawn implements.  It takes a big man to take on such a project and a bigger man cave into the wife and finally sell the thing unfinished.  But who is that next wild-eyed dreamer? Who has the guts to take on another man's monument to unfulfilled good intentions?  I have for your consideration unfinished project cars, one tantalizing close the the finish line, others in boxes and bits, and another one not really begun. Which would you take on?

Let's ease into this. This is a 1983 Mustang GT offered for $5,900 in Omaha via craigslist that looks to have a clean body, good original paint and two years of college money spent on the drive train.  The 302 has been professionally rebuilt from crank to carburetor. The Windsor V8 was bored .030 over, decked, new pistons, performance roller cam, high rise intake (with an additional Edlebrock intake thrown in), Holly 4 barrel, professionally rebuilt T5 gear box, and 8.8 inch posi-traction rear end with 410 gears. The engine rebuild parts listed in the ad is extensive and expensive.

The seller claims the car has logged 500 miles since the rebuild two years ago, curious; could it be that the car is not fully sorted?  So what's left to do? The interior needs attention as only the gas gauge is “hooked up” the heater controls, headliner, and turn signals all “need attention”. This pony car is corralled in Omaha Nebraska with a $5900 asking price. If everything is as the owner says the buyer can be doing burn-outs in the Dairy Queen parking lot immediately and leave the other stuff for winter, but where's the challenge in that?.

Now here's a project car, a 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite offered in Murf... Murphiesboro... Murfsmurfborg...errr outside Nashville, TN via craigslist in a scandalous state of undress. This Bugeye appears to have been painted but the seller oddly omits that obvious selling point. He does say the body is straight with some filler in the rear of the car (butt Spackle).  The car comes with a disc brake conversion (not installed) and a 1275 engine and transmission out of a MG Midget (also not installed). The 1275 engine upgrade is a common and sensible one for the Sprite as the original 900cc engine with 40 HP is not very Sprightly in today's traffic. Many new and used parts come with the car so it's jig-saw puzzle and scavenger hunt in one, or the gift that keeps on giving.

The Sprite's toy-like size means less lost garage space and your wife may find it cute in an ugly way or ugly in a cute way. These cars are also simple to work on, have easily sourced parts, and a vast knowledge base to get you out of trouble.

The asking price for this Nashville-based roadster is $5000, a good starting point for negotiation depending on what the mystery boxes of parts contain. Sprite values don't suffer from tasteful upgrades so a fully finished Bugeye can command around $20K if you can part with it.

In Mississippi where skies are drippy we find the car with the highest buy-in price but with potentially the biggest pay off. This 1959 MGA offered for $7,500 on Jackson, MS craigslist is a restoration project that was begun “many years ago” in a galaxy far, far away no doubt. The seller is economical with information but claims the drive train was completely rebuilt and body-off frame work and paint job performed. The paint still appears to be in a nice condition of Darth Vader helmet black if the pictures can be believed. As long as the body work and paint were done to a high standard you're spared the heavy lifting, but a careful inspection is needed to make sure it wasn't a chicken wire and spray foam affair.

The seller claims to have all the parts needed to complete the project, but only a British car whisperer would know for sure and the condition of those parts is another matter. A further point of concern is the liberal use of spray paint on the engine, covering the bolt heads and thermostat housing in rattle-can red. Is a hasty finish on the motor's exterior an indication of the quality of work beneath?
Completed MGA's can command north of $30K but a substantial investment of blood, cash, and knuckle skin may be needed above the $7500 asking price.
If all is as hoped it can be a worthy car even if you plan to keep it to admire its fetching lines and the intoxicating burble of its old English exhaust note.

As blue collar cool as wearing a work shirt from a hot rod shop we have a 1964 Greenbrier van offered for $6,500 in Southeast Kansas via craigslist.  This Corvair-based van has 29,000 miles and is complete with original paint, glass, and trim. It is a claimed barn find; I would love to find this barn that continually births classic autos like an endlessly fertile collector car uterus. The 95HP flat six (newly enlarged to 2.7L for 1964) has been removed by the previous owner who claimed it smoked; but who didn't back in the day? Corvair engines are simple air-cooled affairs but if you're not familiar with them, seek counseling, as certain design flaws have long been remedied by mark experts.
Someone has started body work as evidenced by the primer spots on all the usual cancerous areas and an unknown hipster slapped on a set of Crager Keystone wheels.
Unfortunately the van is one pedal short of a real transmission sporting an energy sapping two-speed automatic.

Once finished the Greenbrier would make and excellent errand-runner and Sunday cruiser for the family that doesn't need to go anywhere fast.  It may take up the most garage space of anything here but you can hide your growing hoard in the unfinished van rather than stacking it on top, sort of an indoor storage unit.  Only $6500 and a trip to southeast Kansas stands between you and this Mystery Machine.

Your choice, your cash, your bloody knuckles -- what do you pick? Comments below.

Marve Harwell is a former Army journalist and life-long wandering car nut.

DT E-i-C Vince: Big thanks to Marve for writing another fun comparison post! 


  1. Maybe my value-o-meter needs to be recalibrated, but all of these seem to be priced optimistically. Especially given you could buy the All-trac for 7.5k in the last post.

  2. The bugeye, becuase none of the other ones would fit in my garage.

  3. It's Murfreesboro! How hard can it be? It has great barbecue and is my home town.

  4. As a former Greenbrier owner, I suggest buying a bunch of these so you can talk to your passengers.

    1. I think I'd probably invest in half an acre of Dynamat. At least the weight's low in the vehicle.

      Then you need the heads cut for the three-barrel Weber-pattern throttle bodies and the horizontal-axis cooling fan and you've got to find a way to get three or four more manually-stirred gears into it...for me, the slippery slope on this one has a bunch of black diamonds next to it.

      Big effin' giant rotisserie, rolled 997 C4S for the drivetrain, some assembly required.

    2. perfect for driving to neighboring Colorado, communicating by smoke signal

  5. Fox, yeah, easy. I've got a truckload of Griggs, MM, etc. parts that'd pop right in. And a 351W.

    Not a Sprite guy.

    MGA is a little like Diana Rigg or even Rachel Hunter, it's held up exceptionally well with age.

    Always loved the Greenbriers though by the time you're done going through it to make it what you want it to be you might as well have bought a nice five-year-old Mercedes GL550.


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