Home / Car News / VW Beetle, Fiat Spider, Range Rover, Imperial: Which Of Our Project Car Winners Would You Wrench On?

VW Beetle, Fiat Spider, Range Rover, Imperial: Which Of Our Project Car Winners Would You Wrench On?

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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! It’s Friday, and you know what that means. (No, not that. Jeez, put that thing away. Where are your manners?). It’s time to take a second look at our four daily winners, and pit them against each other in an epic battle for bragging rights. But first we need to find out who our winner from yesterday is.

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Looks like the Imperial Wallet Destroyer has it. This is, of course, the correct answer. (Oh, you didn’t know there is always a correct and incorrect answer? Sorry, did I forget to mention that?). For those who complained it was too hard to find parts for or that it had too many doors: I find your lack of faith disturbing. The Imperial is epic.

Before I recap this week’s winners, a quick word about project cars, if I may: The idea of bringing an inoperative piece of junk back from the dead (or near-dead) is not for everyone. You have to go into it on the car’s terms, not your own, and manage your expectations. Yes, your plan may have been to have it drivable in time for Cars & Coffee next weekend, but that broken lower control arm bolt has other plans. You may dream of watching heads turn as you pull onto the show field, but first you need to sort out the ignition wiring so the damn thing will start. It’s always going to be more work and more money and more time than you think, and it’s never going to be “worth it” financially. You do it for love — love of the machine, love of the process, love of that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when it does do what you want. And if you don’t want to do it for these things, you might as well not even buy it, and save yourself a lot of trouble.

So, in the immortal words of Bo Diddley, who do you love?

1972 VW Super Beetle – $2,500


This one threw me a bit; I knew the Super Beetle was sort of the red-headed stepchild of the VW world, but I didn’t know it was so divisive. Some folks really loathe the Super Beetle. But to them I say: so what? Nobody is forcing you to drive one. Let people enjoy things.

This car looks like a decent tinker-with-it-as-you-go sort of project, and those can be a lot of fun. Once you get it to a baseline standard of running reliably (which isn’t necessarily a quick process; it took me five years to get there with my MG), then you can start fixing things like the dinged-up fender and the scruffy interior. Enjoy it for the summer, then pull it into the garage for the winter to tinker, and then go show off what you fixed in the spring.

1972 Fiat 124 Sport Spider – $950


And then there’s the basket case. Cheaper by far, but a lot more work. A car that you have to bring home in several boxes probably isn’t the best choice for your first project, but if it’s the car you just have to have, I say dive in. The best way to learn how to do something is to do it, and the best way to learn how not to do something (which is at least as important) is by doing it wrong. It may feel like failure at the time, but it’s not. It’s a step in the right direction.

This particular car at least escapes the biggest Fiat worry: rust. I imagine that’s why several body panels are different colors; it’s the least rusty bits of a couple of cars. But it’s one less thing to worry about. Get a good coat of paint on it (needn’t be anything concours-worthy, just shiny and all one color) and then concentrate on the mechanicals. You will probably have to track down some parts, but they’re out there, and the price of entry is cheap enough to not fret over a few incidentals later.

2004 Range Rover – $1500


Fixing up modern cars to flip is the one instance where you might – might – be able to get your money back, or even make a little, if you choose the right cars and are comfortable doing all the work yourself. I’ve seen people “ratchet up” projects like this — buy for $1000, fix for $1000, sell for $2000, spend that $2000 on the next one, and so forth, until you get to the car you actually wanted. But you can just as easily get burned by an unforeseen and expensive repair, or worse, something that’s not repairable at all. [Editor’s note: I don’t think Mark’s math quite works out, here.]

This Range Rover sounds like the right project for the right person. That person is not me, but several commenters sounded like folks who know these vehicles well enough to take it on. You’d end up with a very nice ride for not much money, if you play your cards right.

1957 Imperial – $1,500

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It’s not quite a Chrysler, but it is as big as a whale, and it needs to set sail. I admit it: the Fairlane was just a ringer I stuck in there so I had something to pit against this big blue monster so I had an excuse to write about it. (Sorry, Ford fans). It’s not my favorite Forward Look car; that would be the 1960 DeSoto Adventurer (yes, because of Sam & Max), but it is mind-bendingly cool.

Several commenters thought this engineless car would be a good candidate for electrification. I hadn’t thought about that, but it does seem well-suited. It already weighs as much as a small office building, so a half-ton of batteries hardly matters. And big smooth power would suit its character perfectly. Oh, and “AMPerial”? Genius, you guys. Absolute gold.

And that’s it for another week. No real theme next week; I think I’m just going to look for unusual stuff — cars you don’t often see for sale at any price. I think I can come up with eight of them. See you next time! Don’t forget to vote!



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40 Responses

  1. Imperial for me. As much as I like small cars, those two are… oof. Anything with a Range Rover badge is a red flag, and I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. But the vast majority of my experience working on cars has been with my ’66 Thunderbird, a similarly large V8 land yacht. Big V8s are my comfort zone. The Imperial is probably the least likely car of those options to ruin me.

  2. Imperial, Imperial, Imperial, Imperial. I like the electrification idea, but I could never see it through. Drop in a Mopar crate engine, clean the interior, slather some “shine juice” on the exterior, and cruise in slow style.

  3. Imperial. All day every day.
    The Beetle’s definitely got a lot going for it, but, it’s a Beetle. Lots of those around, but some parts are getting scarce as hell. Especially electrical. The remaining two, good luck if you need parts – and you will. Aftermarket for a Range Rover? Ha, that’s a good one. And I’d bet at least half the catalog’s NLA at the dealer.

    But the Imperial? It’s a freaking 1950-1975 Mopar. Even though this is from the era of Imperial as a separate brand. There’s a reason there’s a dozen of ’em at every car show! Not only that, but it’s a Southampton! Know what it’s supposed to pack under the hood? A 392 Hemi with an A727, or a 440 Wedge. There’s over a hundred shops I can call and have a complete rebuilt A727 dropped at my door for under two grand WITH SHIPPING. Engine? The early 392’s are a bit harder to come by, but 440 RBs are a dime a dozen, or you could go fresh crate. It’ll all bolt right up, no welding necessary.
    Anything else the Imperial could possibly need is no more than two phone calls away. Hell, if you wanna get spicy, a quick call to Summit will net you an entire drag suspension and brake kit delivered tomorrow.

      1. Well, a dozen plus 1950-1975 Mopars. Highest Imperial brand Imperial count I’ve seen in one place outside of Carlisle is probably about 6 or 7. Remember, that’s covering 1957-1973 models too. A lot of Mopar folks who got priced out of ‘Cudas and the like turned to the lesser known stuff like the Imperial, which was cheaper but benefits from nearly all of the same reproduction parts.

        A half-decent Plymouth Road Runner 440 6-pack will set you back at LEAST $125,000. Restoring one well enough to command a premium will cost you upwards of $50k even without all the Mopar Bullshit(TM). Or you could find the unloved Imperial, spend a few hundred for the complete Wedge setup at a swap meet, and get comfortable and beautiful Mopar Muscle for a fraction of the price.

        Imperials are STILL on the extreme ‘cheap’ end – you can get exceptional survivors for under $50k, and you don’t break into six digits unless you’ve got a numbers-matching, fully documented convertible with less than 20k on the odometer.

  4. It’s gotta be the Imperial. Swap in a wrecked Tesla’s motor and batteries, clear coat the patina, and do… something with that ratty interior to make it fit for civilized butt cheeks. You will have the coolest and most unique car on the block. Unless of course your neighbor is Jay Leno with his steam cars.

  5. I guess in some vague abstract intellectual sense I understand the appeal of the Imperial, and it’s probably going to win this thing, but to me it’s just a gigantic barge with some garishly baroque flourishes. I like my cars lithe and nimble. If it wasn’t on the other side of the country I’d actually consider taking on the FIAT project.

  6. My own imp of the perverse whispered; “Amperial will never sound right. There’s another way to make a heavy car move.” Then the mini-devil burst into orange trackday smelling flames and screamed so loud the whole right side of my head is still ringing “Trackhawk the Imperial!”

  7. I’d take the Fiat, for sure, first choice. If it really is as complete as described, I’d try to restore it. If it isn’t, it would make a great electric conversion.

    The Imperial would be second choice, and I’d goth the shit out of it. Black with black tinted windows, gaudy chrome wheels, chrome on all the bumpers and trim pieces, Baphomet hood ornamet, and red velvet seats/fabric trim in a black hardwood interior done up to look like the inside of a coffin. I’d totally roll around in that playing “Sisters of Mercy”, “Bauhaus”, “The Cure”, “Fields of Nephilem”, and mix it up with all kinds of Satanic Black Metal and some “Gost” as well. As for engine? 426 Hemi.

  8. Had a 70 Fiat 124, and a 73 Super Beetle, so it’s a damned hard choice here!
    I’m going with the Fiat, because it’s a convertible, yes I Know it’s more frustrating Work to get it done, but in the end there are a lot more Beetles out there than Spiders.
    All Y’all Imperial voters must be masochists! (runs for cover)
    Thanks Mark, now I’m dreaming of Fiats in testarossa red

    1. That Fiat is going to lose by a country mile, but I hope it does find its way into the right hands. Those are really cool cars, and fun to drive even when they’re on death’s door (I’ve never had the pleasure of driving a nice one).

      I wouldn’t go red, though – too common. Midnight blue with an oxblood red interior, I think. Someday I will own a car with that color combination.

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