Home » What Completely Ordinary Car Would You Painstakingly Restore To Original Condition? Autopian Asks

What Completely Ordinary Car Would You Painstakingly Restore To Original Condition? Autopian Asks

Ford Cayman Escort Gt Aa
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Some car enthusiasts spend incredible amounts of money bringing their favorite vehicle back to factory condition. Many of these vehicles will be the icons of our past, such as the Volkswagen Bus, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, the Ferrari F40, and all kinds of classic muscle cars and sports cars. All of that is great and allows future generations to see pristine examples of the olden days of car design. But this shouldn’t be limited to just automotive legends. What completely ordinary car would you painstakingly restore to its original condition?

The answer to this question varied throughout the Autopian virtual offices. Matt Hardigree responded with the car that’s in the topshot, the 1994 Ford Escort GT. Shitbox Showdown prize fight promoter Mark Tucker responded with a 1979 Fiat 128, telling us that the car brought back childhood memories – that’s the actual Tucker-family Fiat pictured below! Me? I’d painstakingly restore my 2012 Smart Fortwo.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Yes, I know, it’s not that old of a car. But a younger version of me took that poor car for granted, forcing it to tow U-Haul trailers all over the Midwest for over 20,000 miles. Then, I subjected the little lad to three Gambler 500 endurance rallies, put it into tug-of-war battles against diesel trucks, and bent a subframe trying to pull a Toyota Tacoma out of a mud hole. I’ve burned the clutch, driven it through creeks, and the car even taken a bullet and been on fire, too.

Aa Interior Graphic 2

I treated that car like a truck and now that I’m older, I’m facepalming myself over it. Sure, I proved that Smarts are unbelievably tough machines, but my unfortunate test subject was my teenage dream car and the car that taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do. One day. I want to make things right with my little Tucker by bringing him back to factory spec.

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One of my favorite stories of restoring an ordinary car is the story of Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges’ restomodded 1993 Acura Legend. Ludacris bought the Legend used in 1999 before he became a legend in his own right. For many people, a used luxury car is just a stepping stone to something bigger and better later on. But Ludacris is a car enthusiast in every sense of the term, and even though he has more than enough money to buy cars most of us could only dream of owning, that ’90s Acura holds a place in his heart. Ludacris even featured the car on social media, parking it next to far more expensive private jets.

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Acura

In 2015, the car was wrecked, but instead of letting Luda’s beloved Legend die, Acura restored the vehicle to its original factory condition and then modded it to his liking. An Acura Legend with 255,000 miles would be a beater to anyone else, but Ludacris doesn’t care – he loves it. The car even still makes occasional appearances on social media!

Here’s where I turn things to you, dear reader. What totally and completely ordinary car would you devote all the money, sweat, and tears required to restore it back to factory condition?

 

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Austin Vail
Austin Vail
5 months ago

A Plymouth Cricket wagon. Crickets were a flop when new, basically a very ill-advised badge engineering attempt. The Plymouth Cricket was just a Hillman Avenger with a slightly different grille, and was therefore an inexpensive small British car with British build quality and a minimalist attitude towards creature comforts, but being badged as a Plymouth and marketed as Plymouth’s new compact car… Plymouth customers loathed the things. Read about Plymouth Crickets and most stories just complain about how noisy they were on account of having no sound insulation whatsoever.

But the thing is, it was also British where it counts the most. Which is to say, there are also plenty of accounts from people who drove them and marveled at how well they handled and how spirited the engine was – a rally driver even claimed the engine responded well to simple modifications! Heck, one of the first mods most car enthusiasts do to any project is weight reduction, and sound insulation is one of the first things to go – the Cricket was just way ahead of you on that front! Really the Cricket was just a victim of being sold to an entirely wrong market, so those who would’ve appreciated it never noticed it.

Now the things are rarer than hens’ teeth… it’s estimated that there are maybe 15 running examples left worldwide, and all of them are sedans, which means the wagon version is literally extinct from public roads. There may very well be none left as they were considered cheap disposable transportation and treated as such, nobody was saving these things. The last hope for Cricket wagons is that maybe somewhere out there a forgotten example is sitting forlorn in an obscure junkyard or old barn, unwanted but not enough so to have been scrapped.

If I ever find that surviving Cricket wagon, if it exists, I would very much like to bring it back to roadworthy status so that it will once more be possible to spot one in the wild.

Zepharious
Zepharious
5 months ago

My Dad gave me his 2002 Acura TL that he kept extremely good care of maintenance wise, but unfortunately it was not garage kept and it’s black, so the paint is toast, the wheels are corroded, and there’s some normal wear in the interior of course. He got it shortly before retiring so it has low miles, and I love driving it. My Dad loved the car too but got an Audi for an upgrade. It would be great to restore it to at least look nice before he leaves this world so I could make him proud.

Never underestimate the citation
Never underestimate the citation
5 months ago

Isn’t it obvious?

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
5 months ago

Lumina Z34.

Jason Hare
Jason Hare
5 months ago

For me, it would be my 1992 Nissan Maxima SE. That thing was a beast but it did seem to go through alternators. Dark grey with leather interior, even had a Bose sound system which was big in those days. I had 225,000 miles on it and it never burned oil and still ran like a bat out of hell (for that time). Being responsible, I let one of my friends drive it as the designated driver when a bunch of us went out drinking one night (he didnt drink) and he fell asleep, jumped a very tall curb and totaled it.

I loved that car.

Berle
Berle
5 months ago
Reply to  Jason Hare

4DSC
Those were awesome cars – interior and exterior were stunning for the price. Never drove one, but loved how that and the Taurus SHO made sedans entertaining in the early 1990s and made something like an Audi 200 Quattro looks stupid for how expensive it was.

That said, don’t get me started on my old 1993 Mercedes 500E…

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
5 months ago
Reply to  Jason Hare

Those early 90s Maximas are hard to come by in SE trim. Very slick cars. My younger brother used to have one as a teen, a ’91. It wasn’t an SE though so no fun twin-cammy action.

Berle
Berle
5 months ago

My dad’s old 1978 VW Bus/Transporter. Minnesota rusted that thing out so quick, but my dad got the rust repaired for a ton of money in the early 90s before he finally let go of it.
He ALMOST bought the Champagne edition, but the there was only one at the dealership – the local harpist of the orchestra bought it before he could. BTW, the Champagne edition had cloth seats and CARPET instead of vinyl/vinyl (I hope Torch reads this).
Gas heater option for the win! Could heat up the bus without turning on the ignition in the stupid-cold Minnesota winters, and the ground clearance was great for going through deep snow.

Berle
Berle
5 months ago

I’m kind of on my way with restoring my 2003 Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon. I spend WAY too much money on it trying to “restore” it, while my perfectly acceptable 2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG looks at me jealously for ignoring it. 🙁

I’m weird.

Berle
Berle
5 months ago

I always dreamed of taking the drivetrain of my old 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco 16v and transplanting it into a Rabbit GTI (Golf 1, A1) and making the Rabbit look like a Euro-style Golf with the correct round headlights, smaller taillights, etc. Un-Westmorelanding a 1984 Rabbit GTI and giving it the engine and subframe of the Scirocco.

Drad
Drad
5 months ago

If I could find them, and I know they have both been de-registered which probably means they have scrapped. But my dad’s 1991 Toyota 4Runner, even with its unreliable 2.4 litre turbo diesel – I learnt to drive in it, it was our family car for like 7 years, it took us all over the country, and I regret him selling it for nothing. The other is my second car (my first was written off), it was 1993 Toyota Carina ED a JDM 2.0 manual sedan – it was essentially a 4 door Celica, that thing was awesome, it took me and my friends everywhere. I miss that car. A LOT.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
5 months ago

My dad had a lot of weird cars when I was growing up. Mom always got a new car and he would take the road less travelled. So if I were to restore ordinary cars, I would go to dad’s “collection” of daily drivers. I can’t remember the vintages of the cars, but any would do. The collection would include a Simca 1204 (first car I soloed in…He left a pack of Rum River Crookets on the dash, which I enjoyed on that drive!); VW Microbus. Collector car now, but at the time, cheap transport that blew three or four engines. Dad drove that thing like Mario Andretti. Had to keep up speed to make it up a hill; AMC Pacer Wagon. Root beer paint. Actually, a really nice car when he bought it. Though, as with all of his cars, it was driven hard and often put away on a tow truck.; Fiat 1100D (not diesel) station wagon. Maybe the only car dad bought new. Had beautiful red leather upholstery. And lasted about 6 months, though that wasn’t his fault. It just died and one day was gone…And then there is one car I would enjoy having crushed. I don’t know why, except it was such a piece of junk. And that’s the Harry Potter Anglia. When he sold it, it wouldn’t make it up a hill to one car dealer who was silly enough to buy it. So dad found a less steep hill with a car dealer at the top. That car I would crush.

Jeff R
Jeff R
5 months ago

A couple of friends and I completely did a ground-up restoration of a 1973 AMC Hornet two door sedan. A six-cylinder, automatic transmission sedan. We showed it a few times, and won awards with it each time.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
5 months ago

I only dream of restoring completely ordinary cars… The dream would be a KP60 Starlet Wagon, a Hino Briska, or an Autobianchi A111 – ordinary, but so rare so as to be unobtainable.

William Sheldon
William Sheldon
5 months ago

Ive painstakingly restored two V70R’s, drove them loved them and sold them when thier value rose and we needed a family vacay and then to move across the country.
I think my ’01 v70 T5M is next. It has 270k, and is in need of a bumper to bumper freshen. The volvo bike team (original owners of the car) and child worn interior may be harder to revive than the drivetrain, ha. But still rust free, despite upstate NY salt use. After that is a full restore/restomod (haven’t decided yet) on my grandfathers ’86 F150. Should keep me busy

Berle
Berle
5 months ago

Gosh darn it, I have a 2004 V70R now too, auto. LA car, but now residing in Oregon, so never any rust but ALL rubber parts are deteriorated. Just successfully replaced the valve body on the transmission and it drives like new.

William Sheldon
William Sheldon
5 months ago
Reply to  Berle

Keep these Swedish bricks fed on a constant and/or consistent diet of new rubber parts and it’ll probably last nearly forever, i am convinced. I use my wagons and xc90 suv as family dailys, and they are fantastic in the field (geologist who off roads more than 99% of the population), easy and cheap to repair, dead reliable to the point where when they fail, i can still get home (failed collar sleeve on a x-country trip, failing fuel pump on a x-country trip, failed coolant reservoir hose 30 miles up a forest service road in the flat tops, failed ign coils, failing clutch up I70 in ski traffic, etc etc).
I restored an auto ’04 VR once, mint silver body, nordkap interior. not ideal trans, but worked great in traffic and in the mtns. Sold it in Colorado to pay for a move. still miss that car

Max Headbolts
Max Headbolts
5 months ago

My poor maligned 7th Gen Civic LX sedan, but I’d give it a K-Swap and CRV AWD; I know this isn’t factory spec; but it’s how I’d build it were I Honda.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
5 months ago

This: https://images.app.goo.gl/txmp3zFskJyoUwS28.
I learned to drive in one.
I would ditch the Lima 2.3 and put something more modern, though.

Enker
Enker
5 months ago

Mazda MX-3 GS, it’s a perfect hatchback, unique to the era, beautiful, tiny high reving V6, perfect cockpit.

OR

Isuzu Impulse 2nd gen, no non-hatch car has ever been as beautiful, 4wd turbo, the headlights when off are like a furrowed brow.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
5 months ago

I would love to have my long departed XJ Cherokee 5 speed back to factory spec.

Segador
Segador
5 months ago

Any 80s Saab.

Oldskool
Oldskool
5 months ago

A car I test drove and almost bought back in the 90s. 1990 Cavalier RS wagon with 3.1 and 5 speed. Sharp looking car and would have been a blast to own. Had smarter things to do with my money at the time, but only seen one other like it, on a forum (and who knows maybe that’s it). I started driving with my dad’s Cavalier wagon and loved that thing.

And as much as I’m not into imports, I’d love a late 80s I Mark RS notchback, stick, with the suspension by Lotus.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
5 months ago

1998 Buick Le Sabre. No reason. Just because.

FiveOhNo
FiveOhNo
5 months ago

Plymouth Sundance Duster or Dodge Shadow ES. It was my first car. I did a lot of… questionable modifications to it, but if I restored one, it would be completely stock other than the audio system.

Last edited 5 months ago by FiveOhNo
MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
5 months ago

It would be a tossup for me, either I’d fully restore the 89 Cherokee Laredo that was handed down to me, or I’d restore the 93 MK3 GTI VR6 that was factory Mulberry color.

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