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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Knowonelse
Knowonelse
2 months ago

I’m kinda in the midst of restoring my second purchased vehicle, the ’67 VW squareback I bought back in 1978. I have all the parts, I just need to weld up the floorboard that supports the battery and fix the other body stuff.

Next on the list is the family truck. A ’64 F100 crewcab ordered by a rich person in Sacramento, and Crown (bus builder) built one with some oddball items per the original owner. Dad bought it a year later and I learned to drive in it truck and I still drive at 350k miles on the original drivetrain.

BTW Mark Tucker, the first vehicle I purchased was a ’71 Fiat 128 two-door sedan.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
2 months ago

I’m already planning the restoration of my 2019 Toyota Yaris 6mt. Heck, I might just restore it to a Mazda2.

Space
Space
2 months ago

A GMT 800 Tahoe (Suburban acceptable too), I don’t care about perfect condition just reliably running.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago

As someone who’s restored a car, none of them. Never again.

I don’t want showroom condition. I don’t even want nice paint. Nice paint is a CURSE. You have to worry about tree sap, bird droppings, rock chips, door dings, and you just either spent an assload of time doing it yourself, or a huge amount of money doing a good job. If you didn’t spend much time or money, it’s likely not a good paint job to begin with.

Anyway…. after that fiasco, I picked up my 77 911 S with bad paint, it was buffed through on one side to the primer and mottled, and the other side had some crazing like a dry lake bed. I said F it, cracked a beer, and started sanding the car everywhere, then wet sanding, then polishing, to achieve a mottled/worn patina everywhere on the vehicle.

It’s glorious. I don’t care at all about door dings, rock chips, etc etc etc. I drive the car a lot, and it’s shiny.

Also stock is boring so I upgrade stuff all the time.

James Carson
James Carson
2 months ago

1976 Mazda RX3 Coupe. In blue.

Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
2 months ago

ALL THE Chevy Citations!

Dan Neufeld
Dan Neufeld
2 months ago

1997 Chevy Cavalier Z24. I bought it in 2000 or 2001, at peak Sport Compact Car culture time (IMO). It came with a Supra spoiler and purple limo tint. It was a bad decision at the time, but I loved that car. Eventually the wing and tint came off, and the motor blew while my girlfriend (now wife) was driving it. It would get restored to mostly factory condition, with a few modest era-appropriate mods added. I actually still have the rubber upper engine mount insert that I never got to install in it.

Story time: I deleted the left front bumper marker light, and put in a ram air duct, using dryer vent tubing of course. I think it gave me a bit of a boost on the highway, but who knows. The next Saturday, I was driving from my small town to the city to hang with my car buddies, and I hit a deer. Never got to show them the sweet upgrade I did.

Flyingtoothpick71
Flyingtoothpick71
2 months ago

probably a 1996 Saturn SL 4-door sedan in dark green. that is the car I learned how to drive manual in (there were things before, but it was only ever moving them around the yard) and was my mom’s favorite car she has ever owned. I’m too young for it to be any of my current or past vehicles (my Na Miata was pure stock, my Beetle is being made to be similar to my dad’s in the 80s, and my explorer annoys me to no end but I love it as it is)

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
2 months ago

A 1996 Saturn SL 4-door sedan in dark green with a manual was my first and only car purchased new. I still have it, but between wfh and having random other cars show up on my driveway, I don’t drive it much any more. It has just under 230k miles on it, and a salvage title due to some idiot who didn’t know how to stay in their lane. With the plastic panels, I was able to fix it for $50 in parts from Pick-n-Pull.

Flyingtoothpick71
Flyingtoothpick71
2 months ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

exactly, they’re fantastic little cars that last forever, and the parts are fairly inexpensive. I would have gotten my mom’s back from the family friend who bought it, however, their daughter had forgotten that it needed topped up on oil every 1000 miles and blew up the original motor. ( It didn’t burn or leak oil, no one ever figured out where that oil would go. it did that since my mom had bought it new, up until its 197k mile death)

Brendan Walsh
Brendan Walsh
2 months ago

I recently inherited my dad’s 2001 GMC Sonoma LS Regular cab. No cruise, not even a tape deck, manual everything except the transmission, needs everything. It’s way less cool than his race cars, but I couldn’t afford to keep those so I’ll be budget restoring this regular ass, former fleet, auction bought pick-up and hopefully getting my son into cars along the way. Which is way cooler than a cool race car, so there’s that.

Last edited 2 months ago by Brendan Walsh
DR Short
DR Short
2 months ago

Late ’70s Subaru Brat. Jumpseats rule!

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
2 months ago

Second gen Honda CRX. Maybe an Si, just to be fancy.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Reply to  Ham On Five

Start with the right car and you can make money.

Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
2 months ago

1980 Toyota Corolla SR5 lift back, in white, with a a blue interior. The first car I owned that I actually liked. It was T-boned in 1986, by a 78 year old man driving a ’76 Pontiac wagon. Taken too soon.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

Those were really sharp looking Corollas. Crazy that the 80-83 models gave a person 5 body styles to choose from. Not a single one of them were on stilts with a bunch of ugly black plastic cladding on them pretending to be something they weren’t either, unlike today.

Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
2 months ago
Reply to  Greensoul

They really were. Six body styles, if you count the coach built convertibles (I drove once, it wasn’t awful). The TE80s get all the love, but these deserve more. Nice, well proportioned design. Was of it’s era (straight-ish lines, angular-ish), but doesn’t look bad today. It looked good with both two rectangular, or four round headlights, depending on the body style. Drove great. Taught me to how to drive a manual transmission, and sideways in snow. It would have driven better without that extremely durable boat anchor up front (160lbs of salt pellets during the winter cured that), but hey… I’ve owned Three, over the years, and would happily buy another if the right one came along.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

Wow, I just found an old brochure on them and I humbly stand corrected. Can you imagine today of having four different 2 door selections? Blows my mind. This is, without a doubt, my favorite gen of Corollas ever. If you add in the coach built model you mentioned, that’s seven different models. Mind blowing selection. I miss the days of selection options. really. 4 different 2 doors. the sedan, the hardtop, the liftback, and the hatchback. Then the 4 door and the 4 door wagon. I just looked up the rag top you mention. That makes 7 body styles available for one model. That’s insane. If we push the envelope and include the 80 Corolla Tercel sedan and SR5 liftback were up to 9 choices. I really miss the old days of having selections. And I used to put 40# bags of landscape rocks in the trunk/bed of my RWD vehicles for snow.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 months ago

1995 Saturn SL2. Manual, the teal color.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
2 months ago

I’d love to find and fix a first gen RAV4. My mum had a ‘World Cup’ edition when we were kids, that thing was cool and my mum to this day is adamant I would have enjoyed driving it. I daydream of finding one and having it ready to go when they visit!

EXL500
EXL500
2 months ago

My 2015 Fit EX. I plan on keeping it until I can’t drive, which at 69 is maybe a couple decades away. Then I’ll donate it to whichever Honda museum wants it.

Morale Buddy
Morale Buddy
2 months ago
Reply to  EXL500

I love mine! My daughter named it “Little Happy Friend” and with any luck she’ll learn to drive in it. It’s nice having a relatively modern vehicle that isn’t intimidating to work on.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago

First gen Civic!!!!!!! If I could have any car in show condition, the Civic would be on the short list. And the only ordinary car on the list. I just looooooooove it

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago

Agreed, they were awesome and super fun to toss around. I had 5 of those back in the day as winter beaters. You could buy slightly rusty used ones super cheap and drive them until the rear strut towers rusted out and weren’t road worthy any more. Then rinse and repeat, on to the next one. I recently seen a 79 model with around 4k miles on it on Hemmings for 29 thousand. Had the 2 speed Hondamatic.

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago

2-door Datsun 510 in red, like the one we had when I was a kid. It would be pretty hard to find an unmolested one because they all got racecar’d like this guy.
I’d have to buy this 521 pickup to use as a parts-hauler of course.

Last edited 2 months ago by Gubbin
Geekycop .
Geekycop .
2 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Very close to mine. If have to do a ’68 510 wagon in honor of my grandpa. The only mods from stock I’d have to do are the tripple s head, dual carbs, z 5 speed, and independent rear suspension from the 4 door. Just have to match his car from when he was building race motors for the trans am ones back in the day.

OnceInAMillenia
OnceInAMillenia
2 months ago

I would say my eponymous Mazda Millenia S, because since its release 30 years ago, it remains the only supercharged road vehicle Mazda has ever made.

That said, I got rid of a great condition 2002 S only 2 years ago because it was already nearly impossible to find suspension parts for it. Wanting to restore something and actually being able to are a very different things.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
2 months ago

Pretty much any golden age Honda (let’s say ’86 to ’92 or so) would do.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
2 months ago

That’s easy—my old 1993 Saturn SL2, Blue-Green. I loved that thing, wore it plum out in just 7 1/2 years (I think I traded it in with 145k on the clock). It doesn’t really do anything my Alltrack can’t, but I spent a lot of hours in it, and I’d love to experience it again, the way it was when it was new.

Before we got rid of our ’04 Passat wagon, we talked about sinking a chunk of money into it to try to get another 5-10 years out of it, but that made little sense compared with getting the Alltrack (just in time, as it turned out). We don’t have a garage, and it’s Pittsburgh, so there’s only so long we can expect our cars to live, even though I’m putting 1/3 of the mileage on that I did to that trusty Saturn.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

Funny you mention Passat wagons, my ex has had his 05 since 2012, when we were in college. He just texted me today and said it needs $3,500 worth of work, though it still runs and drives with over 200k on the clock. He’s getting a Tiguan but apparently is keeping the Passat, for sentimental reasons. Not sure if he’ll ever fix it up like he says he will, but it’s nice to know all the work I put into that car while we were together gave him a car he wants to keep, even if it’s not in the best shape.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

The car was “worn plumb out” in 145k miles?

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

I didn’t know it was possible to wear out an SL2. I see so many on the roads out West, just trying to be the best little peoplemovers they can.

Lightning
Lightning
2 months ago

I’ve been thinking about doing it to my 2003 Subaru Legacy wagon. I’m already planning to keep it forever. It’s rust free and mechanically perfect, so it doesn’t need much. So it’s just a choice of keeping patina, which I don’t mind, or making it perfect, which shouldn’t cost all that much. The paint on plastic bits like the mirror caps and door rub strips have been stripped/damaged by the sun; there are a lot of rock chips in the hood and bumper cover; and the rear bumper cover doesn’t quite match from a previous bumper cover replacement.

My 1996 Legacy wagon has some rust, so while I’m never selling it, it’s not worth restoring while nicer ones are rare but can still be found. I would like to someday make a Gen2 Legacy wagon restomod though. JDM interior and some kind of Subaru driveline swap (flat 6:EG33/EZ30/EZ36 or turbo EJ, 6-speed manual).

Mike S
Mike S
2 months ago

I thought of a number of them, but I would love to have back the 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88 my sister bought off my friend’s parents around 1999-ish. Light blue with dark blue velour bench seat, 3800, it was roomy and surprisingly quick. She drove it into the ground for 15 years before subframe rot took it out. Always thought that car would look good on the original steelies with white letter tires, black car bra, and the optional luggage rack for a bit of a factory “spoiler” on the trunk. Peak ‘80s baby, ya had to be there! 🙂

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike S

I was behind one of those today!

Wait, that’s not right: it was actually the previous generation, which was my family’s cruiser from ’78 to ’86. I’m not sure of the exact spec because I couldn’t catch up through traffic, but I’d recognize that tail anywhere. And it was light blue, like your sister’s.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
2 months ago

First I would finish fully restoring my ’88 200SX. Then there is a list of cars that hold memories from my youth, such as:

77-79 Corolla SR5 Liftback87-92 Chrysler LeBaron coupe80-83 Datsun 200SX hatchback86-88 Honda Accord hatchback84-93 Dodge Daytona
Lately though I’ve had my eye out for a rad little pickup, either a Rampage or a Ram 50/D50

Last edited 2 months ago by TriangleRAD
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

An old hearse.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

was that deadpan comedy? Old hearses are sorta cool. I heard folks were dying to get a ride in the back of them.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Greensoul

No humor except my cynicism always liked the looks of the older hearses/ambulances with the windows in the back.

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I did some research, and some of the old horse drawn hearse carriages had the dead corpse on display for the whole crowd to see. Kinda morbid, kinda cool.

MrLM002
MrLM002
2 months ago

This is hard because what one defines as ordinary is hard to determine.

Best one I can thing of is a Ford Model T (which was very ordinary in its time).

MrLM002
MrLM002
2 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

*think not “thing”

Don’t go more than 24 hours without sleep kids or you’ll end up looking like a dummy like I did in the above comment.

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