Have you ever thought about building a project car that was a once-overlooked body style as your next hot rod? I am talking about something that doesn’t fit into the “traditional collectible” context. When it comes to considering a Chevrolet as a collectible, do you know of any steadfast criteria that must be followed? I don’t know if there has ever been a true guideline established to dictate what is – and what is not – “allowed” to be considered a collectible car. Since opinions and personal tastes vary, I don’t foresee a guideline magically appearing in the near future.
Owning a traditional, collectible Chevy is as easy as finding one that you can afford – the key word being afford. If you have a large bank account, your options are limitless. All you need to do is go to a big auction, and the choices are virtually endless. But for the rest of us, we need to start thinking outside the box. So, in the spirit of finding out what most people feel would make great alternative-cars to build, we reached out to our Facebook followers and asked them to tell us what non-traditional mode of conveyance they would consider as their next project. We then compiled the top-five answers and came up with our very best unscientifically regulated list.
Before anyone starts complaining that these are not true muscle cars – and I will not argue that fact with you – please understand that these are the cars that Chevy Hardcore Facebook followers suggested would be the car they could see modifying into a hot rod. After all, isn’t hot rodding about building and outfitting a car with parts that did not come from the factory? We can debate the definition, but the discussion would eventually expand into a thousand different directions. Hot rodding is about performance, and for the sake of this survey, let’s just add good looks to the mix, because no one wants to drive an ugly car.
There are definite upsides to buying a Chevy that was created after the muscle car boom. For starters, they have been overlooked for many years and can be purchased (relatively speaking) inexpensively. Next, the technology utilized in these cars, is truly an upgrade to previous generations. The suspensions are designed to deliver a better ride, and the braking systems are far superior. If that’s not enough, many even come with added features like air conditioning and power windows. Yes, your ’69 Camaro could have come with both A/C and power windows, but again, let’s discuss suspensions. It is hard to argue vehicle suspensions didn’t improve from 1969 until the mid-’80s.
There is a caveat to this new pool of available cars, and even though they have a lot going for them, in car speak, they have one big detractor against them – they’re gutless.
Whether you agree with this list or not, here are the top five, post-muscle-car era collectible Chevrolet cars that were unscientifically chosen by our Facebook followers. Many of the vehicle choices we will present, were available with less than 200 horsepower under the hood. For car guys and gals, that will not cut it. But don’t forget, an engine swap is an easy upgrade, so even if the car you’re considering came with an anemic 305 cubic-inch small block, a stroked 350 or 400 cubic-inch powerhouse will fit right in its place.
The Roomy Racer
1977 through 1989 Caprice/Impala
Many of us remember these cars as the family car that mom used to get groceries, take us to after-school activities and weekend football games (the American kind), and I was really surprised when it made the list.
Although not a bad looking car in two-door trim (some even came with Aero-style back glass that would eventually appear in the late-‘80s Monte Carlo), they feature a full-perimeter frame and live rear axle. These cars utilize a multi-link rear suspension, much like the A-body of the ’60s, and upgrade parts are available.
Some early models were available with a 350ci small block under the hood. As good as that sounds, unfortunately, it delivered a sleep-inducing 170 horsepower. In the 1980 through 1985 models, it is more common to see a 305ci small block under the hood. At least it is a V8 that can be easily swapped.
In 1981, the Chevy Caprice was also built to catch bad guys. The police package gave the car a heavy-duty suspension and upgraded brakes, among other things. I concede, these sound like great candidates for modifying.
What It Will Cost You: I found several on the Internet with prices ranging from $4,000 to $9,000. That means the popularity has not gone mainstream yet, but soon will.
1982 through 1998 Camaro
The third-gen Chevrolet Camaro was introduced for 1982, and continued to use General Motors’ F-body platform. These were the first Camaros to come from the factory with fuel injection, four-speed automatic transmissions, five-speed manual transmissions, four-cylinder engines, 16-inch wheels, and hatchback body styles.
The third-gens have always struggled to garner any mass-appeal to enthusiasts. That in-part could be because they were a complete redesign from the first two generations. They were also the first Camaro built without a front subframe or rear leaf-spring suspension.
The third-gen was available with ten different engine combinations during its run. While a V8 was always an option, the early years were relegated to 305 cubic inches. In 1986, the 350ci engine made an appearance in IROC versions, but eked out a measly 220 horsepower. A stroked V8 can now take its place.
What It Will Cost You: I was surprised to find that these cars are commanding serious money. I found numbers ranging from $9,000 all the way to $25,000. Sure, the more expensive cars were probably in great shape with low mileage, but the third-gen is finally getting recognized.
The Chevelle Goes Upscale
1973 through 1977 Malibu (Classic)
The traditional muscle-car-era as many know it, was over when the third-generation Chevelle debuted. While a big-block was initially available, the bigger-is-better engine promotions were now competing with an oil embargo and tightening smog regulations. These would force Detroit to end the availability of the big-block in its passenger cars. Another downfall of this time frame is the advent of a lot of unreliable technology dictating how the engine would run. This would result in some of the lowest performance available. But, they did have V8 under the hood, and a swap is just a weekend away.
The initial-build quality of the car was not the greatest, and that can be proven by the fact that there are not many on the road any more. That’s a shame, because if you can locate one, they have a great chassis, big-block availability in earlier years, they have a little style, and can actually be considered classic. These cars have been gaining popularity, and even the aftermarket is supplying performance items so you can build one any way you want. Unfortunately, 1973 was the last year for the SS option, and 1974 was the last year for the 454 cubic-inch V8.
What It Will Cost You: I found several on the Internet, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $19,000.
1978 through 1983 Malibu
New car buyers of the then-new 1978 A-body, could be purchased as either a coupe, sedan, or station wagon. While this body design was used as the basis for the El Camino, the truck did have its own chassis. The coupes were designed in such a way that many enthusiasts like them as cruisers or all-out race cars. From the factory, a V8 engine was available, albeit a small one. Nonetheless, that means that a healthy small-block V8 swap is an easy task.
This generation of the Chevy Malibu was never the recipient of an SS option, but there was a very rare option in 1980, called the M80. This was not a Chevrolet-offered package, but rather, a North and South Carolina dealer package. It was designed to entice NASCAR fans who frequented Darlington Raceway. All M80 cars came in white, carried Dark Blue bucket seats, and an interior with a center console. This coupe came with the F41 Sport Suspension package, and the normal 305ci V8 with 140 horsepower. The package also included a front and rear spoiler, as well as steel Rally wheels that were sourced from the 1980 Monte Carlo.
The 1978 through 1983 Malibu actually topped our list, and the versatility of which to build this body style is only limited by the imagination. Other than putting 36-inch wheels under it, it is virtually impossible to not build into a cool cruiser.
What It Will Cost You: I found several on the Internet, and most of them had already been hot-rodded. That being said, prices ranged from $4,000 to $9,000.
1973 through 1977 Monte Carlo
The upscale Monte Carlo received a drastic redesign for 1973, and was no longer available as a hardtop. The car became a pillared coupe with rear opera windows and frameless door glass. This was the first year of the big, federally-mandated 5 mph bumpers. During its five-year run, the car only received minor revisions, and they consisted mostly of front end and taillight alterations.
A big-block was still an option in early-year cars, but the 454ci engine could barely smoke the tires with its 235 horsepower. The standard engine was a 350ci small-block with 145 horsepower, but a 175-horsepower version was an available option. Ushering in 1974, saw the reintroduction of the 400ci engine in the Monte Carlo lineup, but this time, it delivered a measly 150 horsepower.
The fact that a big-block was even available in this car makes it a true contender for building a street brawler. Throw on a few aftermarket suspension parts and start terrorizing the locals. Find one of the few that came with a manually shifted transmission, and you could build a truly fun street driver.
What It Will Cost You: I found several on the Internet, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $9,000. Sure, these are large cars by many standards, but what’s wrong with building a roomy hot rod?
1975 Through 1979 Nova
The 1975 Nova received significant changes from previous years. While some state that Chevrolet did keep a visual resemblance to the third generation, others will definitely argue that statement. While the ’68 through ’74 Nova retained many of the same characteristics throughout the generation, the 1975 model was completely new. However, the front subframe assembly was similar to the second-generation F-body. They came standard with front-disc brakes, and engine choices came in the form of a 250ci six-cylinder, or the buyer’s choice of one of three small-block V8 engines. There was also a choice of an automatic or manually shifted transmission.
Often overlooked, the fact that these cars came already equipped with disc brakes and an optional four-speed, makes them a real consideration as a late-model muscle car. David Zabel posted on our Facebook page, “Honestly, I think the ’75 through ’79 Novas are the most overlooked and easily buildable Chevys out there.”
What It Will Cost You: I found several on the Internet, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $24,000.
I know that some of you will definitely have an opinion about this list and might feel I left something off, or that I included something I shouldn’t. Like I said, this was very unscientific, so I’ll give you the chance to let me know what I missed or should have left off. I will check the comments section below for your input, so feel free to tell me how you really feel!