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Sunday, October 22, 2006


"If I had all the money I'd ever spent on cars, I'd spend it all on cars."

I can't take credit for that line; it belongs to Evildky from the Grassroots Motorsports message board. In the comments section of this blog, Matt Dinniman had wondered just how much money went into the Dart. The short answer is too much; in many cases I could have put it together for less had I known at the time I spent the money what I know now. But, of course, the way I learned that has been by working on, and spending money on, the car.

So, how much did I spend? Well, admittedly, in the early days some of it wasn't actually my spending, as I got it as a Christmas present from my parents, and they paid for the transmission work and upholstery. But I'll include all the money in my rough estimate of how much it cost.

When I got it, the purchase price was $500. The previous owner said it just needed a new radiator (besides a major cosmetic restoration). I first tried to have the radiator fixed and then replaced it, so that's about $150 worth of repairs.

Only they were wrong about what it needed - the transmission was also shot. Cost about $1,200 to fix. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't ever buy a car you can't test drive - unless you only want the body shell anyway.

I upholstered it with seat covers and carpeting from J.C. Whitney. That came to $300.

The exterior repairs took longer, but after a lot of homemade bodywork, I had it resprayed the original Chrysler W1 White for around $400. It's showing signs of just how bad bodywork done by a clueless teenager can be, but I think I'll keep the color. Not much else goes with a red interior except black - and black makes bad bodywork even more obvious.

Then I spent somewhere around $150 on its first real performance mod - a two barrel carburetor. I used a junkyard Super Six manifold and a rebuilt carburetor I bought cheap off eBay. The rebuilt carb, in retrospect, was a mistake - I'd probably have gotten a carb that worked better if I had taken a junkyard carb and rebuilt it myself. That's a subject for another post. Much of the money went into things like the throttle linkage.

Next, I took a stab at the suspension. I added an Addco front anti-roll bar, KYB shocks, polyurethane bushings, and the famous disc brake conversion devised by the guys at Mopar Action Magazine. I spent around $500 on the suspension mods - and around $1,000 on new wheels and tires. This wasn't entirely an appearance mod; the brake rotors I have up front are only an inch smaller than the original wheels. So I needed larger wheels to clear the brakes.

Then I found the turbo manifold and turbo from this article were up for sale, along with a four barrel carb and Offenhauser manifold. I snapped them up for around $400... and spent another $600 or so on parts to get a complete turbo setup, such as gauges, an electric fuel pump, a very crude exhaust, and a lot of parts I used in a failed attempt to get the carburetor to work. Never could get that carb to behave, and I think it had as much to do with some rather strange mods the carb had.

I was in over my head. So I knew I had two choices: Either put it back to stock, or get in even further over my head and try converting it to fuel injection. So, naturally, I picked the latter. I'd estimate I spent around $1,800 on the EFI parts, including around $650 for the modified manifold and close to $200 on AN-type fuel lines and fittings.

While it was sitting, the tires became dry-rotted. And I decided to add a professionally built exhaust. Those two things have just added another $1,100 to the total.

And I figure there's probably another $600 or so of other things I've left out, mostly repairs and minor things.

So, that comes out to having spent $8,700 on this car, or pouring $8,200 into a $500 car. It's probably worth less than half of what I put into it. And I may very well spend a couple more grand before I get the Dart where I want it, as I'd like to give it some more suspension work, add an intercooler, maybe a little internal engine work too. And give the interior a real makeover. This probably sounds a bit crazy to spend money like that.

Well, I guess hobbies don't make economic sense when you get down to it. Everybody does things with their time and money that someone else would think is crazy. Even Clark Howard, Atlanta's guru of cheap, has a couple expensive hobbies.

Money may not buy happiness, but the way I see it, spending money only on things that make complete sense also doesn't make you happy.

Hey, I've been following your progress in the Megatune mailing list :-) I have a 1965 Chevy school bus, converted to RV by my wife and I, and powered by a 500cid Cadillac V8. I've also spent a similar fortune on it, and now want to Megasquirt it. There's a local shop who has the machinery to make the holes for the injector bungs in the Edelbrock intake, but I need to find a sub-thousand dollar throttle body for it. Cripes, those are expensive!

Anyway, cool project! Can't wait to see the ET's from it when you're done :-)
For what it's worth, you may or may not know that cadillac 500's came with analog fuel injection in the mid '70s, maybe the manifold -rails-throttle body would work for you.
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