Real-World Project Build Advice
* In an ideal world, a project car build would go something like this: first, decide on a project based on the car's intended purpose. For example: racecar, weekend canyon carver or even daily driver. From there, further goals can be set.

If it's a dedicated racecar, the rules of the specific class will be the guidelines. If it's going to be used strictly for open track days and driver's education events, then ease of driving, reliability and maximum enjoyment may be the focus.

For a weekend toy, canyon carving will require a suspension optimized for handling while still providing a tolerable ride on the way to and from the canyons. Power upgrades may be limited to emissions-legal modifications and aesthetics may be ignored completely.

For daily drivers, the owner may want to spend more on aesthetics than go-fast items, improving the looks while leaving mechanicals largely as they left the factory. Once a goal is set, budgeting can be put in place. In this ideal world, everything comes at a discount and nothing unforeseen ever happens.

Last, a car would be chosen. That's right, there's no point in getting a car before deciding on the above considerations. The start of the project would be a brand-new car right off the lot that didn't require any maintenance. For racing, pick the car that would have the greatest advantage in its class.

If it's a canyon carver, choose something that starts out light from the factory with a decent power-to-weight ratio and a good selection of tuning accessories already on the market. For a daily driver, you may want the latest and greatest, plus something that will meet any other special requirements.

Sadly, things don't always go perfectly. Our starting point is often determined by factors other than what the ideal car would be. We run into budget problems and can't have different cars for different pursuits.

Starting with an ideal car or not, forethought is still required before purchasing components or making any modifications. The real key to building a project car is balance. Any power gains have to be accompanied by comparable suspension and braking modifications.

A necessity for any successful project is adequate planning. Talk to people who have built cars similar to what you're planning. If it's a racecar, spend a few days at the track to see what the fast guys are running. With canyon carvers and dailies, find people in local groups who can help. Many enthusiasts have gone through several iterations of the same car trying to find the ultimate parts combination. Learn from their (often painful) experience.

When it's time to buy, talk to the various manufacturers and retailers. They can help make the right decisions on grouping products together. One suspension kit may be perfect for a street car with mild bolt-on power upgrades, but be worthless for a racecar that is 30 percent lighter and generating twice the factory power. That big brake kit may look great and be perfect for track work, but may not get enough heat into the components to make them useful on the street. The same holds true for everything from tires to spark plugs.

Before buying parts, make sure the car is in good running order to begin with, that basic maintenance is up to date and everything is in perfect operating condition. That being said, don't replace parts twice. Always check to see if a high-performance upgrade is available and, if appropriate, use it.

By Rob Mullner,
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