I’ve written about the project management side of car building many times before in other venues, so it might be worth condensing and consolidating those thoughts into something more digestible.
Be honest with yourself, as you’ve grown and moved up, moved laterally, moved down and around, you and your tastes change over a life time. What you thought was cool and awesome as a 12-year old kid are not going to be the same when you are say, 40.
This occurred to be like a wet herring slap to the face when I perusing one of those great big giant furniture stores. There were literally thousands of combinations of furniture, color, style, materials, shape…etc. It was endless!! You might be asking, “what’s a swell garage dweller and man-about-town guy like you doing shopping for couches and furniture?” and that would be a fine question. However, at this point in my life, I get excited about stuff that my 12-year old brain would have never been excited about… Like couches.
I’m at the point in my life where stuff like how my house looks and functions is important to me. The couch being the center of the universe for a guy like me along with a big flat screen encompasses a good chunk of the house so naturally it’s an important decision.
The thought that occurred to me was this; there were only two kinds of couches; ones that’s looked good and ones that were comfortable. And those that were both good looking AND comfortable where triple the price of either of the two aforementioned.
So, blah blah blah… What does this have to do with cars? I saw a very analogous theme here. Racecar vs. Streetcar. They each have their own jobs but one is clearly more comfortable and one is clearly more ‘performance’ oriented and if you want both, be ready to shell out some big bucks.
So, with that thought in mind, having a clear vision, goals, themes and a general ‘can-do’ attitude will help you along your build process and not get you side tracked.
The importance of having a clear end goal
I can say now that the biggest and most important thing you can do well BEFORE you turn a single wrench is to draw out an end goal for your project. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car build, house build or even building some crappy Ikea particle board laminate things; if you don’t know where you’re headed, it’s easy to get lost. Ever try driving somewhere you’ve never been without Google maps?! Brother, please.
Having built several cars now from the ground up, the best thing I’ve done is conceptualize the build in my head well before any parts get bought or wrenches get turned. This all starts with a goal in mind and the best question you should ask yourself….
“What do I want?”
Sounds simple right? Slow down there cowboy, easier said than done. Ask yourself what do you reeeeaaallly want? Want a fast street car? Want a show car? Want a cruiser? Want a flat our race car? Want something that’s just ‘fun’?
The list of questions goes on and on and on…
Next, define what that actually means. What’s a ‘fast street car’ look like to you? Does it have windows? AC? Radio? How far do you actually want to take this before it crosses over into some other theme you didn’t intend it to? Critical question to answer.
A few things we can sort of agree on. I can look at a car and say, that’s a resto-mod or that’s a pro-street themed car… Other stuff not so much. I’ve heard many debates for example about what it means to be “pro-touring”. There are certain things a pro-touring car needs, but does it need all of them? That’s up for debate but remember, it’s your car. You get to decide those factors.
Also, pick a time line. You need to accurately assess what you can and cannot do. What you’ll need to pay someone to do and what you can do yourself. What’s your timeline to get this done? Have a date in mind? I highly recommend setting a timeline for yourself that’s realistic, a year, two years… whatever the date is, an end date will help you stay on track and keep you focused and motivated. I also recommend keeping a milestone log so that you can track progress and know the order in which things need to happen.
I love a good theme and nothing looks better than a well conceived theme on a car. How many cars can you count just on your way to work where it looks like someone cobbled together some piping from Menard’s and ‘customized’ their car. Sweet jebus I can’t tell you how many.
Still, once you find a theme, I say stick with it. Take that theme and incorporate it into the entire car. Little things here and there will really make your project stick out but look very cool in the long run. Sure, will anyone notice that you painted all the bolt heads the same color as your car? No, but 1 in 100 just might and that new guy will probably end up being your best friend for life because hey, he noticed and how cool is that?!
Look guys and gals, stuff is going to happen. That timeline you just made? Poof! Gone. A long winter screw up your plans to work on the car? Yea, it happens.
Find rust where you didn’t expect to find rust and now you have to fix it? Get used to it.
Point being is that you need to plan for these eventualities. They will happen. A one hour job can easily turn into a 3-hour job because of a stupid hard to reach bolt. Been there, I got the T-shirt.
The important part is that you stay calm and walk away from the project for a period time. A day. A week. Doesn’t matter, whatever you need to clear your head so that you can come back in full force and full enthusiasm; you need to do it.
There is nothing and I mean, nothing, more painful than to watch someone sell their half finished project because they were pissed, angry or got in way over their head.
Don’t get me wrong, timing is not great in the world and there are times where you’ll have to sell something mid stride, it happens. But don’t let poor planning or misplaced frustration and emotions be that reason.
Being realistic about your build
Ask yourself the question again… What do you want? And ask it a million times over because what you want and what you can do sometimes are very different. For me, I’d love a Riddler winning car that I can thrash at the race track, but guess what? Nahgonnahappen.
#1: Can you afford your dreams? Do you have cash-in-hand? Be. Serious. Car building can add up fast especially when Johnny-come-lately shows up with a shiny new toy, it’s tempting to get off the path of your established goal, but this is NOT that time.
#2: What are your skills? Is this project something that you’re teaching yourself? Fine, but be honest with yourself if it takes longer than expected.
#3: Know your limits: There are certain jobs I just suck at. Transmissions for example. It’s a bag of mysteries for me. Know yours and farm out work to the experts when you are truly in over your head.
#4: Understand that things are not going to always be perfect all the time.
These are just a few of the millions of questions you could be asking yourself so just learn to give yourself a break from time to time and not let overly crazy pipe dreams get in the way of your ride!
Ok, here comes the real question: Can you afford your end goals within the time line you’ve created? If you have a 5-year build, probably almost anything can be done. However, the longer you stretch it out, the harder it becomes to complete, just sayin’.
We all want the fancy schmancy wheels and million dollar paint jobs, but as we discussed before, it’s kind of all a compromise between time and money.
There’s nothing wrong with going slightly under your dream car if that’s all you can afford at the time, but there are times where I’ve seen guys way over shoot their budget and now they can’t finish the car or when they do it looks like 10 different ideas and direction collided with one another.
You can save money if you’re willing to the bulk of the work yourself, but shop rates of $150/hr add up FAST. So for me, I like to farm out work that I absolutely cannot do and do the stuff I reasonably think I can accomplish, even if it’s something I haven’t done before but can follow a YouTube video explaining the process. For example; alignments. Can I do one? Sure. But it is a hell of a lot faster and easier to pay a local shop I trust $100 to put it on their fancy laser machine? Money well spent in my opinion.
Little things add up fast and even if you buy in bulk, the cost can rise substantially if you don’t plan for them. McMaster-Carr is great and if you aren’t shopping there on the reg, then son, you need to like to-day. Always add %10 to your total budget for little things here and there that add up. Belts, fluids, nuts and bolts, lug nuts, stuff you’re bound to break, lights, trim pieces…etc… You’ll thank me.
Keeping the momentum going
As we’ve already covered, keeping your motivation going is often the bulk of the battle. We’ve all been there, sitting in the garage, frustrated beyond all belief and ready to trash the entire build because screw-this-stupid-car, right?
Walk away. Take a break. 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 months. Just. Walk. Away. Do something else, take up knitting or become a monk for a summer, whatever it takes, don’t let one crappy day with strong emotions kill your motivation.
Half way through a build and you’re in over your head? If you had heeded my advice earlier in this article, you wouldn’t find yourself there too often. So plan ahead.
Another way to keep motivation going is to enlist a buddy of like mind. You can work on each others gear and at least the other person can keep a level head for you while you’re losing yours.
Having a killer name…
So what’s in a name really? I believe that if you are going to name your car, it should be reflective of not only the car, but incorporate the theme of the build, who the builder is, the car itself and the personality you want the car to have.
Previous builds played off all these themes. For example, the latest build I’ve got, I’ve named “War Venom”.
“Snake Bitten/charmed” has been used to death and “Mongoose” is just lame so it had to be something more unique and god-be-praised Google helps here. The theme of the car is “nasty street car” so to me, that means it’s a very quick car that has AC, heat and a radio and comfy seats. Vipers are poisonous and they spew ‘venom’… ok. Got that. Something then has to click before that because “Venom” is a Spiderman villain and I don’t want that association…. See where this is going? It takes a while to come up with a good name that fits the theme.
Wrapping things up
I’ve harped on this point for years, but having clear vision and an end goal makes things go more smoothly. People asked how I finished “Grifter” so quickly… Because I knew what had to happen and in what order and by what date.
Make it happen people! You can doooo eet!