So you've decided to start shopping for a project car, and for one reason or another, you've got a limited budget. There are always going to be economic lulls and discouraging situations, but when it forces you to lose out on your hobby and your passion, then hope can be hard to keep. It's still possible, even on a limited budget, to find a cool running and driving project car; chances are it won't be a '69 Camaro, a Mustang fastback, or a Hemi 'Cuda, but who said you always need one of those to be cool?

The initial project car purchase is the most important part of your hot rod, and a large part of how much you'll enjoy the car when it's done. The better the car you start with, the less you'll need to put into it. Conversely, the less you put into it initially, the more cash and sweat equity you'll need for upgrades. There is a lot to consider just like with any big purchase, so doing your research is of great importance. We're offering a list of 20 cars that are both affordable, and inspirational. (Please note that all our ratings are on a 1-to-5 scale.) Some are off-year models that come with a lesser price tag, and some are more plebian platform mates of more expensive models. You can get a car in decent condition for less money than the prime-year cars, or you can get a car in much better condition for the same price. Either way you look at it, you can spend less or work less. In either case, you'll have something that will stand out from the crowd of '69 Camaros. Obviously, our space is limited, and we couldn't represent every possibility here, but we hope we've given you some food for thought and some useful information for when you're shopping for your next project car!

1979-1993 "Fox" Mustang
This one may seem too obvious to be on this list, but it's such a prime example of what you can do on a low budget. Look no further than contributor Stephen Kim, and his Project Fox. These Mustangs were wildly popular since the day they came out and have quite a following. For the 1990 model year, Ford was redesigning the Mustang based on Mazda's front-wheel-drive MX-6. Letters from Mustang fans ultimately ended this idea, keeping the Mustang's traditional rear-wheel-drive with a V-8 option alive. (One exception was the SVO Mustang. Rather than a V-8, it came with a turbocharged four-cylinder, making nearly as much power as the V-8 in a lighter package. These turbo cars could easily be modified to make well more than that.) The 1987 production year brought styling and engine changes; improved fuel delivery and air metering meant more power. These third-generation Mustangs are being transformed into road racers, drag racers, and street cruisers. They are light, easy to work on, and have more aftermarket support than all of the cars on this list by far.

By The Numbers
Typical Price Range: $1,500 - $5,500
Total model production: 2,608,705
Platform variants: Ford Fairmont, Mercury Zephyr and Capri
Available engines: I-4 144ci Turbo, V-8 302 ci
Coolness factor: 5
Aftermarket support: 5
Availability: 5
Website resources: www.foxbodyforum.com

We Found It
The later years of this generation Mustang (often called the aero nose) are more valuable than the earlier ones because of improved body styling and performance. This '90 LX has already gotten quite a bit of attention with aluminum heads, thousands of dollars in new parts, and a new paintjob. The 38-bid race ended at only $2,700. Seems like a low price to pay for such a performer.

1965-1970 Chevy Impala
Chevrolet's redesign of the Impala in 1965 proved a brilliant plan when the sales figures came in. The '65 model year sold over 1 million Impalas, higher than any car ever. The next year had similar sales results. The Impala is a fullsize luxury model that came in two- and four-door versions. They were second only to the Caprice in options. It wasn't all about looking good though: They also packed some power. They housed the famous 409 big-block as well as the more traditional 396-, and 427-inch big-blocks. All of these years had the SS available except the '70, where the SS name was dropped and a 454 incher took the place of the 427. These powerboats use all of the drivetrain components that are common to Chevy-folk. Though they may not ever be canyon carvers, the aftermarket has brought a lot of great suspension and braking parts to the table.

By The Numbers
Typical Price Range: $1,500 - $10,000
Total model production: 4,496,857
Platform variants: Buick LeSabre; Chevrolet Biscayne, Bel Air, and Caprice;
  Pontiac Bonneville and Grand Prix
Available engines: V-8: 283, 307, 327, 350, 396, 409, 427
Coolness factor: 5
Aftermarket support: 4
Availability: 6
Website resources: www.impalas.net

We Found It
This '66 two-door hardtop sold for $8,800 through eBay's "Buy It Now" program, where one bid wins the auction at the seller's asking price. The car is ready to hit the car shows with minimal work. Fully restored SS427 Impalas sell for higher than this example, while non-running project cars started around $1,500. The sheer volume of these cars makes them inexpensive and easy to find.

1971-1977 Pontiac Ventura
Pontiac's entry to the GM X-body line was the Ventura II in 1971. In the '60s, the Ventura was a fullsize car as a fluffed-up version of the Catalina. The '70s name Ventura II was given to distinguish between the two. The first Venturas came in a variety of Chevy six- and eight-cylinder engines. It wasn't until 1972 that the Ventura came with a Pontiac 350 for the base V-8 model. A special GTO package was available in '74 that gave it a shaker hood and special trim. Plans to continue the GTO package through 1975 were dropped when GM decided to use a Buick V-8 instead of the Pontiac. Later they would also replace the Chevy 250 I-6 with the Buick 231 V-6 found in the '80s Regals. The Ventura shared skeletons with the Chevy Nova, Oldsmobile Omega, and Buick Apollo. This would make aftermarket parts readily available to transform the Ventura anyway you could want. Early Camaro suspension parts are also interchangeable. Unfortunately, the 1.5 milion Novas made verses the 350,000 Venturas made draws their values up. Unless you're a Pontiac fan, the Nova is a more economical choice.

By The Numbers
Typical Price Range: $3,000 - $12,000
Total model production: 347,081
Platform variants: Buick Apollo and Skylark; Cadillac Seville; Chevy Nova;
  Oldsmobile Omega
Available engines: V-8: 307/350 Chevy, 350 Pontiac, 350 Buick
Coolness factor: 5
Aftermarket support: 4
Availability: 2
Website resources: www.pontiacventura.com

We Found It
We found quite a spread of prices for the Ventura. The earlier years were selling for well over $10,000, much higher than their sister Novas. The later years, however, are left without bids. This '77 is extremely clean with a 305 backed by an automatic transmission and a spotless interior. The starting price was $3,200 and no bids were placed.