When you’re a hot rodder, it’s easy to get caught up and carried away when you go look at a project and act on passion and impulse. After all, you’re going to look at it because it’s a car you want to build. It represents a dream, a goal, or an idea that you want to fulfill. But the reality check is important. We’re here to tell you that you gotta be able to look at the car clinically to accurately assess its pros and cons. If you let your emotions get the better of you, you’ll override your common sense and end up getting burned.

Trust us, we’ve been there. It’s very rare for us to throw up our hands in defeat on a project, but we recently discovered that one of our in-house project cars had way more inherent damage than we were prepared to fix. Some stuff just goes too far. That’s why elsewhere in this issue you’ll see the EcoNova sporting a different color—because it’s a different car. Thankfully fourth-gen Novas are relatively cheap, and quick math told us that the amount of money it would take to fix the body and chassis of the previous project far eclipsed what it would cost us to just start over with a better car. So in our case, it’s the same project, same theme and goals, just a different roller now.

Don’t make the same mistake we did, though. We barely scraped ourselves out of a big mess by not assessing the project properly beforehand. The secret is to remain as coolheaded and impartial as possible and watch for the telltale signs. To show you what we mean, we headed out to the renowned Pomona Swap Meet in Pomona, California, to browse through a few hundred project cars for sale. We spent a couple hours in the ’50s and ’60s corral and spotted plenty of examples of what appeared to be great cars, but were harboring some major obstacles to be tackled during the course of a build. So take a moment and check out these oh-so-common types of damage, and hopefully you’ll look at your next potential project with more critical eyes.

The Swapster

While it is sporting a 289 underhood, and the windshield sign even exclaims V-8, a closer inspection reveals it’s actually a swapped six-banger car. The four-lug wheels are a dead giveaway, but there are plenty of other clues as well. Engine swaps aren’t a deal breaker on their own, but they need to be done completely and correctly otherwise you could find yourself backtracking rather than moving forward. For example, this car still had the six-banger spec rearend, suspension, and brakes. If you’re planning on swapping all of that for aftermarket stuff anyway, then the point may be moot—but either way there will be parts swapping to be done. Also worth noting: in general, ex-six-banger cars are not worth as much as true V-8 cars, so the price should reflect that.

Beware: Vinyl

Supposedly GM denoted vinyl roof cars based on the quality of the roof-to-body seams; the bad ones were just covered up. In any event, vinyl roof cars are always suspect since the material tends to trap moisture next to the sheetmetal and cause severe rusting. Typically roof rust issues won’t be quite as obvious as they were on this Impala, but the crunchy bubbles are what you’re looking for—and they’re always worse than they look. Rust that has gotten to a point where it can be seen under the vinyl is nearly guaranteed to require patching, which is extremely difficult on the complex curvature of a roof. At minimum, you’re looking at peeling the vinyl off and making repairs, possibly to the point of re-skinning the whole roof. Don’t forget to include removing the trim and filling in the holes if you don’t plan to replace the vinyl top.