Those Occupy Wall Street folks just might be onto something. The 1 percenters have all the fun while the rest of us get nada. The hot rodding world certainly has its equivalent. The 1 percenters build sky-is-the-limit checkbook cars, while the rest of us window shop eBay and Craigslist. Sigh. Maybe one day. Screw that! Don’t stand around in some imaginary car guy unemployment line—we say, occupy Goodguys! Occupy Super Chevy! Occupy the Car Craft Summer Nats! Why should check writers have all the fun?

We decided to do something about it. We figured the best way to get the fence sitters out of the car guy unemployment line and into the cruisin’ lane was to prove that you can get into the game and be a real player for small bank. We spent real money on a real car and real parts—and you would be astonished to know what kinds of cool comments we’ve gotten on our ’68 Valiant since we pulled off this fantastic feat.

The Car

One tip to duplicating our low price of admission is that we started out with a long list of possible car candidates. Had we actually been looking for a ’68 Valiant, we surely would’ve paid more, but we were open to any car—the only “must haves” were that it needed to be locally owned, domestic, two-door, no convertible, no rust, driveable condition, mostly straight body, and ’60-72 model year. We searched for three months, looked physically at a dozen cars, and cherry picked the best deal when it came up. Three strategies saved us from overspending on project car fodder: we weren’t obsessed with finding a specific car model, we weren’t hell-bent on a V-8, and we placed fanatical importance on a straight, rust-free body with salvageable paint. That last one may seem like a costly concession, but it actually saves a bucket of money on body and paint. Framing those principles was the knowledge that a killer-looking wheel/tire package and the right stance can make practically any car look good.

When searching for a car, time is on your side—despite pressure from sellers telling you otherwise. That cash may be burning a hole in your pocket, but resist the urge to buy rust in the shape of a car. Can’t find anything nice at your price? The longer you take to add to the spending pot, the larger your cash kitty will grow, and the nicer your project can be. We started out with a $1,700 pot, but by the time we found our Valiant three months later, we had $2,500 stashed.

Patience and responsible buying habits do pay off. We found a remarkably nice Slant Six ’68 Plymouth Valiant for $2,800 and talked the seller down to $2,500. To the good, it was virtually rust free, it was a running car with no major mechanical issues, the interior was surprisingly well preserved, the paint was all there, and the body was mostly straight. On the negative side, there are numerous electrical issues, it’s a Slant Six, and there is some slight road rash on the front left fender. We figured those negatives would be easily worked out over time, as long as we could drive it over the short term. As for the parking lot scrapes on the front left fender—they’re small enough that they serve to add charm. At least paint still covers them and they are darned hard to see in photos.

The Game Plan

Some gearheads might put the first priority on building a nasty motor with a snotty attitude. We’ve done that before, in fact it’s our normal mode of operation. Lay rubber first, worry about what it looks like later. Since we have the luxury of other cars that already pound the pavement with big cubes and massive pound-feet, we thought starting with the looks could be cool for a change. Buy the car, do a quick rehab, and get into the cruisin’ lane ASAP. When cash is thin, you don’t want to have to keep laying out Benjamins month after month, year after year, with no seat time in return. Our plan: have fun with the mon.