According to Collins Dictionary, “An amateur is someone who does something as a hobby and not as a job”. Restomod amateurs may not restore and modify cars for a living, but they better have a good idea of what they’re doing around a car before getting started. Pros have documented spending 1000’s of hours and many tens of thousands of dollars restomodding vehicles from the frame up. This process is often called a frame-off rotisserie restoration and involves disassembling every part of the vehicle, then attaching the bare frame to a literal car-sized rotisserie so every square inch of it can be accessed for restoration.
Regardless of your skill level or ability to access state-of-the-art equipment, it’s important to stay focused and have a realistic goal from the start. SuperChevy.com tells us, “The perfect vehicle for most [restomod] enthusiasts is the best one they can get their hands on.” The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is cited as being the first full-sized American muscle car, but the Pontiac GTO is considered by many to be the first ‘real’ muscle car. It’s smaller size and weight allowed it to achieve speeds not previously seen from the originals, and it’s introduction spawned a long list of competitors including the Chevrolet Chevelle, which was named “America’s most popular mid-size car in ’69.
So then, which is the better project car for a restomod amateur to tackle? To answer that question we considered the availability of both a donor car and the needed parts to restore and modify it, as well as ease of access to important sections like the engine bay and transmission, and finally the number of online resources available to aid in our work.
Donor Car – Availability And Price
Unfortunately once some people see traction that a car is starting to gain in the field of restomodding, they become entranced with the idea their junker is a Powerball ticket. The benefit to restomodding is that your donor car doesn’t need to be the top of line model or even in good shape, because you’ll likely swap out the engine and all major parts anyway. On the other hand, if you’re looking to start small and only make minor cosmetic changes or upgrades, be prepared to spend much more $$ upfront.
From ’64-’65 and ’72-’74 the GTO was only available as an upgrade to the Pontiac Tempest and LeMans. True GTO’s were made from ’66-’71 with 3 distinctive body styles that are highly coveted today. Sales actually peaked in ’66 with almost 97K produced, but after that new emissions and safety standards coupled with increased competition from Ford, Chrysler and other GM offerings drove up the price and drove down sales. The ’71 GTO featured engines with smaller compression ratios in anticipation of unleaded gasoline becoming mandatory, so these would be ideal to grab as a donor car, if you can find one.
The Chevelle sold from ’64-’77, and underwent many significant stylistic changes along the way. Not all versions are aesthetically desirable for a restomod project, but beauty is in the eye. GM sold many millions more of these than the GTO, because Chevelle’s were available as 2-door hardtop coupes, sedans and convertibles, 4-door sedans and station wagons, and the iconic El Camino truck design. Many SS versions were sold with big displacement engines, culminating in ’70 with an LS6 454 option making 450 HP and 500 lb-ft of torque. You have a much better chance of finding a Chevelle with an engine worth keeping, but it will cost you $$.
Parts – Availability And Price
As you can imagine based on the sales figures, the aftermarket for the GTO is smaller than the Chevelle. In truth, the buyers market for GTO’s are also slowing down, likely due to the fact prices became outrageous at one point. An all original ’70 Pontiac GTO Judge sold for $440K at auction in 2018.
There are still plenty of resources for both cars, but parts for the GTO will cost you a lot more. Goodmark Industries is just one of many licensed companies found through the GM Restoration Parts program for reproduction sheetmetal and trim. YearOne.com lists 571 Chevelle products and 523 GTO parts. Original Parts Group Inc has all kinds of parts for both, however the GTO parts are rarer and more expensive.
Another beautiful thing about the Chevelle is, it’s A-body platform shares many parts and fittings with other GM cars like the Cutless, Skylark, Malibu, and Monte Carlo. SuperChevy confirms the Chevelle is one of the easiest cars to shop for. Parts are affordable and interchangeable, and more importantly, both replica and OEM parts are abundant.
Ease Of Access To Engine Bay And Online Resources
For amateurs, more room to work equals less headaches. Most older cars have plenty of space in the engine bay, and the areas that house the transmissions and exhaust are easily accessible as well. Buying a cheap donor car probably also means you’ll only have a smaller engine to remove before starting the mod. There’s a myriad of online resources to reference with actual how-to guides that will walk you through any number of mods you might consider.
Looking for ideas or inspiration? There are pages upon pages of posted amateur restomod jobs to check out, and if you get completely stuck and frustrated, companies like Artie’s Restoration will restore any donor car up to the point you’re comfortable taking over the job again.
Next: These Classic Restomods Look Nothing Like The Original