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5 Affordable Used Cars for Great 2021 Restoration Projects

I wrote an article for Oversteer entitled “Here Are 5 Cheap Used Cars That Would Make for a Smart Restoration Project.” In it, I highlighted relatively common used cars from the 1990s and early 2000s that quietly enjoy a fair amount of enthusiast appeal and would be relatively simple and inexpensive to restore to factory-fresh condition today. A few years have passed, and a follow-up is in order. Here are 5 additional affordable used cars ideal for restoration projects.

1. 1995-1999 Buick Riviera Supercharged

1995 Buick Riviera Front in Red

I’ve always regarded the Buick Riviera as an old person’s car from an era when GM vehicles were particularly lackluster. Still, the eighth-generation Riviera, sold from 1995 through 1999, was widely available with a supercharged V6 engine. All eighth-gen Rivieras came with a 3.8-liter V6. Supercharging was optional from 1995 through 1997 and then became standard for 1998 and 1999. For 1995 the supercharged V6 puter out 225 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, but for 1996 those figures were increased to 240 hp and 280 lb-ft. Buick built the eighth-generation Riviera on the same front-wheel-drive full-size sedan platform as the Oldsmobile Aurora, Cadillac Seville, and Buick Park Avenue. As with most GM products, finding replacement parts shouldn’t be difficult. See Buick Riviera models for sale

2. 1992-1999 Chevrolet Tahoe and 1992-1997 GMC Yukon 2-Door

1999 Chevrolet Tahoe Profile in Green

As they were taking the reins from the full-size K5 SUVs, the original Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, sold from 1992 through 2000, were available in a 2-door body style seen as sporty and relatively compact. Today, the rarity of the 2-door Tahoe and Yukon makes it undeniably cool. It rides on a wheelbase 6 inches shorter than the 4-door Tahoe from the era and weighs 1,000lbs less (4,500lbs vs. 5,500). Production of the 2-door Tahoe and Yukon was relatively short-lived. The 2-door Yukon was sold through 1997, while the 2-door Tahoe was canceled after 1999 ahead of GM’s full-size SUVs receiving a redesign for 2000. So while these 2-doors are relatively uncommon, their 4-door counterparts are not, and the whole model line shares a high percentage of its components with GM’s line of full-size trucks from the era. Parts sourcing should be easy. See Chevrolet Tahoe models for sale or See GMC Yukon models for sale

3. 2004.5-2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2006 Jeep Wrangler Left Profile in Silver

Jeeps Wranglers are a dime a dozen. Finding any old cheap Jeep Wrangler for sale to restore wouldn’t be too difficult, but since this is an enthusiast page, we’re going to highlight the elusive TJ Wrangler Unlimited. Jeep introduced the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited with the roll-out of the JK generation for the 2007 model year. Before that, Jeep used the Unlimited name on an extended-wheelbase version of the TJ Wrangler, introduced in mid-2004 as an odd 2004.5 model-year update. The TJ Wrangler Unlimited, or LJ, as it’s informally known, had a 10-inch longer wheelbase and was 15-inch longer overall than the regular Wrangler; 2-inch went to second-row legroom, while 13-inch were allocated to the rear cargo area. Due to the longer wheelbase, the TJ Unlimited had an additional 1,500 lbs of towing capacity, 3,500 lbs to the regular TJ’s 2,000lb max. The TJ Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited was sold for just the 2004.5, 2005, and 2006 model years and is one of the most desirable Wranglers ever built; still small enough to tackle tight trails but offering far more usable space than a regular Wrangler Rubicon from the era. While the LJ itself is rare, I’m willing to bet it shares no less than 98% of its parts with the regular TJ Wrangler, for which parts are widely available. See Jeep Wrangler models for sale

4. 1995-1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse

1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse Front Left in Red

The Eclipse was most popular during the tuner-car era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. This can certainly be attributed to the green second-generation Eclipse featured in the opening scenes of the original The Fast and The Furious movie. Either way, these second-generation Eclipses came with some relatively potent engine choices and even offered all-wheel-drive in their top trim level. AWD GSX models are tough to come by — none are currently listed for sale on Autotrader. But if you can settle for front-wheel-drive, you’ll have a lot to choose from. Any GS-T model – coupe or convertible – puts out 210 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, not far from what most turbo 4s make today. And given the Eclipse’s popularity during its heyday, parts should be readily available. See Mitsubishi Eclipse models for sale

5. 1995-2004 Toyota Tacoma

1995 Toyota Tacoma Profile in Red

Though Toyota has sold a small pickup in the US since the 1970s, the Tacoma name only came onto the scene in 1995, when Toyota debuted a small truck designed specifically for the United States market. Over the years, Tacoma trucks have built a reputation for being robust and reliable, and it’s not uncommon to see used options with over 300,000 miles on the odometer. Thanks to this reputation, these trucks hold their value quite well – expect to find asking prices of $10k or so for anything with fewer than 200,000 miles on the odometer. On the other hand, because many of them are out there, replacement parts are easy to come by, whether you’re buying them new online or sourcing them from your local junkyard. See Toyota Tacoma models for sale

Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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