When buying a car to fettle with and modify, not everyone has the cash to pick up an S15 and start throwing parts and money at it. However, don't panic, because I'm here to say there are still plenty of budget options out there, which still offer the perfect project car experience.
As a quick heads up, this is for people based in the UK. This is important to note because of our utterly insane insurance prices. Where as in America an 18 year old can quite easily get insured on a WRX STI Impreza for example, this is simply not possible in the UK. So, keeping that in mind, lets see what we can come up with, without anything too boring...like a Honda Jazz. (I have thrown in some before and after pics for inspiration)
1. Mazda MX5 (NA or NB)
Its no surprise that the Mazda MX5 makes this list. It is perhaps the international daddy of cheap project cars. Why is this? Well, they are cheap to insure with 1.6 and 1.8 naturally aspirated engines to offer, and they are insanely cheap to buy now, when you consider they are a little 2 seater convertible sports car with RWD. NB models in good nick can be picked up for LESS THAN A GRAND! Also, because they MX5 was produced in such massive numbers (around 400,000 NAs were sold) parts are dirt cheap and the array of aftermarket upgrades is mind blowing, from intricate turbo-kits to duck wing spoilers. Being Japanese the MX5 is also very reliable, perfect for novice mechanics who don't want to spend their lives fixing a stubborn fuel rail. But, the main reason to buy an early model MX5...POP UP HEADLIGHTS!!!
2.BMW E36 (316i or 318i)
Probably not what you were expecting to see on this list, a front engine RWD big German car from one of the biggest automotive players in the world. Believe it or not the E36 is actually a great choice for a project car. They have German reliability, the can also be picked up for around the £1000 mark, and don't think I'm some sort of used car searching deity, this thing bloody riddles sites like Autotrader and eBay-motors. Again, because the E36 was produced in great numbers parts are cheap and easy to come buy and because of how popular this car is with hoodied youths, aftermarket parts are also in abundance.
3.VW Golf (Mk4 1.8T)
The VW Golf. The car that needs no introduction. The 1.8T though is more than likely a model which you have overlooked on your search for your next money pit. The 1.8T is an excellent option for a few reasons; it already has a turbo set-up making turbo upgrades and extracting more power from that little 1.8 a much easier challenge than other vehicles on this list. Although the MK4 is probably the most unattractive of the Golf family, it is also the cheapest to buy, as are parts. These cars list on Autotrader from the £600 for your 200,000 mile rust bucket (salvageable none the less) to around £3000 for an absolute 'minter'. Do I even need to say that it's a VW and so will be next to bomb proof?
4.BMW E46 (316i or 318i)
Surley not another big RWD German car? Yup. The BMW E46 is a great project car for reasons almost identical to its older and not so wiser brother, the E36. The E46 is such a great option in my opinion because it has so much more presence than a sticker bombed Peaugeot 106. If you are 18 and driving a German saloon, who cares if it's a 1.6L 316i, it looks great and you can do what you want with your BMW because its also dirt cheap, and I mean properly dirt cheap. If your financial situation is so bad that you live on a diet of toothpaste and mud, the chances are you can still scrape together the money for fairly abused E46, but its still a BMW! These things can be picked up from as little as £350 on used car sales websites.
5. Honda Civic (6th Gen)
Probably one of the most scrutinised cars under the sun. The modified scene loves to take the Michael when it comes to Honda drivers and their cars, however, the 6th gen civic hatchback is an incredibly capable car. They are popular as project cars for the same reasons as many other small JDM cars; cheap to insure, cheap to buy and a MEGA range of aftermarket parts. The car has a massive range of models to choose from as well, from four door saloons to coupes and hatchbacks. Engine configurations also vary massively. At the bottom end of the scale the 1.4L shoe box, up to the V-TEC BRROOOOO model. Just be careful not to stick a huge wing on the back and ruin the poor thing, this happens a lot...
So there we have it, the top 5 budget UK project cars! If you have any other ideas of great budget project cars let me know in the comments below.