5 reasons to adopt orphan project cars

Josh Greenplate

Walk the aisles of your local pick-a-part, or scroll the seemingly endless pages of projects listed for sale on the internet, and you’ll find plenty of cars just waiting for a new home. Decades of market forces have shaped the roster of cars that have survived this long. There’s a certain safety in going with the grain—relatively generous parts supply, aftermarket options, a knowledgable and engaged community—but going the other direction with a particularly rare or unloved model has its own rewards. Here are five reasons to adopt a car from an orphan brand:

Forces you to better understand your car

Kyle Smith

Parts availability often trends with popularity and production numbers. That means that while those who love Chevrolet Chevelles are spoiled by the ability to procure just about any part or piece they might need to keep their car on the road. Someone with an AMC Javelin is often left to sort out how new and old parts might play nice together.

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Mainstream bolt-on kits often make meaningful compromises, and the simplicity of a one-stop shop means the installer doesn’t need to be terribly scrutinizing. In absence of such easy solutions, we might more clearly think through what we are trying to build and not get distracted by low-hanging fruit.

You’ll become a member of the community by necessity

1917 Peerless arriving to Great Race stop
Kayla Keenan

Lived experience is a powerful thing. Usually, the most valuable resource for someone working on a given car is to talk with the people who have been doing it for much longer. Our knowledge and understanding of how our cars work changes over time, as well as changing with the technologies at hand, so not everything should be taken as gospel (look no further than a lot of performance modification books from decades ago) but there is incredible experience to mine from those who have tread the path before us. It’s probably possible to restore a first-generation Mustang without engaging with anyone else, but doing the same with a basket-case Nash? A lot tougher, and a few savvy Nash friends will make your journey a lot richer.

It’s impossible to hide

Daimler SP250 on Amelia or bust
A Daimler SP250 almost never blends in. Kyle Smith

It’s fun to be known for something, especially if you can pick what it is. “Steve? The guy really into rotary NSUs?” Or “Alex? The Studebaker nut?” Just about any old car will stand out in modern traffic, but an orphan of years gone by is likely to draw even more attention. People just don’t know what they are. The rarer it is on the road, the more likely it is to draw comments and conversation at every fuel-up or parking lot. Not everyone wants to become the center of attention wherever they go, but it can be to have your work in keeping history on the road foster human connections.

Event eligibility

2021 Motorcycle Cannonball - TC stop 1
Jeff Peek

If you like driving your car and attending tours and events, an off-beat or otherwise unusual car can be your ticket into exclusive gatherings that run-of-the-mill cars will not be allowed access. Driving tours and large shows typically have to cap entry, often favoring interesting or unique cars so as to avoid a parade of too-similar vehicles. One example: The Colorado Grand “is open to racing cars and sports cars of distinction built in 1960 or before.” That means Peerless GTs are as welcome as Mercedes-Benz  SL Gullwings or Shelby Cobras. One of those is available on a blue-collar budget, while the other two are, well, not.

The barrier to entry is typically lower

For Sale sign on patina vintage classic car windshield
Unsplash/Hilbert Hill

Speaking of prices, take a scroll through your favorite classifieds site. It doesn’t take long to suss out that defunct brands generally trade at lower value than those from, say, the Big Three. Your dollar often goes further if your are agnostic as to the grille badge. For the price of an entry-level but popular car, you can sometimes nab the top trim of a more obscure car. While others may spend time and money up-badging or even up-restoring (think of all the Chevrolet 150s that became Bel Airs over the years) it can be satisfying to have piece of history that requires no asterisk. Not to mention the fatter parts budget.

Are there downside that come with choosing the path less traveled? Of course. It’s harder, for one, but the upsides should not be ignored. An oddball car might send you on an adventure that benefits not only you but helps preserve a small part of car culture that would have otherwise faded away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have motorcycles to haul and a space in my driveway for a Studebaker pickup to do the grunt work. It’s out there somewhere.

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    Here is the deal on Orphans. I have been showing an Orphan for years.

    It is a noble thing to take on a car that is not always popular or easy to restore. You have to do it for the love of the car.

    Parts are rare and expensive. So buy the best example you can. Do not expect to get rich off of it. Network out to find parts and help.

    The rewards are this. You generally will be the only one at many events less you attend the make you owns event.

    Often you will get many positive comments but there will always be detractors.

    Being different can often help at shows and you can often be competitive for this reason.

    I show a Fiero. I bought it new preserved and restored it over the years and have shown it. I have a number of rare parts and prototype parts on it.

    I was a celerity when I bought it and then I was the town idiot when it was not popular but over the last 20 years it is now the car everyone tells you I had one. I wanted one, I knew someone that had one. I wish could buy one.

    I can show up and have exotic cars park next to me and draw as much of a crowd as a car worth much more than I have invested.

    I have attended events in sports car classes and beat $200K cars with my little plastic car.

    Never under estimate being different.

    I am just now seeing values more than I paid for the car new and I know I will never get rich but it was my first new car. Sadly I sold two cars that were worth much more than it is now but I still made money on them just not what they are worth today. Like I said you do it for the love.

    I know I don’t have a Shelby and I also have a Corvette in just as clean condition but even if I drive it it is just another Corvette. No one gives it a second look. That one is my driver as it just has no real attraction at events but it is a hell of a car to drive.

    You will also find you will often become an Historian and authority of these cars as so few know much about them.

    The Fiero story has so many things about it that are not true and mixed tales that I have threatened to write a book on the car and publish the truth about it so the history is not lost. In this day of self publishing it may actually be possible to do this.

    Often you have to set the story correct. The car did not burn as many as some claim. They were just dramatic if they did burn due to the plastic body. They killed the car because the coming model was going to be near 230 HP and the Corvette folks feared for the C5 that was on thin ice and was canceled at one point. Etc many stories like this.

    Even GM created issues as there was the story of the Lotus Suspension on the 1988 model. It really was designed by GM but it was tuned by Porsche engineering and they had to keep it quiet.

    The name means proud in Spanish according to GM. But GM has a show car in 1968-69 called the Fiero Firebird. Then it meant Firebird Aero Concept. To this day GM never has come clean on the reason they dropped Pegasus and went to Fiero and them made up a story it was chosen from a spanish encyclopedia.

    Ever orphan has similar stories and fables so be prepared and informed.

    One last thing Orphans are all around so take a look and really find one you connect with,

    Long time proponent of picking your projects carefully. If not they are bigger and longer money and time pits. Often with the result they get abandoned or neglected again. One needs to understand their restoration skill set also and knowledge of how they were built. If inexperienced, start small, maybe a paint job or a few rust holes or mechanical rebuild on a newer car that has parts available. A whole antique car is a lot to swallow starting off and requires a tool store type investment in tools, that you won’t use much. Learn the hand techniques of body repair and how to weld as you go. I prefer the ‘no-bondo’ zone. What you put on in haste someone else may have to remove a some point down the timeline. ie, do it right.
    I see posts all the time people looking for non-existent parts, or balk at the price, because they didn’t do their homework and bought a happenstance “parts” car that needed many such parts. Plus what they’re left with is often a non-desirable auto. They can’t all be saved and storing them outside unprotected in a field is not storage.

    I restored a 1963 Pontiac Lemans convertible 4cylinder, 4 bbl, 4 speed. 61-63 cars hae a torque tube, torsion bar drive shaft, tranaxle, and independent rear suspension. I do not see another one at any shows unless it’s the Pontiac Nationals. Fun cars but hard to find parts, but it can be done! Clubs like the Little Indians are invaluable! They do get under your skin, I just bought another 63 convertible 326, 3 speed. The fun begins again!

    I have a nearly original (documented) 63 Lemans convertible. 52,000 actual miles.
    Why do I have it. The first car I owned in 1970 was a 63 Lemans coupe. 326 (which is actually a 336 in 1963 only) V8 with 3 speed stick on the floor. Just wish my convertible was a manual and not automatic transmission. And is just to original to change!

    Goalies: the only position in soccer (futbol) who can lose a game single-handed!! Name another sport where this is typical… ? As a former coach, I can but agree, tho. Wick

    Played left defence (Ice Hockey) – tried goalie for 1 game – worst exprience – either you were “bored” b/c all of the action was at the other end or you were going batScheiss crazy yelling “get the pick out of our zone”. So much better doing left defence. BTW – my “orphan” is a 1937 Nash Lafayette.

    Another former coach here. In the recreational divisions it was hard to find a kid who was actually good at being a keeper and whose parents weren’t constantly lobbying me to play him/her on the field. We Americans like to see sonny Jim score rather than defend. I have the most respect for halfbacks. The most flexible players on the field.

    I know as that was GM claim. The truth is they owned the name and needed one fast. The cars name was set for Pegasus hence the emblem but it was pulled at the last moment.

    I have always been a fan of orphan car models. I currently own a 55 Dodge custom royal lancer, a 73 Dodge colt, a Bradley GT, a 75 and a 78 Mustang II, and a 55 ford F250 rat rod. Other than the 55 ford every time we take any of the other cars to a show we have the only one there.

    Cannot believe you not only own a 1973 Dodge Colt, but you show it. My first car, 2 door coupe Bought new on my 18th birthday, paid $2523 Would love a picture..

    Agreed, I have a ‘69 Firebird Sprint convertible and a ‘49 Packard Super 8.
    Both orphaned, both loved.

    I will not tell you I had a Fiero. I had 6 – 84 Pace Car 4MT, 86 SE V6, 3x 87 GT 5MT, 88 GT 5MT. Somewhere in the depths of my basement there is a box of parts, like the plastic lug covers and the sunroof plastic trim. Ah, the good ol’ days.

    We bought an ’88 Fiero GT a few years back and I drove it for a year or so. I have to admit that I spent a lot of time staring at it in the garage. It really is an interesting car. I enjoyed the heck out of it, but in the end sold it because our son wanted something different for his first car, and it was so nice, that I never wanted to drive it in the rain/snow. Sometimes I get attached and have to let them go.

    I had a 68 AMX 390, 4 speed, and 4 Gremlins, even a V8, 2 Hornets. I would like to find a decent Gremlin X/Hornet X body/chassis and transplant an AMC 401, modern 5 or 6 speed, what a fun car that would be…again. It must be a sickness…

    I never owned or restored a Gremlin but my Grandfather had a green one. When my parents would drop me off with the Grandparent’s in Vermont for a couple weeks in August in my early teen years (pre-driver’s license) Grandpa Lew would take full advantage of my addiction to anything with a motor. “Wanna run a chain saw sonny…?” “Heck yeah…!” “Wanna run a log splitter…?” “Would I ever…!!” Yup, I happily bucked and split cords of fire wood just for the pleasure of running those motor tools. When he thought I looked like I needed a break he let me drive the Gremlin up and down the dirt road their house was on. It was about a mile between stop signs left and right out the drive way. “Don’t go past those stop signs, don’t go faster than 20mph, don’t hit anything or put it into the ditch and don’t run it out of gas. And ONE WORD of this to your Grandmother and this game is OVER…!” (Grandma Ruth was a high school English Teacher and already back to work then so not home during the days). I ran that car for miles back and forth on that dirt road, occasionally exceeded the mandated speed limit where Grandpa Lew couldn’t see me and would bring it back on fumes. The Gremlin was the first car I ever drove on a road (A Chevy C 10 pick up truck with 3 on the tree in the fields wrangling the cows for milking on the farm being my other pre-legal driving) and for that always had an affection for them. So glad there are enthusiasts out there keeping them going.

    Rick, I am a diehard AMC guy. I have a 69 AMX and my brother has a 70 Javelin. My dad being a Chevy man can’t understand this sickness haha!

    Years back, I had an V8 4spd AMC Spirit body AMX (’79) that was a blast to drive. I lived in upstate NY, and it was common to put your car away in the winter and drive something a bit “rattier” — so I bought another one that was a bit more “well used.” Didn’t take me long to realize the V8 4spd in a short wheelbase lightweight car was not the best choice for winter driving. So I bought another one with a 6 cyl. That was the ticket for fun winter driving! In the spring, I took all the best parts and put them on the car I was going to keep and sold the other two. I know where that first AMX is, and even though it is 1000 miles away, I still think about how much fun it was to drive.

    I agree! My 78 Sunbird Safari Sport wagon (a version of a Vega wagon) is definitely an orphan. Pontiac only made 8,000 of them over 2 years. Everyone says they have never seen one. What fun!

    Yes you are correct the Chevy/Pontiac Iron Duke 4 cylinder was a very rugged long lasting engine which needed very few repairs. The Sunbird was a good looking car too.

    I drove a Banana Yellow 1973 Hatchback Vega from Rutland Vt to Weymouth Ma. the last 15 miles was on 3 cylinders, as a rod blew thru the side of the block in the South Station tunnel and I just kept going..Yea, there was a ton of smoke, and no, I did not get stopped, but I made it home, and it still had oil pressure! She never ran again…Probably turned into a Budweiser Beer Can… AND I BELIEVE I GOT $25.00 IN SCRAP. My Heartache now is a 1984 Porsch 928..One thing after another, but it runs ok, looks awesome, but I got smoked by a turbo Beetle the other day….Quite Humiliating… LOL

    Yeah, I have a 61′ Metropolitan. always thumbs up and ??’s. I learned a lot of interesting history about Nash/ AMC/ Austin, etc . had no idea it was British, till I bought it. easy to get parts and service.

    Back in the late 70s, I used to regularly see a “Met” parked on the street in San Francisco (either on 5th or 6th Sts., btwn Folsom & Harrison, for those familiar with the area). It was about 1-1/2 blocks from where I was working (Austin-Healey West, on Shipley, btwn 4th/5th St.) at the time, so I always made it a point to take “test drives” of cars I’d worked on past it, eventually seeing its owner. He’d put an MGB engine (1800cc vs the original 1600 MGA-like engine) an all-sync overdive xmsn, front disc brakes and knock-off wire-wheels. He hadn’t really gotten around to the cosmetics yet, but it was mostly black with a pink roof/blk-pink 2-tone interior. As a life-long MGB fan, I was immediately drawn to it (plus I can remember my dad bringing Nash or Hudson branded ones home occasionally from the used-car lot he worked at in Detroit) so the “attraction” to this Hot-Met was already built in for me.

    PS: Another proponent for orphan collecting; I still have the ’57 Healey 100/6 2-seater that I bought in San Francisco nearly 46-yrs ago, and I’m (only…) ankle-deep__so far__into restoring a ’67 MGB GT. Go Orphans!


    I bought my 59 bugeye Sprite in 65 and went road racing in 66.I needed a road car so I bought a 56 Austin Healey 100-M . Still have them

    Since 1969 orphan cars have been in my garage, although in the beginning they were not orphans but AMC’s that few understood. My garage still has three. One a 68 AMX that needs to be rebuilt, a 74 Hornet fast back that I drive on nice days, and in the rebuilding process now a 69 SCRambler. Working on them is as much fun as driving them.

    I have two Pontiacs, 68, 350 HO, Firebird, and a 69 GTO convertible. I couldn’t agree with you more! the convertible recently ran in the Nevada Day parade in Carson City. Tons of love…

    No, they just aren’t as popular. I don’t care for a Mustang because everybody and his brother wants or has one. Popular. My 63 Rambler wagon and 61 convertible are the opposite — not popular, few people want them, but when going to a rod run with a friend who has a 64 Mustang, my cars get more attention. you still see an early Mustang often enough, but not ANY vintage Rambler. And they didn’t go out of business because they didn’t make good cars — they were just run over by larger companies. there were some bad business decisions along the way, very company makes them! The difference is a larger company can safely weather a few bad decisions, a smaller one can’t.

    Theres no Ramblers left because they were all junk. I know because my dad had 2 of them. One that ran and one for parts.

    I completely agree! I am too young to have been around when AMC was not owned by Chrysler but being an AMC nut I have talked to a lot of older AMC and non AMC people and for the most part they agree with your statement.

    I’ve got a sorta orphan. A ’69 Mustang convertible. Ford only built 14,749 of them, including the Shelby verts, because convertibles had fallen out of favor in the late 60’s. I’ve owned mine for 25 years and returned it to stock appearance. Meadowlark Yellow with a black interior and top. Added a couple of options I would have ordered if I’d bought it new and, despite some serious modifications to the 302, even kept the engine compartment looking fairly stock. It’s won 32 awards in my 25 years of ownership and a lot of street races. I’d never part with it.

    No one would call a 1969 Mustang an orphan. Ford is going strong and the Mustang is one of the longest running cars ever produced. You can love your car, and you should, but let’s agree to call it what it is–and that is not an orphan.


    My Dad hauled Ramblers/AMC back in the day. I have three other brothers and we had AMX’s, Gremlins. Rebels, you name it. My Dad Drag Raced a 69 SC/Rambler, car still in the family with about 36,000 miles. It ran in the blood.

    Excellent article and relevant comments from hyperv6, especially since I myself just bought a Fiero with thinking in the spirit of the article, thank you both

    I’m saving a ’67 Lancia Fulvia Rallye coupe. Though 10s of thousands built for Europe, less than 100 came to USA. Narrow angle V4, front wheel drive, aluminum doors, hood, trunk, and only 2,000 lbs. Luckily, parts are available from Italy. Luckily, my next door neighbor is real Italian guy, visits home regularly, and last year brought back to me a set of four reproduction floor pans in his checked luggage ! Another friend brought back an original wood rim steering wheel found in London. Guess this make me some sorta international trafficker in Lancia parts !

    Mike Kristick in PA is a good source for vintage Lancia parts. Fulvia’s actually have a pretty good parts supply, but the prices can be a little extreme.

    What about any 1983 Ford escort wagon Manual trans,, forgotten about Orphans 🙁
    I got one sitting too, i need to get on this project before I can do much,

    I had an ’89 Escort wagon 5-speed car. Fun to drive. Overdrive really gave it some great highway mileage. Mid to high 30 mpg if I remember correctly. Sold it to a high schooler. Hope he didn’t wreck it. Only saw it once afterwards.

    Love my 2008 Pontiac Solstice orphan. I drive it daily except in snow. Been a fan of Pontiac since my parents brought me home from the hospital (after I was born) in a 1966 GTO 4-speed. While I am more of a Chevy guy (Novas in particular), I do love Pontiacs and the Solstice is my third. My father has owned 4 and currently (at age 81) drives a 2009 G8 (V6). Never thought Pontiac would be an orphan but I do enjoy the comradery with other orphan car owners.

    Never owned a GTO though I did have the zip up GTO boots at the time. 🙂
    I am also a Nova SS guy and very much like ’57 150s as well, including the wagon.
    I had a VERY fast ’69 Nova SS 350 that was built at Berger Chevrolet.
    Had to give her up when drafted and that is the one that should never have gone away. 🙁
    I do have a rare ’68 Chevy II Nova SS which is waiting for work though her younger sister, daily driver, ’69 C/10 stepside is always clamoring for my attention! 😉

    Hi, I agree I just purchased a Lark Wagoneer with the sliding rear roof and will be piddling with it for the next year to get it running

    I knew a Guy Hinderberger that did vinyl repair in the mid 80’s. I worked at Pasha & he did work for us there.

    I grew up with a bevy of orphans in the backyard: Edsel, Auburn, Desoto, Singer, Hudson, Autocar, Diamond T.
    Loved being “special” and always had stories to share with my friends. Now, 55 years later, I own Auburns. The pitfalls mentioned above are true, but so are the tremendous benefits.

    Hey Glenn. I’m contacting you from Newfoundland Canada. This is my first time replying on a Hagerty car site. I bought a 69 rebel sst 4 door out of Nova Scotia back late summer and drove her back to Newfoundland with no problems. I was just wondering as this is my first real old car are they a decent car.. I am having some issues with locating parts. Thanks for any advice you could give.

    I bought a new 67 Rebel sst 2 door hardtop, it was one of the most reliable cars I ever owned. There is several places in the states that carry repop parts as well as nos parts. I recently totally restored a 1970 AMC AMX. Also was a AMC mechanic for several years. I may be able help you out .

    Really nice of you folks to support a new member to Hagerty! Especially one that found a great car – one thing you can count on and trust is the classic car community! Good luck to Pat. Power with his Rebel!

    It is fun to pick the right car show. I drove my 1963 Lincoln Continental to various Corvette shows, and it would always gather a crowd among Vettes that cost several thousands more.

    I have just restored a very rough but mostly complete 37 Packard 120C Convertible Coupe. She was a Canadian car her whole life being sold in Ottawa and owned in the Ottawa Valley. Packard died in 1956, made for two more years as Studebakers with Packard badging. I was amazed at the ability to get parts for this 86 year old (at the time) orphan. As has been mentioned, find a group dedicated to your brand as they know all the sources for parts and the data base of knowledge on ‘how the heck this was supposed to go together!’
    People ask what she is and still don’t know after I tell them! A shame that one of the 3P’s (Packard, Peerless and Pierce Arrow) of the 30’s has fallen so far into oblivion. Nice to have an example on the road to show what was one!

    If you look hard enough you’ll find support. I’m amazed at how much is available for my ’72 Scout. There are quite a few dedicated parts vendors for just IH. These people are super knowledgable and willing to help anyone.

    Hello I have owned a 69 AMC, 63 AMERICAN 440H AN JUST BOUGHT A 74 Hornet hatchback 360 auto in great shape all of them have been rust free from west Coast love taking them to car shows people always have to stop an talk about them. keep on driving AMC

    Agreed. i have owned all brands (even 1 foray with a Datsun 810) and still have an 88 Vette but always sit up prouder driving one of my Gremlins

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