This is part of my ongoing series about Project AK300, the Lexus SC300 that I got for free on Craigslist. If you want to start at the beginning click here, or if you want to just know what the hell is wrong with it, click here. Now you’re up to date.
There are a couple important things in this world at which I’ve never excelled. Math, and subsequently budgeting and money management, immediately come to mind. I’m fortunate to live in a modern age where a calculator is always readily available, and where my lovely fiancè is able to keep a superb budget and maintain balance in our finances. So these two shortcomings have had their adverse impact on my life virtually all but mitigated.
However – against all odds – I love spreadsheets. It was one of the first things I discovered when entering the workforce. Math sucks. But math in a spreadsheet? That kicks ass. I spend most of my day (when not talking to customers) trying to find fun ways to manipulate the data that my job provides me.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. Taking on a project car is nothing more than a thinly-veiled opportunity to create a new spreadsheet to track against my end goal, which is as follows.
Stated Goal for Project AK300: Take a car that I got for free and know nothing about, and make it a reliable, comfortable, and beautiful daily driver for $2,000 or less.
So, how am I going to do that? I’ll track towards that goal with a spreadsheet for budgeting, inventory, and task management. See it for yourself (read only, I’m not playing) here, or I’ll attach some screenshots while I talk through my thought process. The notions of reliability, comfort, and beauty are all reflected as necessary repairs, preventative maintenance, and cosmetic restoration and upgrades. Here’s what the entire thing looks like (don’t try to read it from this screenshot, I’ll detail later – or at least click the link instead, good god):
What will success look like? From my perspective, success will have two culminating features:
- I want my Lexus to be so reliable and drivable that not only can I sell my Golf R, but I can feel confident getting a true project car with confidence while my Lexus carries the daily duties. There is a slight caveat here, and it’s that part of this plan is so that we can shift the primary functions of our garage.
I feel really strongly about balance in two car garages, and ours could use some rebalancing. It’s time to upgrade Holly’s Mini Cooper, and she wants the new plug-in hybrid Countryman, which is the same form factor as my current Golf. Currently, the Golf is our “out as a couple” car, and Holly mostly drives the Mini when alone. This is a good opportunity to reverse that function for a newer car, where Holly gets a brand new Mini that improves on comfort and fuel efficiency for our “out as a couple” car (plus something automatic that we can both drive), and my car becomes the car driven while I’m alone. Don’t worry, I’ll write a full article about this when it’s time. I know it’s riveting logic.
- I want to eventually (way, way down the road) make a profit on the Lexus. I’d like to own this Lexus SC300 for at least 2-3 years, maybe more. It feels compulsory after the circumstances under which it was gifted to me, and I think there are a couple factors working in my favor (not including the fact that currently, my cost is $0).
Based on the current market, I think once I’m done with my amateur “restoration,” it’ll be worth about $3,000. If I end up going different directions with it (manual transmission swap, full engine swap), it could potentially be worth more.
However – I also think that it’s going to appreciate, at least a little bit. This is the tail end of the ‘rad‘ era, and I feel strongly that in current state, these cars (and other Lexus models from the era, the LS400 and GS400 specifically) are undervalued. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over the next year, but it’ll be easy to track my hypothesis and may make it significantly easier to turn a profit, even if I end up putting more money into the car. The only thing working against me is that these cars are more commonplace than some other, more rare cars I’ve owned. Almost 100,000 were made in total, 2,500 for my model year.
Section 1: The Basics
This is something I’ve never done for a car I’ve owned, and it feels so logical to do here: a basic collection of important measurements, facts, and figures, related specifically to my model year.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve googled what kind of oil my car takes, how much, or had to go out to take a photo of my VIN because I didn’t have it saved anywhere reliable. This will hopefully start the process of fixing that. Also, good to know my paint code because this car will be in need of touching up.
In terms of additional information about the Lexus, I’ve made an addendum with a 1997 model year brochure scan courtesy of http://importarchive.com. There’s no specific reason for this, but I like it, and ImportArchive is one of the best, most useful websites on the internet.
In the future, I can correlate this data with “date since last oil change,” and other dynamic data that will be relevant as it makes the transition to daily driver. While this data isn’t reflected yet, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethos of a daily driver that’s almost as old as I am and how I can proactively ensure its health and safety. More on that later.
Section 2: Everything I Know So Far
My dynamic goal was to immediately catalogue everything that I knew needed repair, either by learning it from the previous owner, or from looking/hearing/smelling it. This became the “necessary repairs” table, and I organized by expected cost of part/repair and by a subjective categorization of mechanical vs. cosmetic repairs, and a severity level ranging from low to high. Additionally, for my own edification I’m doing my best to be descriptive of the ‘issue’ rather than the need, so that I can separate root cause from impact.
Since I don’t immediately know how to do all of these things (and I plan to do everything myself), I’m starting a library of How To videos on the far right. As you can see using ‘dead battery’ as an example, when I purchase something, I cross it off this list with a strikeout. I need a better way to indicate purchase complete against repair complete, (because as an example, the spark plugs have been purchased, but not installed) so I’ll probably explore some sort of color coding.
I left some blank space in this table because I expect to continue to find new, fun repairs that become higher priority. This list is especially complex because I’m planning to ‘batch’ a lot of these repairs (IE, it’s easier to replace the spark plugs while the heads are off to replace the camshaft seal), so the priorities here will end up blending between this section and the following section.
Section 3: Maintaining Long-Term Health
In addition to tending to necessary repairs, I plan to simultaneously swap out some ‘wear’ pieces that will be easier while I’m already deep into the engine bay. These range from ‘simple‘ (like replacing the radiator when I’ve already removed it for the camshaft seal) to ‘holy shit‘, like the timing belt and water pump, which is a deeply stressful and involved repair process.
I plan to do all of these things together over a couple of weekends – or potentially weeks if I’m quarantined for the long term – and do not plan to blow through this in 40 minutes like people seem to on YouTube.
If you’ll notice, the transmission fluid flush is one of the only things on the list that I don’t plan to do myself. From what I understand, the cost of fluid, and the relative time it takes almost precludes it from being worth it. It’ll cost about $100, and take about 5-6 hours (to do it right), or I could spend $200 and never think about it again.
(Actually – one quick note about the transmission while you’re a captive audience. Some people recommend against doing fluid flushes for high-mileage cars. I’m simply going to test that theory for the hell of it, and if it breaks something, I’m going to swap in a manual transmission. They are very, very easy to come by, and that will increase the resale value of the car a bit.)
Sections 4 and 5: Expenses and Totals
This operates more as a section of supporting data to track against the overall goal. In these two sections, I record all the purchases I made related to the car, and subsequently the bucketed categories that they fall into, to ensure I’m staying on budget. I set my original $2,000 goal partially arbitrarily, but partially based on the existing problems that I knew the car had. If I can solve those problems for less money than I originally budgeted, I’ll have wiggle room to solve additional problems as I inevitably discover them!
As is clear, I haven’t made many purchases yet; we’re still in no money spent on the car until after the wedding mode, which is a reasonable and fair agreement. That said, I have found a few spare dollars to spend here and there, and just came into another $100 as a result of selling some old stuff on Craigslist, so this list will slowly lengthen.
I wholly expect this list to be longer than the allocated 14 rows, but this way my P&L summary fits nicely on a single-page view without the need to scroll. These values are bucketed at the top of the page, and are displayed like this:
My goal budget of $2,000 is arbitrary, as mentioned, but the total expected cost (=sum: repairs and maintenance) can’t exceed the goal. The total goal remainder is a function of all the expected costs in Step 2, and the repairs and maintenance remainders are buckets for the costs I’ve incurred thus far.
For example, I bought a $50 battery that I expected to cost $50, and I purchased a detailing kit on Craigslist for $50 that I expected to cost $100. So in total, I expected to spend $150 and only spent $100, so my repairs bucket was only decreased by $50.
Section 6: Just Kidding, I’m Done
That’s it! That’s how I’m going to be tracking the purchases and repairs necessitated towards my total goal of a reliable, comfortable, and beautiful daily driver for $2,000 or less.
Over the next few weeks of self-isolation (if you’re reading this post-2020, this was at what is hopefully the height of concern around COVID-19), I’m hoping to spend my current $100 on some parts pulled off a donor Lexus SC300 (magically the same year and color) currently at a pick-a-part junkyard only six miles from me!
I’m also in the process of removing my headlights so that they can be buffed and polished with the orbital polisher I got on Craigslist, and will be leaving them out of the Lexus until I can start playing with the rest of the paint restoration tools that came with that $50 purchase. Stay tuned!