Pimp Yo’ Ride: How to Build a Hotrod On a Budget


Most people are on a budget. Does this mean you can’t still build an amazing hotrod to show off at car shows, to proudly coast around in on Cruise Night?

Not at all.

You have to ask yourself some important questions, though. Do you know anything about mechanics? Do you have any experience with bodywork? Do you have access to the tools you’ll need, as well as a reliable space to use, such as a professional garage?

If no, do you at least know someone who is handy and who can help?

Once you have established who, if anyone, is going to help you build your hotrod, have a place to work, tools, and some cash, you can move on to the next step. This is where the fun begins because you can start focusing on how to build a hotrod.

How to Build a Hotrod

Pick your car. What one speaks to you? Okay, not literally SPEAKS to you (that would be a blog with completely different content), but when you see it you say, “Yeah, that’s the car for me.”

If you know the car or truck you want to build, then you’re ready to move on to the next step. Locating a frame.

Not sure where to look? No problem. The Internet is a wealth of information.

There are countless social media groups devoted to building hotrods, swapping/selling parts, and connecting with other enthusiasts interested in sharing tips and ideas. These are awesome places to start looking and to turn to when you need some support with your project. Oh, and junkyards. They can be goldmines.

If you’re okay with traveling out of state, you may find what you’re looking for (and for a good price) a little ways away from home. Mind you, you’re going to need to get your frame/any parts home, so make sure you have a truck or trailer.

If you are able to weld, then this is a bonus. You may need to customize certain areas depending on the look you want for your bumpers. Consider going to swap meets to look for tools, as this can be an excellent way to find what you need for cheap.


You’re going to need front and rear axels. Ideally, they should be wider than your frame. These can be also be found on a message board or at a salvage yard. To save money, look for a straight axel. They’re typically cheaper because they require less welding and mechanical work than independent suspension.

Look for anything from late ’50s-’70s models cars, although these can be bought new. Ford pickups from the ’40s-’50s come with almost all the parts you’ll need, saving you even more time and money.  There is nothing like a great 1950s car blasting some classic tunes.

Now let’s take a look under the hood.

Engines and Horsepower

While popular engine types are sought after, they come with a high price tag. If you’re willing to forego names such as “Hemi” and “Superduty,” then can you save even more money. Instead, look for motors from the ’80s or newer. This is a guaranteed money saver.

Make sure your purchase comes with a roller camshaft. These became popular with manufacturers in the ’80s because of their ability to increase performance without compromising idle quality, for example.

Also, be careful to get the appropriate intake and valve covers. Once you have these parts, you can start building your transmission.

If you’re sticking to a tight budget but want to get some extra horsepower, try removing excess weight from the inside of the car. You don’t want it to look cheap, either, so be careful how much you strip from the inside of the vehicle.


When building a hotrod, you need to purchase a transmission that meets your personal needs: manual or automatic. Here are some purchase options that will save you money.

T5 five-speed manual or a 700-R4 four-speed automatic are both affordable options. The T5 first came out in 1980 and was produced for the longest out of any five-speed overdrive manual transmission to date. The 700-R4 was first used in an ’82 Corvette and is among the most popular transmission used.

Now it’s time to clean up the exterior of your project.

Exterior Body Work

The more you can do yourself, the better. If you’re looking for the cheapest option, then get the cab from an old truck. Again, this is where a salvage yard or an online forum would come in handy.

Depending on how handy you are and the tools you have, you can make your own body using aluminum, sheet metal, or fiberglass. You will need to weld everything together and then smooth out the rough areas.

For a custom exterior, you’re going to need a welder, cutting torch, and car lift, to name a few. This is where the use of a professional garage is most likely going to be needed, especially for paint, something that needs to be done away from the outdoor elements.


Make sure to sandblast the exterior of your car. This will ensure the paint properly adheres and has a smoother look.

Choose a single-stage paint, as these are the most cost-effective and dry the fastest. Usually, two coats are all it takes, saving money on time and materials. Clear coats are typically part of the product, saving you from buying an additional top layer.

Don’t forget about your undercarriage. This can be just as important as the exterior of your vehicle. It needs to be protected from the elements and from all kinds of dirt, debris, and water; all things that can compromise the integrity of your undercarriage. Our company specializes in a protective spray that can be used exactly for this (in addition to countless other uses).

The Finished Product

Now that you’ve learned how to build a hotrod, make sure that your car not only looks cool but is safe to drive in. Classic hotrod headlights are essential, along with a radiator, brakes, and gauges. Seatbelts are also highly recommended.

Check out all the ways we can get your hotrod ready for Cruise Night. Our products can be used to protect your undercarriage and wheels, giving you the added protection your classic car deserves. Visit us and read about our application process to see how our products can keep your investment protected from headlight to taillight.

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