How to tackle the most radical project of your dreams?

By Patrick Caherty
Dec 2, 2023 | $2000 Challenge, Corvair, AngryCorvair | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

What does it take to complete a complicated build in a modest two-car garage? Ask Patrick Caherty, a fixture at our $2000 Challenge going back to the early days.

[The origins of the $2000 Challenge]

After some 15 years away from the event, though, he recently returned with his mid-engine, V8-powered MonZora, a mix between a 1965 Corvair and a 1994 Corvette. He started the project back in 2018.

The GRM Challenge inspired me to push my garage skills,” Patrick reports. “Before this build, I had never welded anything.”

Major fabrication included:

  • Cutting a Corvair unibody and welding in C4 Corvette front suspension.
  • Modifying an aluminum gas tank from a pontoon boat.
  • Fabricating an engine crossmember, engine mounts, trans mount.
  • Designing and fabricating linkage to adapt Boxster shifter and cables to Audi transaxle.
  • Designing and building headers, collectors, and X pipe, mostly from used/scrap materials.
  • Stripping and modifying a C4 wiring harness to integrate with Corvair harness.

His advice on tackling a daunting project–major or not–when you may or may not have the space? A reader asked Patrick about his $2000 Challenge experience–basically, what to expect when you’re expecting–and Patrick shared the experience with us, f-bombs and all. 

Plan for it to take up all the space. Seriously. A two-car garage is barely enough when you’ve got a disassembled car and a bunch of tools that take up floor space (band saw, two welding carts, welding table, cherry picker, etc.) and I was constantly moving stuff in and out and around.

Moving stuff around eats up valuable time, and inevitably leads to, “Where the heck is that _______ that I just had five minutes ago?!?!”

Plan for it to take up all the time. Seriously. Clean stuff is easier to work on, but making stuff clean takes time. If you don’t own a parts washer, get one. $100 well spent.

Get one that uses legit petroleum-based solvent, not Simple Green or Purple Power. If you live somewhere that you can keep it outdoors or keep it on wheels so you can roll it outdoors to use it, that’s best. They stink, but they are the best way to degrease and clean stuff. I don’t have one, so I used a bunch of cans of Gunk and Brakleen and a lot of cardboard for cleaning stuff.

Plan to get lost along the way. Seriously. I’m a visual person, so the dry erase boards were critical to my success.

Get a big dry erase board and put it somewhere within easy reach. Keep a couple smaller dry erase boards around for sketching parts you need to fabricate or listing the finer points of the major task you’re working on.

Leave enough space to put a checkmark or write a date or whatever next to each bullet point on the list. And check them off as you go. It is rewarding to add a checkmark next to a completed task.

And when you realize one task really has three sub-tasks, list them all somewhere and check them off as you go.

Something to be aware of is that you will be faced with moments of “OMG how the F do I do _____?!?!” at least a few times during the project.

Seriously, you may see no way forward at times. Walk away. Sleep on it. Think. Don’t be afraid to just stand and stare at it with a cup of coffee in your hand.

The other side of that coin is “paralysis by analysis” where you’ve got four ways you could go and you don’t know which to choose. In that case, remember that perfect is the enemy of good enough, and good enough can be improved later.

One possible problem: Work-life balance. It’s true for project cars as much as the day job. If you have someone in your household who’s interested in helping, get them involved.

If they’re not interested, but they tolerate your obsession, be sure to thank them. Go out to dinner. Take them for an ice cream cone. Etc.

Another possible problem: critics/shit-talkers/doubters/experts.

Hear them, but don’t listen to them. Or something like that.

Create a vision and do your best to realize that vision. Your vision will change over the course of the project. Always ask yourself, “Does that make sense? Is that what I want to build? Does it meet my post-Challenge goals?”

Another possible problem: lack of a specific skill. When I started MonZora, I had never welded.

So I borrowed a flux-core MIG and bought a couple of HF $10 angle grinders. One grinder got a flap disc, the other got a cutoff wheel. Then I watched some YouTube videos and burned some metal.

Now, I can make stuff stick together and look, well, not pretty but at least like I had my eyes open during the welding process.

Several things kept me going:

First, I don’t know how to quit. And I like having a story to tell. I hate running, but I’ve run five marathons. Because each one gives me a story to tell.

Second, I’ve been thinking about building a rad, mid-engined Corvair for about 20 years.

Third, I took pix of the white boards and looked back at them once in a while. This helped me appreciate how far I had come, in both building a car and building my skill set. I love building stuff, and I love being able to do more than I used to be able to do.

Fourth, my wife would say encouraging things like, “Finish that fucking car so I can park inside this winter.”

 Finally, you *must* stay at the host hotel. Get involved with the Parking Lot Build. Meet *everyone*, look at *everything*. Ask questions. Offer to help.

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Major applause and congrats!!!  Well done sir!  Having built a mid-engine car that was designed to be rear engined, i relate completely.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/6/23 12:22 p.m.

dang, i left out a critical point:  Phone a friend.  Seriously.  I could not have built this car and made it to the 2023 Challenge without help from a whole bunch of folks, some i've known forever and some i met for the first time as they were working on MonZora.  I even started a thread to thank them.

madmrak351 Reader
7/6/23 2:17 p.m.

I met Patrick at the Challenge this year: great guy and an impressive project. I am going to have to use the white board idea! Building a challenge car will help you with not over thinking things especially when you are close to a deadline. Maybe that will rub of on my Nissan project. I have definitely been in the "paralysis by analysis" zone on that car many times. Great job Patrick!!

buzzboy SuperDork
7/6/23 4:51 p.m.

First, I don’t know how to quit. And I like having a story to tell. I hate running, but I’ve run five marathons. Because each one gives me a story to tell.

I'm trying to embody this piece of advice. I have given up on multiple project cars in my 16 years of car ownership. Now I have a project with enough sentimental value that I can't get rid of it!

preach GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
7/6/23 5:42 p.m.

One of my favoritist builds here. Congrats Patrick!

7/6/23 8:57 p.m.


Now cough up the video it was taken from?!

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
7/6/23 10:42 p.m.

Best GRM hand model completes amazing project and has fun!  Great article!

maschinenbau GRM+ Memberand UberDork
7/7/23 9:56 a.m.

While it took forever to finally make it to the Challenge, that just gave us more years to enjoy all the build progress! Looking forward to another year of watching the improvements and progress, and another year of beating it with my Lotus devil

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/7/23 10:03 a.m.

he said "another year of beating it"

z31maniac MegaDork
7/7/23 10:13 a.m.

I just don't have the fabrication skills. 

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