The secret to project car success is buying another car

The secret to project car success is buying another car

Marty’s epic Levorg>VA STI swap really has fired the imagination sauce for many of you rad cats out there in Internet Land. You can watch how he converted his 1.6-litre slushbox into a ridiculously awesome 2.5-litre turbo, all-wheel-drive manual 6-speed wagon that Subaru should have built here: EPISODE 1 | EPISODE 2 | EPISODE 3

While Marty made it look easy he’s got over 15 years’ experience swapping drivetrains between cars the manufacturers never intended to be awesome. So let’s uncover one of the great, unspoken secrets that help Marty, Mechanical Stig, Turbo Yoda and countless other legends build their crazy cars: donor cars.


Tackling a drivetrain swap is a huge, complex task even when all the parts bolt in like Lego. When you set out to do a drivetrain swap one of the best ideas you can have is to grab a complete donor car and park it next to (or near) your project.

This will give you important visual clues to what parts you may need, or modifications you will need to do to make your dreams roar to life when you twist the key for the first time. With a running and driving donor car you’ll have all the pieces you need to make your car work, and you can see how it all goes together.

Buying a donor car will also take some of the risk out of compiling a complete swap piece-by-piece, as you can be assured all the parts work together and nobody got you by selling a 4.5-speed FWD gearbox as the similar RWD 6-speed unit. This can be a risk as people might advertise the parts mistakenly – there is no mistake when you can see and drive the donor vehicle, though!

You can also double-check part numbers for replacement parts you need to order off the ones you yourself pulled out of the donor. You're giving yourself a safety net!


Buying a donor car is sometimes about being in the right place at the right time. Finding a VA STI with just enough damage to write it off, but not so much it destroyed the car took a little time and patient waiting… before MOOG jumped on the seller of the blue VA and paid over the phone.

It’s rare you’ll be able to take time to make the purchase of a good donor car like this STI as a lot of other people will be after it for the cool upgrade parts it has. Sometimes it can be worthwhile talking to wreckers to let them know you want a complete car for a project, and if one comes in get them to give you a buzz to organise buying the whole thing.

When it comes to wiring, normally the scariest part of any project car, having the complete donor car there makes the job far, far easier. You aren’t relying on a loom hacked out of the car using hungry Dobermans, so you can be confident it will all work… or that the wiring diagrams will be correct!


Another benefit to donor cars is all the high-quality OE-fasteners you can pirate from them. Flange-top high-tensile bolts and nuts are especially desirable as they can sometimes be troublesome to source from the aftermarket.


The final benefit is, once your project is done and driving how you want, you’re left with plenty of spare parts from the donor car to sell off and recoup some kebab cash.

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