LAST MONTH, I stumbled upon a bargain Holden Commodore wagon for $1000.

These days, I reckon any Commodore wagon for a lazy large is a bargain, but what made me grab this one was the fact it was a reasonably tidy 2002 VXII Berlina with General Motors’ mighty allalloy LS1 V8 under the bonnet!

It was the perfect alternative for the also-LS1 V8 Statesman I bought a while back – intended to be a daily driver – and then had a sook about a couple of issues ago because the engine was dek-cuf.

Once again, Morley was involved… It was his old mate Bondini who had the car sitting in his front yard and who I couldn’t get the money out of the auto-teller machine quick enough to pay. To cut a long story short, Bondini simply didn’t have the time to get the Berlina going again… Yes, there was a reason the Berlina was so cheap – drumroll please – half the engine was sitting in the load area instead of in its proper place under the bonnet.

But for a grand I couldn’t go wrong, could I?

I knew I was taking a risk on this car as with the intake manifold, one head and the passenger-side exhaust manifold sitting across the back seat, there was no opportunity for a test drive.

But even if I had to tow the car to a workshop and get a second-hand engine dropped in, my $1000 Berlina wagon would always be a bargain.

Or maybe not. As I write this, I’ve just booked a flight to Melbourne – I live in NSW – to collect the car. A few weeks ago I drove down there to reassemble the top end of the donk at Morley’s workshop. To get things running, my ‘new’ VX Berlina needed a cylinder head gasket and fresh head bolts – the LS1 ones can’t be reused like the old-school iron-lion Holden ones can.

While I was in the parts shop, I bought a 10lt tub of oil and a filter, plus an exhaust gasket and some gasket goop (for the exhaust’s flange join under the car). That all added up to around $400.

I grabbed some degreaser and carby cleaner – another $30 or so – and a new battery as the old one was munted from sitting in a front yard for two winters and summer.

That’ll be another $160, mate.

I also needed some 600-grade abrasive paper to de-rust the bores of the left-hand cylinder bank – time outdoors had left them rusty; thankfully not so badly as to pit the cylinder walls. Coolant – that was another sixty or eighty bucks.

Trans fluid for the power steering and maybe the trans itself: $40 .

As soon as we got the LS1 going (and we tipped-in $20 of fuel to do so) it was obvious the power steering pump was rooted, too, so when I got back home from my weekend of spannering, I bought a second-hand pump from my local wreckers for $120 and mailed it down… Another $15.

I sent an oil pressure sender too ($120) as according to the Berlina’s instrument cluster warning light, it’s highly likely the old one is stuffed.

On that fix-up trek, I drove my VN Calais V8 and although I did some other worky-type stuff while there, it was a $350 fuel bill. Oh, and that time, I’d originally planned to fly down and had booked the flights… No refunds on that so I walked away from a $200 fare. Plus there’s 36 hours’ worth of drive-time (home to Melbourne and back one weekend to fix the engine, plus the one-way trip driving the Berlina home) and the stack of Sydney and Melbourne tolls to pay.

From that first $1000 that I gave Bondini at the pub, my bargain-buy Berlina now owes me way over $2.5k and a reasonable weeks’ worth of time. Redbook reckons it’s worth a maximum of $4400.

And I haven’t got the thing safety-inspected ($80) or registered (another $1000 or so) in NSW yet, nor re-gassed the feeble air-con or fixed a few dents!

Looking at the bucks I’ve spent on the Berlina so far made me look more closely at another project I’m working on: a VB Commodore SL/E restoration. It began as an $1800 car in carport but with parts (everything from the door handles to the dashboard needs to be replaced) it owes me about $4k, and I haven’t started work on it yet!

It just goes to show how quick the bills with an ‘unfinished project’ can escalate!

Anyhow… there’s more to the story than a one-owner, low-kays Berlina wagon. Oh yes, in a situation that seems to have shadowed my every move with cars in the past two years or so, Morley was involved!

WHAT DO YOU RECKON? Is buying an unfinished project always going to be a financial disaster – or is it a bargain way to get a cool car you want? LET US NOW YOUR STORIES AT