No matter how old you are, the idea of returning an iconic classic car to its former glory is romantic and intriguing.
But, while classic car restoration is a rewarding hobby, it can also be a tough process to navigate.
As a journey with roads full of important factors to take into consideration—from choosing your car, to buying the perfect parts and finding the right way to work—you may quickly find yourself confused or overwhelmed behind the restoration wheel.
Don’t panic. With a little knowledge and the right tips and tricks of classic car restoration, you’ll be on the road to a classic car as good as new!
9 Tips to Make (and Keep) Your Classic Car Restoration a Success
1. Choose the Right Car
First thing’s first. You’ll need to buy a car in order to begin your restoration.
To make the right choice, stick to the two following guidelines:
1. Find a car that starts.
2. Pick a car that will retain value.
Find A Car That Starts
Purchase a car that already starts and runs.
This will significantly reduce chances of expense and time consuming mechanical repairs.
Choose A Car That Will Retain Value
There are plenty of options out there. However, the majority of cars for sale aren’t worth much and likely won’t ever be valuable.
Before picking a particular model to work on, do some research to determine which are more valuable once they’ve undergone restoration.
Keep in mind that the initial cost is only a small component of the total project cost.
2. Know Your Car And Its Parts
Collect as much information on your classic as you can.
Try to get a hold of all the manuals, and learn everything there is to know about your car.
While getting to know your car and all the parts, take this opportunity to ensure availability of replacement parts you’ll need.
Make sure parts for your specific car will be available. A shortage of replacement parts can do some serious damage to your project timeline by delaying your work.
3. Craft Your Classic Car Restoration Build Plan
Once you’re content with your classic car and know it’s working (and not working) parts, put together a plan.
Create a restoration plan with as much detail as possible.
This means going beyond creating an estimate of expenses you will accumulate. Instead, go as far as coming up with a blueprint to help you map the sequence of your repairs.
The standard recommendation is to complete major mechanical repairs and engine overhauls before the bodywork. So, keep this in mind when outlining your work to be done (this way you can avoid damaging a fresh paint job).
4. Carefully (And Fully) Inspect Your Car
Inspect your car with care from top to bottom, inside and out.
This process will help you determine the kinds of repairs needed to be done to the vehicle and the time and money you should expect to spend.
Be wary of what rust you’ll find during your inspection. Rust is the single most common problem with classic car restoration.
Where there is visible rust, there is invisible and often inaccessible rust as well.
If you’re not careful enough during the initial inspection, you may find that the rust you later discover cannot be repaired without detracting from the value of your car.
5. Knowledgeable Friends Vs The Experts
Choose whether to work with a friend or professional on the classic car restoration.
It’s often recommended not to involve friends and family on projects such as classic car restoration—as the time and money invested in such may cause trouble if the right procedures are not followed.
Therefore, you’ll have to carefully think out how and with whom to approach the process.
While you may have a “friend who knows how to repair cars,” be aware that most cars restored by those other than professionals tend to not run as well.
Or, such cars may run well for a couple of years and in some cases, start to breakdown thereafter.
6. When It Comes To Engine Repairs, Go Big Or Go Home
Decades of use or non-use can lead to mechanical problems in a vehicle’s engine.
So, don’t skimp on classic car restoration engine repairs.
Classic engines are incredibly sensitive to compression ratios. If and when you do dismantle an engine for repairs, take on the task wisely.
7. Pick The Right Level Of Restoration
When it’s time to actually set up shop and start your classic car restoration, you’ll want to decide on the level of restoration needed.
The levels of car restoration include those listed below, so take your pick and get to work!
This level of restoration is often performed to get a car back to a fully functional and operational condition. This often includes part replacement and minor cosmetic adjustments.
This restoration involves getting a vehicle into a fully working condition. Therefore, repairs to all major cosmetic problems, such as body work, are required.
If judged by a professional, the car should fall within the 80-89 point range.
Show car restoration often requires professional work.
If judged by a professional, restorations and labor quality will fall within the 90-95 point range.
As the highest level of car restoration possible, all the work for concourse restoration should be done by professionals.
Cars that are restored at this level are intended for auto shows or private collections, and not to be driven.
8. Set Up Your Space & Start The Process
Having enough room to get your work done is crucial.
Don’t forget, not only will you need room to work as you disassemble the car, but you will also need additional space to lay out the removed pieces.
For a full frame-off restoration, you may easily need four garage bays. In these bays, have separate sections for different parts and pieces.
Your garage or work space should be relatively clean, as well as safe from the elements and well-lit.
9. Keep Your Classic Car Restoration a Success
Last but certainly not least, use her or lose her.
If you decide to spend time and money to restore a classic car, make sure to take advantage of the finished product!
Not using your restored vehicle can be incredibly detrimental, resulting in engine rust, causing the clutch plate to rust onto the flywheel, etc.
In general, remember to give proper maintenance to your newly restored car over time, and use all the recommended parts and products.
Have you restored classic cars before? Which car parts were hardest to obtain or install?
Tell us about your experiences and car part reviews for classic car restoration in the comments!