If you are one of those people who enjoys working on small projects in their garage, then you have most probably had the thought of restoring an old classic at some point in your life.
Polishing the upholstery, fixing up the paint, replacing the engine – little steps that will make you a proud owner of your own piece of art. But sometimes art takes ages and costs a fortune. So does the effort become too much when the results remain insignificant?
The thought of bringing an old classic back to life is always exciting and empowering, but when you factor in the purchase price, parts availability, restored value, and desirability, the fun factor might plummet to zero because of the fortune you will have to spend.
Well, before spending a fortune on something that might not be worth the time and effort, start with this list of questions to make sure you’ll end up with a meaningful project.
Before you begin your selection process, it is always nice to have a list of four or five makes and models that you would really enjoy working on for you restoration project. Visit classic car shows and auctions, and talk to the owners – this is your best source of knowledge. Even the internet doesn’t know as much. Always remember that the cars you are looking at may turn into your best trophy or your worst nightmare.
Never underestimate the power of the decades that are hiding in the history of each car. So research well and always ask, ask, ask…Is This Classic Worth Restoring?
Has the car been in an accident?
In many cases, the first glance at a car can tell you more than enough. Or at least the most important things you need to know. You can easily see whether the car had been in an accident before. If the body is twisted or the doors are not in alignment with the body, don’t bother looking at this wreck any closer. Make sure you check underneath the car, better if it can be put on a lift, to inspect the chassis for bent sections, any holes or accident damage. The chassis can usually be repaired, but it would most likely cost you a fortune. So think ahead of time. Getting the full picture of the car is only the first step toward your goal of restoring a classic, but, trust me, sometimes you won’t need to get beyond this first step.
What’s the condition of the paint?
Not. Important. At all. What you need to look at is the body structure. The paint is your last concern. Looking past the paint defects seems to be hard to grasp for many people because the paint is the first thing you see and once you get a horribly rusty impression, you think it can’t get much better. Well, wrong. A car with a fresh coat of paint can be deceptive. You can’t see what hides below the shining surface, and when we talk about a classic from the 60s, there might be tons of damage you can’t detect through the paint. The body panels should be your biggest concern – if they are straight, without any harm, and with minor rust, then you are ready to go. Next, you can start thinking of the new color of the paint.[/caption]
What amount of rust is acceptable?
It is hard to tell. Every car comes with a certain degree of rust. Even fiberglass-bodied cars. Vehicles can also have rust issues on their steel chassis and inner steel structures. You cannot expect to get a zero rust car either, but it’s important to know where to look. Interior floor pans and trunk floor pans usually rust the worst. Search for signs of previous repairs and how secure they look. Floor pans can be fixed or even reproduced, but that may delay your project much more than necessary, so act smart and do your inspection well.
How to evaluate the condition of the interior?
Your best move here will be to check restoration products or detergents ahead of time. You need to know what is available out there that can come in handy, so that when you see the interior you will know whether you can fix it up or need to add several more hundreds to a car restoration budget, too. Maintaining leather upholstery can be a tough job, so unless the previous owner was a fan like you, don’t expect too much. Luckily, there are practical manuals on interior restoration, too, so you can turn the interior into a small project of its own.
What about the mechanics?
The mechanical and electric parts are usually easy to replace if missing. But again – educate yourself about the rarity of the model you are buying. It might be very time consuming to find the right parts if you don’t know in advance how widely distributed they currently are. You shouldn’t have trouble replacing the engine, or the transmission. It doesn’t matter whether the car comes with its original engine or not as long as the engine is the correct one for the year and model.
Anything else that can cost you a fortune to fix?
The car trim is what many neglect, which, unfortunately, can add up a great deal to the restoration fund. You need to inspect whether all parts match the vehicle’s year and model. And to know that for sure, you need to do pre-buying research on the particular car. Since you will be spending your savings on this beauty, you better make sure you get an authentic one. Some parts that would be expensive to replace if missing include the steering wheel, certain instrument panels and gauges, even factory-original radios. The degree of rarity of parts varies with each model, so if there is one thing you can do to get as close as possible to the best results, that’s to do your homework in advance!
How to make the right choice?
Remember that every classic has potential, but the extent of it is defined only by you. The amount you are willing to dedicate to this project is a factor, yes, but all good things come with a price. Make sure you know where you stand and how much the particular year and model means to you.
It is the mindset that drives projects like these. If you had been piling up on a stack of dollar bills patiently until you were able to get the old classic you’ve always wanted, then now is your time to shine. If you are not so financially prepared but still want to invest in this hobby, maybe you should look at models that are easier and cheaper to fix up.
You may not be the shining star at the party, but you will know that you are shining with all that you’ve got. And that is not bad at all. Now get ready for shipping your classic car from wherever you need to buy it. Good luck and have fun restoring it!