Reasons to Restore a Classic Car
Many auto enthusiasts have dreamt about restoring a classic car. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of being a youngster in the shop with dad, or maybe you’re just looking for something exciting and challenging. You may want to keep the piece as a family heirloom or turn it for a profit. Whatever your reasons for wanting to restore a classic car, you’re probably asking yourself if you have the ability to take on a project like this – and see it through to completion.
This beginner’s guide will offer the most important things to consider when deciding if a car restoration project is right for you, plus how to make the project work for your skill level, time, budget and goals.
How to Plan a Classic Car Restoration Project
Just like any major undertaking, planning your classic car restoration project should be well thought out. After all, rebuilding an automobile is no small feat! Consider these 8 tips to get make sure you’ve planned for - and are well-prepared to take on - one of the most exciting projects of your life.
Choosing the Right Car
First, you want to make sure you select the right car for your rebuild. It’s easy to get caught up in your feels when you see something that triggers a childhood memory or is a favorite make and model of yours. But you can quickly get in over your head if you choose a car based on emotion rather than logic
Here’s what you need to think about:
Does the car run?
It’s tempting to think you can “just get it running again,” and sellers often tell you it’s an “easy fix” if they’re trying to unload a problem vehicle, but this is something we’ve found is better left alone. To save yourself a sitting duck project with no way out, make sure the car runs before you buy it.
Is there any rust on the body or frame?
Rust can be no big deal, or it can be a major issue. You’ll likely have to dig in a bit and do some inspecting to see how deep a rust problem runs. Check the bottom of the car, in and around the wheels, fenders and undercarriage, and if possible, the frame. Check to make sure the rust issue is not deep into the frame or requires large panels of the body to be replaced. At the very least, these problems will eat a big hole into your budget, and at the worst, the frame will be beyond repair.
How rare is this model and how difficult will it be to get parts for it?
“Hey, I can get my hands on the 1978 Plymouth Superbird! It should be a breeze to get running again!”
But don’t let us be the bearer of bad news. If it’s rare, it’s usually hard to find parts for. Not only that, but if only a few mechanics have ever had a chance to lay eyes and hands on it, then there’s probably not a whole lot of help out there for you when you hit a stumbling block. It’s best to choose models that are in a wider range of production and are made by a manufacturer that’s still in business today.
What’s the cost of the car, and how much more money will I have to put into it?
The car purchase price might be cheap, but if it’s a rare model and you are stubborn about only using OEM parts, your price tag just got a lot higher. Consider total possible cost of the project based on parts availability and scope of work.
Many of us love the original make and model and are purists for preserving that originality, but it’s just not that feasible and functional for today’s modern roadways and driving habits.
Most experts recommend doing what you’ve already been doing in your marriage for years: compromising. Keep what original parts you can – those that really lend to the original look of the vehicle’s integrity and ones that are already in good shape – and compromise on parts that enhance your driving experience, performance, and safety, such as the braking system.
Establish Your Timeline and Budget
Planning is vitally important when it comes to a classic car restoration project. Not having a well thought out plan results in spending all of your budget too soon or not having enough time in your schedule to dedicate to your project, both of which lead to disappointing results.
First, make sure you know what you want out of your project.
Do you want to turn it for a profit? You may want a quicker timeline with individual deadlines for tasks. Just looking to have fun and don’t mind it taking a while? Set a loose schedule, but at least set one so you’re not one of those guys with a 10-year project car sitting in his garage.
When planning your budget, here are the steps to consider in figuring out the total cost of your project and how to fund it:
- Cost of your vehicle (Remember the tips for choosing the right car!)
- Cost of your shop setup and tools
- Cost of parts and supplies
- Cost of any outside help (electronics, bodywork, brakes, etc.)
TECH TIP: Most people are off with their projected versus actual budget by 20%, so add an extra 20% to your projected expenses for a more accurate estimate.
Your timeline will coincide with your budget. Do you have all the funds available up front, or will you need to get the money in smaller increments throughout the project process? Pacing your project on a longer timeline will help if funds are short.
Remember, even if your timeline seems long and slow, it’s important to schedule in days and times on your calendar that you’ll commit to working on the restoration project!
Plan your calendar based on job priority!
Know Your Vision for the Car
What do you want your car to finally look like? Are you a purist for an original make, or are you looking more into modern upgrades for performance and functionality?
Will your build take a lot of custom bodywork and paint? A lot of add-ons and specialty finishes? Or clean, pure, and simple? This will all affect your budget, timeline and your need to seek outside help from industry experts.
Setup Your Project Space and Tools
Got a shop, garage, or covered area to work in? Make sure your project space is going to hold up to the weather changes based on your climate. It might be warm enough in Florida to keep your project in an open space, but if you’re in a hurricane-prone area, that’s probably not the best option.
Consider whether you’ll work on your classic car restoration project year-round, or just seasonally and put it up in the cold or rainy months.
PRO TIP: If you don’t have your own designated setup at home, consider renting a space or using a family member’s garage.
Next, these specialty items will make your job a lot easier and less frustrating:
- Sheet metal scissors
- Wire brushes
- Floor jack
- Electrical tools (air compressor, voltage checker)
- Engine crane and engine stand
- Jack stands
RELATED: 9 Best Mechanic Toolsets
Be honest about what knowledge and skills you currently have and what you’re able to take on within reason. It’s OK to want to stretch yourself and learn as you go with your project, but you don’t want to get frustrated by biting off more than you can chew and getting stuck at a certain point with no easy way forward.
If you need help with electronics or the brakes, find a buddy or a good shop who specializes in that area just in case. If the bodywork and paint is more than you’re prepared to deal with, get a good autobody repair shop to help with some of the work.
Reevaluate Timeline and Budget
After establishing your initial timeline and budget, you’ve assessed and gathered additional information, such as your car’s vision, workspace and tool setup, and any necessary outside help. Take a look at your timeline and budget again and make adjustments in any areas that need it.
Decide If It’s Something You Really Want to Take On
Once you’ve scoped out the right car, decided on your budget, established a timeline, inventoried your skills and what jobs you are willing to take on (and the tools and workspace to support it), you should have a pretty good idea if you’re getting in over your head or if this is something you really want to go for.
It’s normal to have a bit of hesitation and uncertainty, but as they say – where there’s a will, there’s a way! Keep the project challenging but manageable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or outsource some of the jobs you don’t feel comfortable with.
If you’ve done your evaluations and you’re raring to go, then what are you waiting for?
Keep Yourself Motivated, Accountable and On Track
If you’re working with a friend or family member on the project, the two of you can help each other stay on track with timeline and budget. Plus, two heads are better than one! Your classic car project will be more enjoyable, and you can both use your knowledge and troubleshooting skills to make the project something to be proud of.
Consider starting a Facebook or Instagram page, or even a simple blog, to document photos and updates of your project, and share it with friends and family.