Classic car restoration is a passion for those who do it well. They don't just go at it, pulling a car apart and setting the parts on any flat surface they can find. A successful car restoration expert has a system they follow religiously. Before you even go buy the car, put together a plan with a list of steps and procedures. You will probably make some changes to the plan as you go. Nobody gets it exactly right with the first car. But you'll do much better if you have your process worked out ahead of time. These answers to common questions will help you understand what's involved and figure out how to go about it.
Should I buy a car to restore that doesn't have any rust?
If you can find one, yes. The less rust, the better. A small spot of surface rust here and there really isn't a big deal. As long as it hasn't eaten through the metal, you should be able to sand it off. If the rust has eaten through the panel but you really, really like that particular car, don't write it off just yet.
Look around for parts. You may be surprised at how plentiful they are. Some people buy the cars that are damaged beyond restoration and salvage anything that's salvageable. You might be able to find a passenger-side fender that someone stripped off a car that was too far gone to restore. Check local salvage yards, even if you think it's a long shot. You never know until you ask. Search online. There are lots of car part businesses that advertise online. Talk to your local auto parts store clerks. Word of mouth can be a very helpful source of information.
How much should I pay for a car that needs to be restored?
The actual fair price for a restorable car varies, depending on the car and how much work it needs. A car that is in very rough shape will, of course, cost less than one that only needs a good paint job, new upholstery, and tires.
Start out by researching how much the car you want is worth in the condition it's in and what it will be worth when it is done. Hemmings, NADA Guides, and Haggerty are excellent sites for determining the value of a classic car. That will give help you determine how much you should pay for the car.
How can I be sure the classic car I want is all original?
Check the numbers. The last six numbers of the Vehicle Identification Number or VIN should match the serial numbers stamped in the engine, transmission and rear axle. If the numbers don't match, it doesn't mean you shouldn't restore the car, if you really like it. The finished car just won't be worth as much as it would if they all match.
How long does it usually take to restore a classic car?
That depends on how much time you have to devote to it. If you're a retired person who knows your way around a car and plan to be working on it every day, you might get it done fairly quickly. By fairly quickly, I mean six months to a year. If you're still working full time and only plan to tinker with it on the weekends, plan on getting it finished in two to three years. Of course, if you're going to have some of the work done by a professional, that will speed up the process. Schedule the work right away if you're having it done professionally. Whoever you are going to have do the work may have a full schedule.
Should I begin my car restoration with the engine, interior or exterior?
Start at the bottom and work your way up. Before you begin, you have to get to the bottom which means removing all the removable parts until you get to the bare bones. Do this very meticulously. Make sure you have enough flat surface area in your garage to set everything and number the parts as you remove them. You can use little tags or pieces of masking tape with a number or letter on it. Create a list of the parts and make a note of where they came from and in what order. You can simply use pencil and paper or, if you are comfortable using Excel on your computer, list the parts on an Excel spreadsheet. Box the parts up. Don't just leave them out in the open where they can get damaged, moved or lost.
Can I leave the body on the frame?
You really shouldn't. If you are supremely confident that the frame is in excellent condition, you can leave the body on it; however, removing everything right down to the frame is strongly recommended. That way you can thoroughly inspect the frame and everything that goes with it. Weaknesses in the frame can be hard to find, and you really don't want to complete a restoration only to find out years later that the frame was compromised. Check it over carefully and give it a fresh coat of paint so that it will look clean and fresh when the restoration is done. It's actually much easier to work on the powertrain with the body out of the way, anyway.
Should I try to paint my classic car myself?
If you don't have any experience painting cars, I would say no. All the details matter in a classic car restoration, but the paint job cannot be skimped on. A good professional will lay it on smooth with a clearcoat that will give it that unmistakable depth that can make or break a finished classic car. After you've been to a few classic car shows and looked really closely at the cars, you'll know what I'm talking about. A good paint job is smooth, brilliant and looks as though you could literally dip your fingers into it like a puddle of clean water.
A good paint job will cost you around $5,000 to $7,000. That's a big chunk of change. If you really can't afford that investment and want to try your hand at it, practice on some scrap panels until you get your technique down. That way, hopefully, you won't get too many drips and sags