Car Restoration Projects

Planning and Purchasing for Classic Vehicles

Restoration Projects For Sale. Michele Hamer

Everybody loves a great looking classic car with perfect paint, chrome, reliable mechanics, and those period-style-but-comfortable interiors made with all the right materials, and getting an old car back to its original classic condition is possible through a good restoration and enough cash, time and patience.

However, this all can be elusive without proper planning, purchasing, budgeting, financing, sourcing of suppliers and partners, and the correct information for what the restoration will require. The trick is addressing these areas appropriately and overall project management. So what does that entail?

Certainly, most of us don’t want to turn a project into a job, so we are not talking about writing plans, developing detailed spreadsheets, Gant charts (milestone driven timelines), performance development schemes and those methods and approaches that we might employ at our jobs — instead it's more about casually browsing through car sales and gauging prices for replacement materials.

Planning a Restoration

Start at the beginning by determining what it is that you want to achieve: Do you want a 99.9 point show car, that proverbial drive, an intriguing functional car? How about just a project, which is always a project, or a journey you use to escape to that garage and avoid the house chores and banal routine fixes which await? Are you in this for a return or is it really a hobby?

At this stage, it is worth discussing your objectives with a spouse, friend or significant other because their “objective” view may provide different perspectives—from reminding you of your lacking finances to asking about your skill set and conviction to finish the project.

After accepting their views, without prejudice, use them to gauge realistic goals for the restoration by also determining what resources might be required to achieve the project both from a financial and skill-oriented perspective, including how much personal time you have, your capabilities, and your network of support.

Many enthusiastic amateurs have some money put away for the project (usually not enough); some evenings and weekends; some elementary knowledge and experience of mechanical, electrical, body and interior projects; and a few friends who also have the interest and who live in the local area.

If you generally fit these criteria, stronger or weaker in some areas, and you have personal determination then restorations may be for you, but they are not for the faint hearted and you can’t do them without some reasonable funding. Before you buy a classic car, you should be sure you really want to restore it lest it turns into a junker sitting on your front lawn gathering dust.

Purchasing a Used Classic Car to Restore

Following your objectives, you have decided the best choice of the restoration project car, and it may be that a simple and economical car is the best—a VW Bug from the 60s, a Morris Minor, a Ford Mustang, or a Chevy Nova.

On the other hand, you may be more ambitious and want something a little more unique—such as a Jaguar, an Austin Healey, an SS Camaro or a GTO—and accept that the resources required will be priced higher but the reward at the end will be worth the cost.

The choice of the type of car is important, but the condition of the car is critical, and rust in one of the worst problems with classic cars, especially in wet climates, but in drier climates like that of Arizona, it's easier to do restore without fear of future, further rusting.

Still, restoring a car which has a solid frame, chassis, body, and structure is easier than one covered in rust, and while the interior, engine, electrical, hydraulics and paint are all fixable we advise staying away from the rust buckets unless this is your personal forte.

How To Inspect a Classic Car

The bottom line when it comes to inspecting the classic car you would like to restore it is that it's impossible to trust the word of a used car salesman, no matter how close he or she may be to the buyer. It's, therefore, important to view and evaluate yourself and with an expert if at all possible, so that there are fewer surprises, though these unexpected problems are never completely eliminated when purchasing a used vehicle.

Depending on the level of difficulty you can manage, it's easiest to restore a car that already starts and runs and that you can test drive before you purchase it so that you can evaluate which problems need fixing in the engine and mechanics of the car.

It's important to categorize the various things components of the used car as working, not working, breaking, or indeterminate so that you will have a better understanding of what it will take to fully restore the vehicle. This is especially true with electrics, gauges and instruments, brakes and hydraulics, and the transmission and engine, and this is very important as this will guide your development of the budget required before buying.

Next Step: Car Restoration Projects—Budgeting.