How To Disassembling Your Classic

Classic Car Ready to Disassemble
Classic Car Ready to Dismantle. Photo by Mark Gittelman

Restoring your first classic car is fun, exciting and sometimes confusing. Within a few days of beginning the project you soon realize how much you've already learned. The next car you restore will benefit from this real world experience. The goal of this article is to reduce the learning curve of the disassembling process.

Following the advice outlined below can help you achieve better results on your first attempt. Disassembling a car properly takes a long time and a lot of work. A good way to minimize the hours and dollars you spend putting it back together is by doing things slowly, methodically and carefully.

The pace will be slow because you need to document every step. It needs to be methodical to keep your enthusiasm from getting ahead of yourself. You must be patient and do things carefully to avoid breaking anything. Sticking to the original restoration budget will be hard enough without adding additional parts to the list.

Things You Need Before Starting

Park the car so that it will be easy to work on, because it may stay there for a while. Take a lot of high definition digital pictures before you begin the disassembly process. This is one of those moments when cellphone images aren't good enough. Make sure you get all the body parts, chrome and hinges from all angles.

Take close-up shots of the seam lines around the hood and doors, corners of the windshield and window moldings, and the engine compartment. When taking pictures of the interior, don’t forget to take shots of the underside of the dash and capture shots of the doors opened as well as pictures with the door panel removed.

It may be a long time before you start putting it back together again. It is almost impossible to remember what went where. Finally, Keep the digital camera handy and charged up. You will need to take more pictures at each major disassembly step. In our opinion you can never take too many pictures along the way. You'll find in the restoration process that one photo is worth 1,000 words.

Organizational Supplies

The definition of organizational is the act or process of organizing. In order to do this logically we'll need some supplies. Get a box of zip lock plastic bags in each size available to store every nut, bolt, hinge, clip, shim, etc. Have permanent ink markers in a variety of colors to write a description on each bag as to what’s inside.

You can differentiate car parts by using different color markers; maybe you use one color for the left side and another for the right. Anything that will help you find the right parts bag when reassembling is a time saver. Make sure you have a pen and a spiral bound notebook by your side at all times to document any helpful reminders.

You'll need to document additional parts in need of replacement. Don’t think you can remember everything, even an hour later. Keeping a log such as this can help you stay organized. When searching internet sites for replacement parts you may need the part number so include this in your note if available. This prevents rummaging through numerous boxes and wasting time. You should also use the notebook to document inventory. It's much easier to refer back to the inventory list to find out that bag 10 is in the box 3.

How to Dismantle a Car

Start by removing all trim, decorative items, mirrors, bumpers and bumper guards. This is where being careful is very important. It's a lot easier to find rod bearings than it is to hunt down replacement trim. Pry gently to pop loose expansion fasteners used on emblems and trim.

This can help avoid breakage. Note that it's better to break a fastener than the trim itself. Use penetrating oil on rusty nuts and bolts. Some chrome trim strips and emblems require special tools for removal and attempting to use something else may be a costly error. Trim removal tools are usually under $20.

Now it's time to remove the fenders, hood and trunk lid. Seek assistance from at least one able body human to avoid damage to the parts and reduce the risk of personal injury. Make notes in your notebook as to where any shims or washers were used for alignment. This is another point where you can take pictures for reference.

If you don’t put spacers and shims back precisely where they were, your hood or trunk lid won’t fit or close properly. If the doors don't need repair, you may want to consider leaving them on. In my opinion, getting them to hang properly in the re-assembly process is one of the hardest parts of the restoration project. Moving on we Remove the front windshield and the rear window.

You should have already removed the chrome molding from the outside of the automobile. If you plan on reusing the glass be careful not to scratch it. Before you start to remove the gaskets from the inside of the glass, put on heavy safety gloves and goggles. Old glass has been known to shatter unexpectedly. Cut around the lip of the seal with a utility knife. Have your able-bodied friend gently push from the outside while you support the glass from the inside and catch it as it pops out.

Disassembling the Car Interior

This would be a good point to gut the interior. Remove the seats, doors and interior panels. Chances are you'll also be replacing the headliner, carpet and sound deadening material. If your classic’s dash needs painting, you will need to remove the dash panel cover and gauges.

With the battery disconnected, wrap and label exposed wires with masking tape. Wrap small parts like door handles and window cranks in grocery store plastic bags. You can cover larger items, like seats and body panels with dry cleaner bags used to cover clothing.

Moving on to the Engine Compartment

Clear the firewall and take all the accessories off the engine. In a typical restoration, we paint the firewall. We also remove all mechanical parts for detailed cleaning and painting. This is a good time to send the engine out for rebuilding. You can rebuild the carburetor, generator and other accessories while you are waiting on the machine shop work.

If the engine doesn’t need rebuilding, make sure to wrap it up securely with heavy gauge plastic to keep moisture away. If possible, don’t remove the wiring. Use it as a guide when installing new wiring and wiring harnesses. Then remove the old harness as you complete each step in the new installation.

Additional Car Restoration Tips

Go through your notebook and highlight all the parts that need replacing. This is a good time to make a separate "to do" list for ordering them. Use your local car club for referrals to find shops that provide reliable, high-quality chrome plating services. We have had a few projects stall out because we got involved with the wrong people.

Be aware that using high quality restoration vendors will cost a bit more and take a little longer to complete the job, but it will be worth it. Don't throw anything away. You'll be amazed how valuable a worn-out part can be when you learn a replacement isn't available. If you need to use a propane or acetylene torch to loosen stubborn fasteners, have a fire extinguisher on hand.

Short List of Supplies You'll Need

    Digital Camera
    Storage shelves and boxes
    Safety glasses
    Plastic bags
    Permanent markers
    Spiral notebook or journal
    Protective gloves
    Good set of tools
    Penetrating oil
    Rags, old towels and blankets  

Edited by Mark Gittelman