It’s every car enthusiast’s dream to find a perfectly preserved classic car hidden away in a garage or hanger, but those unicorns are few and far between. The reality for most classic car collectors is that even if they find the perfect year, make, and model for their dream car, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s seen better days.
Restoring a classic car to its former glory is almost as fun as driving it once you finish the work. Whether you’re an experienced auto restorer or you’re just starting on your classic car restoration journey, here are a few tips and tricks to help make the work a little easier.
1. Don’t Go It Alone
Restoring a classic car can be a massive project, even for experienced mechanics. If you’re starting on your first restoration journey, the amount of work into these projects can be intimidating.
Don’t go it alone. Find a car club and join up. Not only is this a great way to make friends, but you’ll gain access to their experience and expertise, which can help make your restoration project move a little smoother.
2. Understand the Terms
Modern cars might have more complex electronics, but learning how to navigate the idiosyncrasies of classic vehicles can be just as challenging. The Chevy C/K pickup series, for example, had multiple different engines, body styles, beds, trim lines and more to choose from — and you could find most of that information in the truck’s prefix. Take the time to study your preferred make and model, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
3. Be Ready to Learn
There is a lot to learn when it comes to restoring classic cars. Don’t jump feet first into the deep end of that pool, assuming that you know everything. Go back to tip one — find some friends who also restore cars and tap into their expertise.
Go into each project with an open mind and a willingness to learn. You might be surprised what new talents you acquire along the way.
4. Stock up on Tools
Making sure that you have the right tool for the job takes on a more literal meaning when you’re working on classic car restoration projects. If you’re planning to make classic car restoration more of a long-term hobby, make sure you’re investing in good tools and places to store them. You don’t need all the fancy toys you might find in a modern garage, but having a good set of wrenches and sockets can make all the difference.
5. Have Somewhere to Work
While you can work on a driveway or even in the street, you’re likely to run afoul of local code enforcement or homeowners association members, depending on where you live. This vehicle may not be operational for long periods, creating additional problems.
Make sure you have somewhere to work, whether in the garage attached to your house or in an add-on carport in the backyard. As a bonus, this workspace will also serve to protect your classic car from the elements.
6. Know When to Say No
A classic car might look great on the outside, but if it’s held together with spit and baling wire and that pretty paint job is hiding decades of rust, it’s time to walk away.
If the car is more rust than metal, or the engine is frozen solid from years of neglect, it’s going to take a lot more time, effort and money to get it running again. Don’t put yourself in that position, especially when you’re just starting on your car restoration journey.
7. Create and Stick To A Budget
It’s easy to spend an arm and a leg when you’re working on a restoration project. Even if you don’t include the initial cost of the purchase, you have things like parts, tools, and other expenses to consider.
There’s also a cost in the amount of time you put into the project, but that can be more difficult to quantify. Before you start shopping, write out a budget and stick to it. Don’t mortgage your house or sell your organs on the black market to get parts for your new project.
8. Take Your Time
Restoration projects take time, especially when you’re just getting your feet wet. Don’t rush yourself. Take your time with each stage of the project. If you rush, you’re going to make mistakes and end up causing more problems in the future. These projects are definitely an ‘enjoy the ride’ kind of thing. Don’t try to speed things up to reach the finish line.
9. Don’t Give Up
While this isn’t a tip, it is some advice that you should take to heart. Don’t give up. There will be times when you get frustrated with your restoration project. It becomes tempting to throw in the towel. Instead, take a step back, take some time to cool down, and reassess. An alternative solution might present itself if you let cooler heads prevail.
What is Your First Restoration Project?
What was the first classic car you ever restored? What will your first restoration project be if you haven’t picked one yet? Either way, these tips should help make your job a little easier and maybe a lot more fun.