Car Restoration Projects – Planning and Purchasing

It's not the fun part, but essential to every restoration.

Restoration Projects For Sale. Michele Hamer

Everybody loves a great looking classic with perfect paint, chrome, reliable mechanics, and that period but comfortable interiors with all the right materials. And all of this 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, suppliers/partners and information. The trick is addressing these areas appropriately and overall project management.

So what do I mean?

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. Although some of you might be more comfortable taking this sort of control, I really don’t recommend it because hobbies are meant to be a change from the tedium of the job, aren’t they?

Planning: Start at the beginning by determining what it is that you want to achieve. (Sounds suspiciously like goals and objectives doesn’t it?) Do you want a 99.9 point show car? How about that proverbial driver? How about a functional 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 use fixes which await?

Do you just want something interesting on which to work? Do you want to learn and develop some skills? From an economics perspective 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 a different perspectives – “you don’t have 5 minutes for the family”, “what skills do you have to do that”, “I never knew that you liked old bangers”, “have you looked at your bank account balance recently?”

After accepting their views, without prejudice, do put in perspective what resources might be required to achieve the project both from a financial, personal time, your capabilities, and your network of support. I mention this latter item because restorations are not jobs to complete alone. Does anyone of us really know everything about the tens of thousands of assemblies, systems and individual component parts that make up a vehicle?

My view is that many of us are enthusiastic amateurs with 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.

Suggested Reading: Before You Buy a Classic Car

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

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 higher but the reward at the end will be worth it. Or at the top end of the scale are you into the Rolls, or Cadillac, or Ferrari? If you are, then come forward with a thick cheque book.

In our experience the choice of the type of car is important, but the condition of the car is critical. We personally hate the rust buckets, as the cancer is so hard to fix once it has penetrated. In wet climates I would stay away because the rust will always come back. In drier climates like here in Arizona, we are less worried about future penetration, but we still feel much better about restoring a car which has a solid frame, chassis, body and structure.

Interior, engine, electrical, hydraulics and paint are all fixable but we advise to stay away from the rust buckets unless this is your personal forte.

Suggested Reading: How To Inspect a Classic Car

What have we learned about purchasing over the years? First, trust no seller, and in that I include friends and family. We have had cars delivered with “not a speck of rust” which were returned immediately without being allowed off the truck. We have seen other friends receive a car with “absolutely so rust” to see a set of perforated floors which destroyed the integrity of the monocoque shell. “This engine is perfectly ready to be re-installed” only to find that the engine is in pieces with mismatched main bearings. Another time a rust free example of British car had just had the doors and sills re-sprayed with aerosol cans about an hour before we arrived! So the bottom line is…. view and evaluate yourself and with an expert if at all possible, so that there are fewer surprises…..they never all get eliminated.

Easier restorations start with car that starts and runs you can test drive for a better understanding of what's really wrong with the beast. But most of the time even those examples which have been sitting a modest amount of time (a year or two) are tough to get started without significant work. In our opinion that work is worthwhile, as all the features can then be categorized as working, not working or indeterminate! And especially with electrics, gauges and instruments, brakes and hydraulics and the transmission and engine, this is very important as this will guide your development of the budget required, before buying.

Next Step: Car Restoration Projects – Budgeting