Bringing a classic car back to life is a labor of love and can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. However, some classic auto restorations need a little more TLC than others, and may even require specialized skill sets like welding to get the job done right.
You should spend some time thinking about the process and outlining your goals before you get started. This is a guide to the types of questions and considerations you should have in mind before you decide to invest the time and money into your classic auto restoration.
The Car Itself
Obviously, the car is an important consideration in this process. The biggest factors are whether you already have the car or are looking to purchase one, and the car’s overall condition.
Ideally, you want to start with at least a solid rust-free frame, preferably with intact body panels and most, if not all, of the parts included.
Regardless of the starting condition of your car, you should consult with a professional before you get started. Make sure they assess everything. You want to have a full list of requirements and goals before you do anything.
In addition to what needs to get done, you should have a good idea of your skill sets and what you are comfortable doing yourself vs what you plan on getting a professional to do.
Often overlooked, having a solid plan is one of the keys to a successful, and cost-effective, classic auto restoration. Instead of working piecemeal as you have time or as parts come available you should have an effective task list. Take care of structural issues, parts replacement and restoration, and all other major work before turning to the details.
Car restoration often involves hunting for rare parts or rebuilding the existing part. Know which parts you are purchasing and if any are rare or difficult to come by, work to have those parts on hand before you need them.
Purchasing ahead will help prevent you from overpaying or buying a shoddy part just because it is available and you needed it yesterday.
This is one of the most difficult parts of classic auto restoration, deciding whether you want original parts or generic replacements.
The biggest difference between the original or branded parts and the generics is usually cost. While there are benefits to going with the originals, from the sound and operation of the vehicle to the extra restoration cred for staying true to the car’s roots, generics often work as well for significantly less investment.
If you are going with a mix of original and generic, make sure you have a list of which parts you are willing to compromise on and which you want to stick to the original. Double and triple-check that all the parts are mutually compatible.
Type of Restoration
In general, there are three types of classic auto restoration. Think about your goals before you decide on your restoration. Are you looking to bring your grandfather’s car back to life? Do you intend to enter your vehicle into classic car shows? Is the vehicle going to primarily function as a display piece?
Driver Classic Auto Restoration
Driver restorations are the most basic form of restoration. Depending on the type of car, and its condition, you may be able to complete this restoration on your own.
In essence, a driver restoration fixes minor problems and involves some cosmetic upgrades. However, vehicles with a lot of damage probably need more work than a driver restoration.
Street Show Classic Auto Restoration
Street show classic auto restorations are more detail-oriented, although many people produce similarly high-quality driver restorations. Aesthetics are particularly important here though, and details like paint color and gloss are just the start of the list.
Concourse Classic Auto Restoration
Concourse classic auto restorations are a little different in that the resulting car is not meant to be driven. A concourse classic auto restoration is preferred for classic car collectors who simply want to display the vehicle, not take it for a cruise.
Details to Consider
There are some safety, cosmetic, and comfort details that should also be considered at the start of any restoration. Things like the style and number of seats, the color of the upholstery or leather, and which windows, if any, should be tinted.
Some details are more important. Most old vehicles do not have seatbelts, which means adding them is a requirement for any classic auto restoration that you intend to be able to drive. Airbags may also be an important consideration.
Do you want or need a new radio? Seat warmers? What about a key fob and electric locks? Before you begin your restoration, you should consider these smaller comfort details since it is easier to incorporate them into the restoration itself than to add them later.
Remember that restorations can take 1000 or more hours of work to complete. Take your time and enjoy the process, it is just as important as the end result.