There’s nothing quite like the feeling of restoring an old car to its original condition. It can be a rewarding process where you get to see and feel your work come alive. The scent of dirt and grease that clings to your hands as you work, the sound of a freshly-built engine roaring, and the feeling of completion when you finally step back and look at the finished project: it’s a visceral experience.
Classic car restoration can be a daunting task for even the most experienced car enthusiast, but the first step is proper planning. To help you plan your next project, we asked 5 different professionals in the industry for their best auto restoration techniques. Here’s what they told us.
1. Be Honest about Your Auto Restoration Experience
A common mistake that many first-time restorers make is to underestimate the car restoration project. To prevent this, you have to be honest with yourself about your capabilities, but it also means being selective about which project cars you should work on.
For example, if this is your first time, it’s recommended that you consider restoration candidates that are already capable of running. You may end up investing more money if you choose a car that runs, but you could lose much more if you have to replace the engine.
Additionally, the car you choose may have little or no aftermarket support. If progress feels great, then it would feel terrible for your project to grind to a halt because you’re having trouble finding the right supplies.
Finally, you can’t be afraid to turn to a professional for certain tasks. Most of us aren’t equipped to handle every aspect of vehicle restoration, and that’s ok. Some jobs can be dangerous and better suited for body shops, such as handling and storing the toxic materials required to paint your car. Again, it’s all about being honest with yourself and preventing worse problems later.
2. Budget Your Project Resources: Time, Money, and Space
In addition to knowing yourself, you need to know your resource budget.
- How much time can you dedicate each day, week, or month?
- How much money are you working with?
- Where will the work take place?
Just as before, you have to be honest and realistic about your commitment. While you may be excited to work all day and all night, you must be careful not to overload yourself. You should also remember to be considerate of any family or friends who may expect to share time with you.
Of course, no budget is complete without considering finances. One common mistake is to spend too much of the budget on the vehicle itself, while underestimating the cost to replace parts, or purchase tools and other supplies. It’s recommended that you research the project’s needs so that you can set a realistic budget before you begin.
Lastly, you should put thought into where you will be conducting the restoration. You’ll need ample room with plenty of light, that isn’t difficult to keep clean, and won’t cause issues in your home or with your neighbors. It would be heartbreaking to have to stop completely because of noise complaints, or an otherwise inadequate workspace.
3. Keep Your Tools and Workspace in Order
Planning ahead for when you begin, you should keep tool and workspace maintenance in mind. A common misconception is that you should only buy tools when you need them. If this is necessary because of budget restraints, that’s understandable, but every tool you already have saves you significant time later. Every item you “wait to need” causes an interruption in your progress while you research and purchase, then travel to pick up or wait for delivery.
It’s also important that you don’t waste time with a disorganized work area. Keeping your workspace orderly will mean more quick and efficient work. Label your wires, put things back as soon as you’re done using them, and keep small parts in marked baggies.
Additionally, you should budget time at the end of each session for clean-up. You might not realize it now, but you’ll be very grateful to yourself when you show up the next day to a clean space to start in.
Aside from that feeling, cleaning up your space each day will save you time during your work. Each instant you have to pause to look for tools, or move debris out of your way, takes time and focus away from the project itself (and trust us, it gets very frustrating, very quickly).
4. Be Open to Learning
While it may be satisfying to complete an entire project without needing to look up information, that may not be entirely realistic. Besides, many enthusiasts like taking projects because they will have the opportunity to learn. Anytime you have to find the answers to a question, you’re becoming a more informed restorer, and that’s always great isn’t it?
An easy, and fun, way to open yourself up to learning is to network with like-minded people. For example, there are many classic car clubs out there, and likely one for your favorite vehicle. That’s even more likely today, when the group can be found with a click and doesn’t have to be local. Search for other people who are enthusiastic about your vintage vehicle so you have a support system when you need it.
Of course, every student knows you need a textbook. Be sure to have the shop manual on hand for reference while you’re working. You might be able to find a PDF of the manual with a simple Google search, or you could ask your new club friends if anyone is giving away theirs. Having the manual will make it easier to find answers, and not only to new questions, but even to questions you may have forgotten the answer to.
5. Have Fun!
This is one tip that seems to be a consensus among professionals. If you’re starting a project because of a passion for vintage vehicles, then it makes sense to make the restoration process fun.
A common suggestion is to consider the reasons you’re doing the project. Is it just for fun, or are you hoping to make a return on your investment? Perhaps you’re doing this with another family member? You’ll notice, though, that whatever your reason, it doesn’t hurt to make it fun.
Even the least emotional of those reasons (restoring the vehicle as an investment) can be made more tolerable by keeping it fun. Selling the car isn’t going to do much to make up for a long, difficult, tiring project that was no joy to complete. In the end, you’re much more likely to take on another project if your last one was enjoyable.
To help with this, there are two things you can do. First, you should find a picture of what you hope your car will look like once fully restored. Hang it in your workspace as motivation and a daily reminder of what you’re working towards.
Secondly, you should divide the project into smaller goals that you can approach methodically. Not only will this make it seem less daunting, but as you complete each individual task, you’ll find yourself being motivated by the small victories. Waiting until the very end to reward yourself will only make the project seem that much longer.
Speak with Classic Car Experts
Like we said, having a support network can make your project go much more smoothly. You can speak with our classic car experts to find the best parts for your car and other resources to help with your restoration.