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Your First Classic Car Restoration

rusty cars for restorationRestoring a classic car can be an excellent hobby, a memory making pastime shared with kids, and sometimes even a profitable side job. There are a ton of considerations to look at before you jump into your first automotive restoration and today we will cover a few of the basics.

First, of course, is the assessment of where you are at and where you want to go. If you already have the vehicle in your garage, well, that’s step one. If not, consider your goals. Is it a learning experience, a hobby for bonding, or entirely motivated by profit? That should narrow down the selection process and help establish a budget.

Once you have the vehicle in your possession, do a thorough overview of its condition and what it needs to be completed. A survivor in driving condition needing a refresh is quite a different project from a pile of rusty parts getting a concourse restoration. Generally speaking, the worse the condition, the more time/money the project will need.

The Restoration Process

During the tear-down process, be sure to stay organized. Take pictures at every stage so you know how they originally looked. Keeping bolts organized in clear plastic sandwich bags makes them easier to find when reassembling. Be sure to label the bags appropriately, for example “radiator support” or “driver’s side valve cover,” etc. Do your best not to break anything, as good parts can be reused. Rust can usually be repaired; if not, make note of the part needing replacing and start your search early. Once disassembled, reassess your budget and goals and see if they are still reasonable.

Begin restoring the chassis and suspension first. This will give you a rolling base that is movable and you can basically bolt everything else to it as you go. Repair any damage you find, as an unsatisfactory chassis can ruin all your other efforts. You don’t need to go as far as a rotisserie blast and acid dip for most restorations, but they do help the quality of the final product. Be sure to select suspension parts that will net the desired ride quality, as well as parts that work well together.

The engine and transmission are complicated parts that many restorers farm out to local shops. With a little bit of now-how, time, and tools, restoring an engine or transmission to factory condition is doable for the DIY mechanic. No matter your ultimate goal, look for ways to upgrade power, reliability, and even gas mileage, while keeping it looking factory stock. Engine restoration and performance upgrades are easiest with the engine out of the chassis. Only return it to the vehicle once the engine bay is fixed, painted, and complete.

Looks Matter

car seats CabrioletThe interior is a good place to spend time and money, as this is where you will spend most of your time with the ride. Auto upholstery looks intimidating, but is surprisingly easy to learn. Your best bet is to go with something era appropriate but better than factory. Improvements like modern a/c can offer increased driveability while keeping a stock look.

Paint and body work are extremely time consuming. It is possible to spend thousands of hours on the bodywork alone, but the results will be show winning quality. This step is half art form, so after doing some of the body work yourself, there’s no shame in towing your project to a respected paint shop.

Finally, be sure you work in some of your own personality. Pin striping, wheel selection, and colors are a personal choice that make the vehicle uniquely your own. Remember to go slow, research everything, and most of all, have fun with your first restoration.

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