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Classic Car Restoration Do's and Dont's

Classic cars

Restoring a classic car can be a relaxing, fun project. Whether you are searching for the perfect 1960s-era muscle car or want to turn a classic Model T into your dream car, you’ll learn a ton and enjoy the pride of owning a beautiful vehicle when the restoration is complete.

Whether you’ve restored many vehicles or are a novice to the hobby, there are many tips and tricks that can help your project go more smoothly. Here is some of the best advice for your next successful classic car restoration.

DO decide on the level of restoration you want

There are four levels of restoration recognized by classic car enthusiasts:

  • Drivable: vehicle is operational but can contain replacement parts and some minor cosmetic adjustments.
  • Street Show: vehicle is in working condition with no major cosmetic issues, within 80-89 points if judged by a restoration professional.
  • Show Level Car: this level is most easily obtained by hiring professionals rather than relying on hobbyist tools and equipment. If professionally judged, a show car would score in the 90-95 point range.
  • Concours condition: the highest, most professional level of restoration possible. This work is the most expensive type of restoration, and is usually reserved for cars in auto shows or destined for private collectors. These vehicles are typically not meant to be driven.

DO study the factory manual

Even if you’ve worked on many classic cars, every model is different, and having access to the factory assembly specs can ensure project success. Don’t let a lack of information lead to a major issue such as a misaligned subframe. Odds are you can find your vehicle’s old manual at the library, on eBay, or even in digital form online.

DON’T insist on period technology

Unless you’re an absolute purist (see restoration levels above), you can benefit from modern improvements under the hood without affecting the outer appearance of your classic car. For instance, some manufactures produce a hybrid distributor cap that mimics the old look but uses modern HEI-style terminals for spark plug connections.

With a little research you’ll probably find several of these small cheats that make for a more-reliable driving experience and easier repair.

DO use existing parts when possible to save money

In many cases it is possible to get authentic reproduction parts, but the costs can be high. Examine what you have to work with and decide in advance if you can repair or refurbish existing materials to save money.

As an example, if a windshield cannot be salvaged, it’s almost always possible to purchase new glass made for your classic model. But you can save quite a bit of money by polishing the existing glass yourself. A polishing kit with a buffer wheel and polishing compound can get rid of hazing and small scratches for a beautiful, clear look.

Another area where than can save money is trim. Older models are famous for their flashy stainless steel trim. If your vehicle has this trim intact, even if its dented and scratched up, you can restore it to look like new. This type of work requires skill and patience, but you can also hire a metal shop to do it for you.

DON’T overlook small details

Details that seem trivial can add an authentic touch to your classic car. For instance, making sure you have the correct door-lock button for your make and model can add the right aesthetic touch and avoid the annoying rattles that result from an improper fit. And hand painting faded lettering and detailing on your dash adds a finer finish than a simple refurbishing polish. Noticing the small details can bring another level of beauty to your restoration project.

Car restoration is both fun and practical. You get the relaxation, pride, and enjoyment of working on your vehicle. And at the end of a successful project, you’ll have a beautiful work of art that is also functional.