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How to Restore a Classic Car

Posted on September 15, 2017

Buying a classic car is always an exciting time for a collector, whether it is the first one or an addition to your collection. While there is nothing wrong with choosing a car that can be driven right then, purchasing one that needs some love and restoring it yourself will give you an intimate knowledge of its workings. And if your budget is limited, it can be a great way to own a classic car at a lower cost.

Planning the scope of the restoration

Restoring a car is painstaking work that can take around 1,000 hours so you don’t want to start without a clear plan. You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How authentic do you want your car to be?

First, you must decide on the type of restoration you will do. Some people choose to use only authentic parts, and historically accurate materials and colour schemes. Others keep the best of both worlds and stay faithful to the origin model but improve on certain aspects like installing a more powerful engine, while others still will go all out and fundamentally transform their car into something else altogether!

This choice will determine your budget and also how straightforward it will be to get spare parts. One thing we can say is make sure that you do ample research before you make a decision as restoring and modifying your car can increase its value but also decrease it.

  • What are your budget and timeframe?

Authenticity, budget and timeframe are interconnected. Your budget can determine how authentic your restoration will be as genuine parts will be more expensive. As for a timeframe, the best advice we can give you is to be patient. You may have to look for parts or save money to get what you need and it is best not to rush things as it will most certainly affect the quality of your work.

The logistics of car restoration

  • Where will you work?

The most important consideration when buying a classic car is where you will store it. It is imperative to have a sheltered, dry space as sun, wind and rain would damage your vehicle. Likewise, you will need a space you can turn in a workshop while you work on it.

  • Do you need to train up?

Even if you have never done more on your everyday car than check its oil level doesn’t mean that you can’t learn. There are plenty of mechanics courses to teach the basics and for something more specific to your car joining a car club and learning from people who have experience in restoring classic cars will be invaluable. Classic cars enthusiasts are usually passionate and will gladly share their knowledge.

  • Do you have the right tools?

You can’t do a good job without the right tools. In addition to basics like screwdrivers, wrenches, spanners, etc., you will also need:

- An impact wrench to remove lug nuts, nuts and bolts.

- An air compressor for power tools such as impact wrenches, hammers, grinders and spray gun for the paint.

- A creeper to be able to manoeuvre underneath the car easily and comfortably.

- A jack and stands to lift the car off the floor.

- A paint stripper.

- An angle grinder to cut through rust, metal, and to smooth sharp edges.

- An auto jig to bore precision holes, essential when very precise measures are needed.

- A hydraulic lift or A-frame to lift or install engines.

- Hand tools: tin cutters, putty, patch pieces for rust holes and sheet metal for big repairs. A power drill for smaller jobs and a drill press for larger jobs.

- A transmission stand to keep the transmission straight and safe after it is removed from the car.

- A dent puller: an indispensable tool in your box to remove dents. Hand-operated dent pullers will give you more control but you can also find them powered by air compressors if needed.

Some of these tools will be inexpensive and some less so. In that case, it may make more sense to rent them than to buy them if you are only going to need them a couple of time.

Finding Spare Parts

Depending on the condition of the car, you may be able to salvage some of its parts. It’s amazing what some scrubbing and greasing will do!

For the parts that need replacing on cars that are relatively recent, you can try vehicle salvage centres in your area to see if they have similar vehicles you could pillage. Likewise check online for ads of cars to sell for spare parts. It will often be the cheapest route to go.

You can also get in touch with car clubs. Some will cater to all classic cars but others will be make-specific and their members may be able to help you, or at least point you towards companies who do sell spare parts for your car.

How to restore your car

Each project will be different, but here are the logical steps:

  • Send parts off to be re-chromed
  • Send engine/transmission to machine shop if you're not rebuilding them yourself
  • Strip, clean, repair and paint the frame
  • Replace or rebuild front and rear suspension on frame
  • Start to strip paint off body, top and bottom
  • Weld in new metal, prepare body for painting
  • When engine/transmission are rebuilt, install in frame and run them several times to work out the bugs
  • Rebuild the rear axle and install on frame
  • Reupholster the seats
  • Rebuild/repaint/replace the instruments, radio, heater box, etc.

One important thing to remember is to know when to ask for help. A mistake can be expensive to fix at a later stage.

Do you have a classic car to import? Then call McCullough on + 64 9 309 1163 to find out what we can do for you, or request a quote online.


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