Old Car Restoration

Generally speaking, automotive restoration is the process of replacing and/or repairing worn parts of an older model car to make it run and look like new again. There are several different types of automotive restoration.

old car restoration

Types Of Restoration

The term 'classic car restoration' is relative and should be broken down into sub-categories. The most common definition is an old car that has been restored to it's original condition, or how it left the factory.

Complete Restoration

A complete restoration includes not only repair of the parts that can be seen, such as paint, trim, chrome, etc., but also the parts that are not visible. This would include the engine and engine compartment, trunk, frame, driveline, brakes, etc. If the body is removed from the frame, it is considered a "body off" or "ground up" restoration.

Body-Off-Frame Restoration

A body-off-frame restoration is not always desirable or needed. Why does the body need to come off? Is the rust and rot that bad?

If your old car spent it's life in a colder climate where salt is used on wintry roads, it may have major body and/or frame rot. The only proper way to inspect and repair frame rot is by removing the body from the frame.

Reasons To Do A Body-Off-Frame Restoration

An old car with a nice body that has a bad frame.

An old car that has a good frame but a bad body.

An old car that has bad body bushings.

Body Bushings


With few exceptions, car bodies are attached to frames with rubber bushings. After 30-40 years, these bushings become weak and brittle and break apart. Not only will this invite squeaks and rattles, the car may sag in spots. A prospective buyer can detect worn body mounts by simply peering under the car.

If body lifting is needed, you could get five or six people together and lift it by hand. The best way to lift a body off a frame is with a two-post garage lift.

old car project with floor panels removed

When the ideal air/fuel ratio of 14.7 is obtained, the catalytic converter is working at optimum efficiency. O2 sensors that have been modified or tampered with may malfunction, which will can cause an engine to run lean and decrease fuel efficiency.

Mechanical Restoration

An old car whose exterior in very good shape (paint, trim, chrome, etc.), but is not running or running poorly, needs only a mechanical restoration. An example of this is my Jaguar XKE Restoration. Since bodywork and paint are the most costly and time-consuming, finding an old car needing only mechanical attention would be an easier and less expensive restoration to complete, but also the harder to find.

Cosmetic Restoration

Cosmetic repairs are not mechanical or operational repairs, but defects that are visual, such as rust, chips and dings, paint scratches, or a cracked windshield. A cosmetic restoration is one in which bodywork and paint is needed.

An old weathered car that has been outside for decades may need major cosmetic repairs, and the repair costs could be higher than what the car will be worth when done.

Should I Restore An Old Car Myself?

A person who wishes to fix their own car needs to have mechanical ability and the willingness to learn new skills, but a person who wishes to restore an old car needs to have much more.

Body work and mechanical work are two very different skills - many restorers possess one but not the other. Someone who wants to restore an old car by themselves needs to know both. Of course, some of the work can be farmed out to speciality shops.

old car restoration

Restored Old Cars Are Worth Money

Properly restored, an old car can be worth quite a bit. The most valuable old cars are ones that were brought back to their original factory condition. This usually involves hours and hours of research and using correct O.E. (original equipment) parts.

Research Before Buying

If you can prove that your old car is rare, from the VIN and with documents and build sheets, it'll be a worthwhile project. Muscle cars that you see and admire in classic car shows may very well have been parts cars a few years back. It's all in the pedigree -this is why research is critical to making a sound financial purchase. Much of what was on the car originally could be long gone now. It's very important to check numbers before you buy.

Read: Project Car Buyers Guide

For some people, classic car restoration is a business. For others, it is an art form. Some enjoy the challenge of returning a vehicle back to its former glory. Still others restore classic cars to preserve a little piece of history. Whatever the reason, old car restoration takes time, patience and money. Other qualities needed include research, attention to detail, and the willingness to learn new skills.

In the last 30 years, old car restoration has become big business, with thousands of specialty shops restoring old cars for profit. For the old car hobbyist, it may take several years to complete a restoration project. Most of us have other commitments, such as families and jobs that take up most of our time, leaving us weekends or an evening here or there. So we make a plan and budget our time and money. The completed results will be worth it.

Read: Plan Right and Get Started