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. For example, an old car that has been restored to it's original condition, or how it left the factory.

old car restoration

What Is Old Car Restoration?

  • Old car restoration is an art.
  • Old car restoration is a passion.
  • Old car restoration is a skill.
  • Old car restoration is a profession.
  • Old car restoration is therapy.

There are several different types of automotive restoration:

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, drive line, 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, they 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

Mechanical Restoration

An old car whose exterior in good shape (paint, trim, chrome), but is not running or running poorly, needs only a mechanical restoration.

1968 Jaguar XKE restoration

An example is this 1968 Jaguar XKE. When purchased, it only needed mechanical repairs. Since bodywork and paint are costly and time-consuming, finding an old car needing only mechanical attention would be an easier and less expensive restoration to complete.

Cosmetic Restoration

Cosmetic repairs are ones that are visual, such as rust, chips and dings, paint scratches, or cracked glass. A cosmetic restoration is one in which bodywork and paint is needed.

replace rusty floor pans

An old weathered car that has been outside for decades may need major sheet metal repair, and the repair costs may 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 worth more when completed. 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

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.

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