Classic car restoration tips for beginners

mini cooper british racing green 1966 restoration project

We want to share some tips about what we think should be your approach when looking to restore a classic car. Those tips will be as useful for any car, I hope you make good use of them.

    1.    Pick the right car for the right reason

I think the main difficulty in getting a restoration project right is finding the right car. Not only because the outcome will depend on which car are you picking up, but also because the wrong car can give you a lot of headaches (not only financially). 

    2.    Careful with barn finds, they are very romantic but also …

Barn finds are really cool and probably one of the most great personal experiences anyone can have, but a barn find of a cheap car it is always going to end in an expensive job with little return on investment as the final car will always be cheap, so first tip, if you come across a barn find pray so that a good example of that model car is worth some money.

    3.    How much are worth your emotions?

To me as well, something you have to have clear in your mind is the reason why you are doing a restoration project. Every car has a history (maybe unknown or maybe to be discovered) and there is an emotional side to a lot of restoration projects. Those ones, no matter how much money you spend on them they are always well spent. If on the other hand your intention to restore a car is just making money, then you have to use a more sensible / economic approach to the project. Tip two, before starting the restoration ask yourself why you want the job done; if it is an emotional reason go for it (if you can afford it), on the other hand, if you want an investment, use a calculator and bear in mind the final price of any car can change from the time you start the work til the time you finish.

    4.    Who is going to do the restoration?

I have found as well a lot of people charging a lot of money for an average job and also a lot of decent, honest people charging reasonably money for a reasonable job. Tip three, always ask at least a couple of places and rely on what people say about those places too before deciding who is going to get the job done. Use this website if you want to read garages reviews.

    5.    Finding original parts is key to a great car

Once you decided who is going to do it, remember the higher cost in any restoration (after labour) is original parts. Finding the right parts is key to ending up with a great restoration work. For that reason, anytime you approach a car to be restored one of the most important things to check is the original patina in the car; this will help you saving some money as you won’t be able to find every single part of your classic for sale at the time of your restoration works and as many restorers would agree, spending some time everyday looking for good quality (maybe to be rebuilt) parts is fundamental to having a great final job. To add a bit to that, you need to spend sometime finding them, and time is money my friend. Tip four, if you find a car with no patina and you want to start a restoration project beware of the cost, probably it’ll be more than you expect. Original parts cost a lot of time and money to find them.

    6.    Avoid rust at all cost

Another expensive restoration work is the body and painting. These days, even if the original colour of your car is not produced any more, they can recreate it with a computer and you’ll get a great repainted car unable to notice any difference at all with the original paint code. But what is expensive are all the metallic /fibreglass parts around the chassis of the car making the body. Even some of them have to be welded too. In this process you have several costs involved as the car has to get stripped completely (and all the parts sorted), then classic car parts for some marketing reasons only go up and after all the job done, everything have to be built again and in the right order: electrics, fuses, cables, pipes, engine, gearbox, … otherwise the car won’t work.

    7.    Be patient, but chase the works

In this fantastic process of stripping off the car and sorting the parts, depending on the car, it can take 3 days to get it done. But also, if some of the parts are not in good condition they have to be rebuilt or buy new ones, which can take some time too. So all in all even though everything should be done quickly, everything takes more time than you’d like to. Tip five, in the unlikely event that everything goes on time any work involving body shop takes a lot of time, even drying up the paint takes at least 2 weeks. Be patient.

    8.    Pay to get it done in time, otherwise …

One of the most frustrating bits is the time used to get things fixed. What I won’t recommend is asking your artisan to get a cheaper price by him working extra hours. There are two main reasons for that. First one is not so clear, the cheaper price you think you can get doesn’t offset the extra span of the project. And second, the extra time will be endless. Pay the right price and get it done basically. Don’t let a craftsman have the excuse to delay a project. You are paying for it !

    9.    Get as many pics and proofs or work as possible

Always remember to ask pictures of everything as these are the proof of the job done (following as well the VAT’ed invoice). I’ve heard from some friend in a garage that some clients ask him if they can sort out somehow then VAT of the final invoice or of some parts. I think in this sector is a huge error trying to cheat. Every job has to get documented and everything that you’ve done to the car has a final value. If you change the radio and you don’t have the invoice, how do you proof you have bought a refurbished one? Or if you have done both front wings and you try to save some money, your car might be worth less money as well. We have talked about the value of some works and others and like in a house, doing some works adds more or less value, but certainly proving what you have done is better than just being able to say it. Tip six and last for today, get as many documentation as you can regarding all the works you have done: invoices, pictures, … anything can be valuable at the time to value your car or when you decide it is time to sell it.

In general, getting the right restoration work done is a matter of willing to spend some good money and some patience while it is done, but as long as the outcome is great … all the rest is part of the story with you and your car. Enjoy it !

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