Restoring a Classic Car: General tips for a successful project

Recently Hagerty launched the largest restoration-based survey ever conducted online. More than 4,000 enthusiasts logged on to share their experiences, opinions and to give advice. An overwhelming majority of those who participated have restored a car in the last five years. Here are some of the tips they offered regarding every aspect of the restoration process.


Think long and hard about the type of car you’d like to restore. Keep in mind that year, model and rarity of the car will affect its value, but be aware that the rarer a vehicle is, the harder it is to find parts. These projects are inevitably more expensive and time-consuming. If you’re restoring with selling in mind, look for vehicles with collectible characteristics such as convertibles.

Once you’ve decided on the year, make, and model, look for a car in the best condition you can afford. Cosmetic work tends to be quite a bit more expensive and time-consuming than mechanical restoration. The project will go much more smoothly if you start with a straight frame and a rust-free body – look for vehicles that come from warm, arid climates.

Research, research, research. Once you’re done researching, research some more. This is integral in making sure your project is a success. You should look into everything: the history of your particular car, factory specs and options, availability of parts and restoration services, average sale price. Find someone who’s done a similar project and pick their brain for advice. Ask an insane amount of questions – none are stupid. Scour catalogues. Immerse yourself in the hobby – join a car club and attend shows and swap meets. Buy a shop manual and read everything specific to your car that you can get your hands on. Knowledge is power.

Consider keeping a project scrapbook. Include a parts and supply list, ideas, and pictures of how you envision the final project. This will help you communicate your plan to others. Also include a “contacts” list where you keep names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of parts suppliers, restoration professionals, and friends who are willing to give advice or get grease on their hands. Write down a list of helpful web sites, too.

Know exactly what you want the outcome of the restoration to be from the start. Do you want a driver or a show or concours quality vehicle? Make a plan and stick to it, but allow some slack for unforeseen obstacles. Anticipate everything and be prepared for surprises. A good rule of thumb is to at least double the amount of time and money you originally think you’ll spend. Base your timeline and your budget on these more liberal figures and there’s less chance you’ll become broke and disappointed.

All good things are worth waiting for. Be patient. A quality restoration can easily take years. Be prepared to stall for the arrival of a certain part, or to wait for a restorer to have time to work on your car. Don’t get too discouraged if you miss your first planned outing with your car.

Enjoyment and love of your car and the hobby are the only reasons you should take on a restoration project. Often you will not recoup the full amount spent on the restoration when you sell it. The time and energy involved can be overwhelming and setbacks can be very discouraging. You must be able to rely on anticipation of the outcome and small successes along the way to keep you going.

Be realistic about the amount of time you can spend on the project. Don’t sacrifice time with family or restoration-free time for yourself. Consider your spouse’s needs, wants, expectations and threshold for whining (yours). Gentleman, buy your wife the jewelry before the project starts. Ladies, consider purchasing a car your husband likes and will be willing to help with.

The Internet is a valuable resource for researching and finding parts. Many car clubs have web sites equipped with chat rooms where enthusiasts can share knowledge and advice.

Consider investing in a digital camera to document your project. The instant results make it easy for you to communicate your progress with others. Technology is your friend.

Designate a bank account for your project. Pay cash out of this account for all parts and services. Do not spend “family” money or go into debt to finish the project.

When possible, get all the parts, or as many as you can, before starting – that way you won’t be put on indefinite hold waiting for a hard-to-find component.

Next: For Projects You're Doing Yourself


Hagerty Insurance (HagertyKnowsClassics)

It’s all about passion. Over the last 25 years, we’ve grown to be the global leader for collector car and boat insurance. But we’re still just a family business built on love for the hobby. Our passion drives us to keep improving our product, and to keep giving our clients the best service imaginable. \r\n\r\nPeople trust us with their most prized possessions because we get it. It’s all about memories and dreams: the ’69 Camaro you’d wanted since you were a kid. The Chris Craft boat you inherited from your granddad. The vintage Triumph motorcycle you used to impress your future wife. We protect the physical connections to the best moments in life. \r\n

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