Classic car restoration projects to avoid
We love a classic car restoration project.
To bring a dream of a car back to life in all its glory is a joy untold.
Yet for those attempting the work themselves the frustrations of classic car restoration can sometimes match the pleasures.
But, of course, you already know that don’t you.
In the interests of helping you avoid these major pitfalls there are some projects you simply should never take on.
They will swallow your money with an appetite that knows no bounds, they will have you wishing you’d never begun and they will bring out the very worst language you keep carefully tucked away at the back of your head.
We call these rust bucket projects.
Not because they always involve major rust problems but because, like a rusty car, it is guaranteed that at some point the bottom of your project will fall out.
We’ve canvassed our team of car restoration experts to find out what things should see the enthusiastic car restorer quickly blowing cold about a potential project.
Here are seven classic car restoration projects to avoid.
1/ The problem of rust
Rust. Rust. Rust.
It never sleeps, apparently.
We’d all love to find a forgotten car in an abandoned scrap yard and carefully coax it back to its former glory. Yet that rust heap actually represents the most difficult and costly car restoration you have ever clapped eyes on.
Areas of rust must be meticulously cut out before repair panels can be made and then installed. This can really cost in either time or money, and often in both.
When considering a classic car project turn your rust radar up high. Look for rust particularly in areas where water can collect, such as in the lower fender and in those inner panels under the hood, boot, doors and door jambs.
There is usually no reason at all to take on a literal rust bucket if it is a post-war model you are restoring. Simply keep looking for one that is in better condition.
Here’s the bottom line if you don’t want the bottom to fall out of your dream project: unless it’s a rare car or has some other historic value you should avoid rust. It may be going relatively cheap but it will cost you in the end.
2/ The problem of wood
Wood needn’t be an immediate turn-off like rust.
If there’s a lot of wood you should simply be aware that you may be taking on a difficult restoration project. If you’re happy with that: go for it. If you’re not, pick another model to restore.
The beloved Model A Ford: what a project, heh? But look at the amount of wood there is, particularly if you are restoring a fordor body or a Victoria as opposed to a cabriolet or an A 400.
Wood need not have you running for the hills but it should give you cause to pause for thought.
3/ The problem of parts
The restoration sums can really add up when it comes to locating parts.
Let’s forget availability for a second (although this can be real problem in itself for older or rarer cars). The internet has made locating parts so much easier yet it hasn’t solved the potential costs involved with the added expense of shipping for heavier items or of customs taxes that can be applied to foreign parts.
It is this factor that makes American cars like the Buick Riviera (1963-65) or the Chevrolet Bel Air (1953-54) so much of an easier and affordable restoration project than, say, the V-16 Cadillac which has a considerably more limited pool of parts.
4/ The problem of pieces
Be warned: buying a car in pieces is only for the very experienced. Only a real basket case would take on a basket case.
So many projects like this grind to a halt as essential pieces are missing and it is nigh on impossible to find this out until you get your basket case home.
5/ The problem of other people’s projects
There are plenty of abandoned restoration projects out there but it’s rarely wise to take one on.
There are just too many unanswered questions.
- Was the work carried out to a standard you can be happy with?
- Can you be sure the reasons given for not completing the restoration do not mask deeper problems?
- How were those dents filled?
- And so on...
6/ The problems of filler
That smooth bodywork may hide horrors beneath. Body filler can be used to push dents out rather than working the metal to fix problems.
Forget the magnet test: occasionally filler can be mixed with metal shavings to avoid detection. Instead tap the panels and keep an ear out for tell-tale dull sounds which will indicate the presence of plastic filler.
7/ The problem of what lies beneath
That beautifully, freshly painted car bodywork could be a devil in disguise. It may be just cynicism but any recently painted classic rings alarm bells.
That paint can hide rust and damage that has been poorly repaired with plastic fillers. Here’s a couple of ways to reassure yourself.
- The obvious one is to ask for photos of the restoration project. If they are not available, you may want to walk away.
- You can check the edges of the doors and the boot for thick, uneven edges: these suggest excessive material has been applied to repair damage.
- You should also check closely for cracking of the paint which is symptomatic of horrors lying beneath the surface.
But don’t let all this put you off
Restoration projects do not have to be rust buckets. The bottom need not fall out and the whole experience can be a pleasure rather than a pain.
At the end of the day we all do it because we love it.
What better reason can there be?