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What to consider before restoring a classic car

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If you have a classic car in your garage that might best be described as a “fixer-upper”, how do you go about restoring it to its former glory?

red MG in front of garage

Once you’ve bought your labour of love, and before you start any restoration project, make sure you have a comprehensive workshop manual. 

Also, before dismantling any components, take lots of photos and notes in case you can’t remember how they fit together.
 
Ask yourself, “If the project takes 12 months or more to finish, will I remember where everything goes?”

 A few hours or even days planning the restoration beforehand could save you weeks in the long run. More haste, less speed!

The largest cost in any restoration project is labour, and unless you intend to do all the work yourself, professional services are usually needed at some point in the project.

Here are some common pitfalls to watch out for when restoring a classic car, but this list is by no means exhaustive. 

It’s always a good idea to consult a professional before starting a restoration project so you set off on the right foot.

Corrosion

Left unused, and with gravity taking over, oil eventually drains away to leave areas of bare metal unprotected. Also, depending on the type of oil used, acidic residue can form, which corrodes any bare metal it comes into contact with. 

Corroded fuel manifold lines can result in a fuel leak, which can quickly turn to fire when the engine is started.

Seized components

man working on a red car

Brakes often seize when left unused due to corrosion, accelerated by moisture in the brake system. Because of this, fluids must be changed every two years, and ideally they should be drained before putting the car into storage. 

This last piece of advice is often ignored, and you’d be hard pressed to discover a barn-find that has had such care taken.

Hoses

All rubber hoses harden and crack over time. This causes all sorts of problems including fuel leaks. Depending on how long the car has been off the road, you should consider changing all of them.

Electrics

A car battery will go flat in about four weeks, and even faster during winter. Batteries should be replaced entirely if left dormant for three months or more.

Mould

Given the right conditions, any moisture inside the car will result in mould spreading throughout the entire interior but can usually be removed with most types of carpet cleaning soap.

Top classic car restoration questions to ask yourself

  • How skilled are you are welding and spraying? These are two key skills in any classic car restoration that you’ll be needing to call upon time and again

  • Do you have the specialist tools required for any structural repairs, such as a monologue jig?

  • Do you have enough space for the job?

  • How long do you expect the restoration will take? Depending on the extent of the work required and your lifestyle, you could still be working on it two years later. Will your dedication be the same after all that time?

  • What is your budget? A full internal, external, engine and transmission rebuild will cost a substantial amount of money, so it’s best to form a strict budget beforehand

Above all, remember that a classic car restoration is a labour of love, not just an investment.

This guide was provided by Ian Owen, who runs the classic car community at Classic Car Magazine.

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