Classic car restoration can be a beast, even for DIY mechanics with plenty of experience. Depending on the needs of your classic ride, there’s bound to be at least a few areas where you’re not skilled—working out dents, re-upholstering or simply having connections to the right dealers who have original parts. For many people, owning a restored classic car is a major item on their bucket list. However, it’s easy to get stuck with a lemon.
It’s also easy to spend several thousand dollars on restoration, ultimately getting you a car that (albeit close to perfect) you’ve dumped way too much money into. When shopping for a classic car project, there are a few checkpoints to carefully consider. Simultaneously, you should also have a restoration shop in your corner who provides quality results that work with your budget.
- Rust=no go
Rust is fairly common, and when it’s minimal and just on the surface, you might be able to power wash it off. However, if the chassis has been destroyed or if you’ll need to totally replace steel panels, it’s not worth it. It’s not unusual to strip the chassis, sandblast it, remove sections and weld brand new pieces together. This isn’t just expensive, but ultimately means it’s not an original car. Only the lucky few can find replacement panels, but most need to create makeshift panels themselves. Rust buckets should be reserved for only the very skilled (or the very wealthy).
- Focus on value
There are tons of old cars out there, but age alone doesn’t make a car a classic. While there will always be niche markets for pretty much every car, you deserve one that retains its value. Never let impulses control your purchase, and spend some time researching the most reliable classic cars that won’t lose their value. Bonus points if you snag a car that appreciates—and remember that upfront costs are only a small portion of what you’ll be spending.
- Check for replacement parts
Assuming the worst case scenario happens and you have to replace a lot of parts, how easy are they to find? How affordable are they? Purchasing a really rare car is a thrill, but if they don’t make it anymore (or the manufacturer no longer exists), it’s going to be tough to find aftermarket parts. Pretend like you’re searching for parts well before making the purchase, and experience first-hand what might be in store.
- Power up
At the very least, you need a car that easily starts and runs. If it overheats during the test drive, is cranky to start or the current owner promises “all it needs is a new battery,” be wary. If the battery story is true, most owners would spring for that cheap part in order to sell their car. A more likely scenario is a seized or otherwise destroyed engine that needs replacing.
Ideally, you have an expert on hand who can run diagnostics on the car before you make an offer. If the seller is on the up and up, they’ll be happy to let a pro take a look. If they resist, they’re probably hiding something and you’re better off continuing your hunt elsewhere.