Cosmetic repairs aren’t operational or mechanical repairs, so they don’t affect your car’s performance.
You may have an ugly duckling that’s mechanically sound but needs some attention on the exterior and interior. It may involve fixing any combination of things that effect the appearance of the car like dents, dings and chips in the paint, surface rust or a cracked or broken windshield. Sun damage is a big one in the South and California whereas northern cars that have been driven in the snow may have rust and salt issues of varying degrees.
A paint job and some bodywork may do the trick if you are lucky but the issues noted above will most definitely take more attention which translates into more money!
Depending on the car, cosmetic restorations may be more expensive than the vehicle’s value when finished. With that said, giving your classic a shiny new exterior is usually worth the cost. It all depends on your plans for the vehicle. This writer knows of a woman who recently found her grandfather’s old Sprint car in a barn (yep, still happens!). It had such sentimental value to her that she is spending tens of thousands on a full restore even though the car is probably only worth a few thousand.
Even the issues noted, can be handled by a good paint and body shop.
Doing your research to find a good one is something we can’t recommend enough.
Then there is the opposite of the cosmetic reno and you may have a classic car that looks well maintained on the surface, but might be another story when its performance or drivability comes into the picture.
You have have bought the car knowing it needed a lot of work, maybe not. You wouldn’t be the first person to drive off happy as hell only to have the transmission pack up 20 miles down the road.
Your classic car mechanical restoration can be like a forensic exam. Ideally you want to find a mechanic who has experience with the car your plan to restore. This can save a lot of headaches and mistakes. The good forensic mechanic will know the quirks of the car in question and will also have an idea of which parts can be found easily, which will be more difficult to find and which will need to be rebuilt or even fabricated. If it’s a foreign car, you may be looking at long wait times and costly shipping to get parts in from overseas. Keep it in mind. It’s not the mechanic’s fault if a part is hard to find.
Most classic cars are prime candidates for restoration—so long as restoration is a feasible. Whether you’re considering doing everything on your own or working in tandem with a team of professionals, it’s not a bad idea to properly assess your available options. Here’s a simple guide to the three primary forms of restoration.
Many classic car owners prefer to do some of the work themselves to cut down on costs or out of pure enjoyment. You may have experience as a mechanic or a body tech, either way you will probably still need to pull in a pro at some point. Unless you’ve got the right know-how and specialized equipment, some aspects of vehicle restoration will be tough to accomplish correctly.
A partial restoration may involve one or more of these operations:
For exterior restorations, you need to sand or remove old paint, fix any bodwork and repair dents and dings. If the car has a lot of deep rust this will need to be cut out and newly fabricated panels welded into place and filled during pre-painting prep. You may need to rechrome or replace old bumpers and trim as well as replace the tires with those in keeping with the era of the car.
After restoring the exterior, the interior might need a refresh as well. Depending on the severity of the damage, sometimes a thorough cleaning is all that’s required. Clean the floors and seats to remove dust, grime, and other debris. You can penetrate denser fabrics with baking soda without causing damage thanks to its lower pH level.
For unsalvageable interiors, reupholstering will be necessary. Depending on your budget, you may want to look for interior components that are intact from an individual or someone specializing in salvaged parts. In some cases you may be able to buy replacement seat covers and install them yourself.
Complex cases may require a professional auto trimmer’s services since they can efficiently deal with broken seat frames, rotted out foams, and loose-fitting covers. Aside from the reupholster, your car might also be in need of paneling and flooring replacement.
Partial restorations can also involve replacing or upgrading a car’s present systems. A refresh on fuel delivery, cooling, and electrical systems might be necessary if you’re planning to use your classic car regularly. If your car is mostly for show and you only plan to drive few occasional miles, you may not need to dive into costly replacements in this area.
This process requires flushing out older brake systems, installing new pads, and rebuilding the cylinders. Keep in mind that older car setups are more susceptible to contamination and deterioration, which can affect your vehicle’s safety. If you’re planning to use your classic car regularly, wed recommend upgrading and installing a modern braking system.
Only your you or your mechanic will know the extent of the engine restoration will be need on your classic car. A well-maintained car may only need a regular servicing for performance enhancement (tune-up, timing belts, condensers, plugs, points, etc.). Depending on how well the car has been maintained, will determine the extent of your repairs in this area. You could be looking at some basic servicing to a a complete motor replacement.
Thoroughly inspect the steering and suspension components and replace them with the necessary bearings, bushings, shocks, and springs. They may need a complete upgrade using modern parts so the car rides and handles better.
With the right upkeep, some classic cars only need a partial custom restoration to revert to their original condition. Partial restorations are also a solid choice if you’re not yet dead-set on a more expensive and time-consuming full restore.
Full custom restorations are for owners who want a show-quality car. This process involves complete disassembly of your vehicle and restoring each of its parts, systems and components. Here’s a rough checklist of what needs to be done:
This process can go two ways: mechanical or chemical. The former makes use of a sander or any automated paint remover. Keep in mind that most classic cars can suffer damaged using this type of remover so the body tech needs to be very skillful.
Chemical removal, on the other hand, often entails removing the body and using various solutions to take the paint off. Taking the body apart is necessary because the chemicals used might damage the interior of your car. Once the car is completely prepped (old paint removed, bodywork done, primer applied) the paint shop will painstakingly paint each part. Depending on the type of paint job you are paying for, there will be several layers of paint and clear coat applied. This is a time consuming process that entails drying between each paint session before the next coat can be applied.
Older cars are susceptible to rusting and corrosion, especially if you live in a humid coastal area or a cold snowy area. Depending on the extent of the damage, your vehicle restoration specialist will remove the damaged area and fabricate the replacement. This will then be welded back into place as in the partial restoration. More severe cases may need a complete replacement of the body.
Full car restorations often involve a fair number of interior replacements, sometimes totally. If the car has been left out in the elements it may need to be completely gutted and the interior restored in it’s entirety. This would include the dashboard, seats, carpets, seats, springs, foam, headliners, and door panels. Additionally, if the dashboard needs to be replaced you are likely looking at gauges and radio as well.
Your classic car’s trim includes the wheel wells, door and window seals, bumpers, and headlights. You can expect to replace most of this since these parts typically deteriorate over time.
You have the option of rebuilding the engine or replacing it with a crate motor. For the uninitiated, crate motor, as the name suggests, are shipped in a crate to your or your mechanic. They may be complete with all parts needed to install or partially complete depending on what you’ve paid for. Getting one from an experienced and trusted provider eliminates the hassle of rebuilding your engine and can be more cost effective.
Much like you would for a partial restoration, fixing or replacing the brakes, suspension, steering, transmission, and gearing systems of your car will likely be necessary for a complete restoration.
Like a full restoration, rotisserie rebuilds start with removing the body from its frame and a total disassembly of the car’s components. The rotisserie is part of a complete rebuild in many cases but not always necessary. Very often the rotisserie is done on a car that is a “bucket of bolts”. They take something that barely resembles the car it will ultimately become, and start from scratch.
Either the frame or the body (whichever requires working) is placed on a “rotisserie.” Then, this useful machine turns, rotates, and elevates the vehicle to improve visibility, allowing the restorer to assess the necessary repairs and replacements meticulously.
Every form of restoration service on the car’s frame or body is possible when mounted on a rotisserie. You can even replicate the original factory process with every height and angle available at your disposal.
Of course, not every custom car builder has a rotisserie nor do they engage in this kind of complete restoration.
Classic car restoration costs depend on the car’s condition and the extent of restoration you want. Do you want a new coat of paint to show off to your friends and family, or do you want a show car level of restoration? It’s easier to break things down on a spreadsheet using these factors:
If you want to do everything yourself, and you have a certain set of skills, you can save a lot of money on labor costs. If you don’t have the right skills, it can end up costing more if you aren’t careful. The typical restoration process often involves employing trained professionals, and it can take several hundreds of hours to accomplish. You do the math.
Repairing your current build might not be enough. Sometimes, a complete replacement of certain parts is necessary. Depending on the car, parts might be scarce, which translates into more time to locate the parts and a higher price. If you’re buying from a far away area, you also need to factor in the shipping costs.
You may find the ideal custom car builder in another city far from where the car is. Or you have bought the car from another city in another state. In this case you will need to factor in the transport costs to get the car to the shop.
Many car owners consider classic car restoration an art form and it is. A top vehicle restoration specialist is a highly skilled artisan and the better the reputation, the more they can charge for their skill and professionalism. It’s a challenging pursuit that ultimately preserves a small piece of history. As you’ve probably realized, the process takes money, time, and patience. More than that, you also need to do your research and take into account even the smallest of details.