Car Restoration And Classic Car Collecting: How Do I Get Started?
The world is full of old cars (and assorted other types of vehicles) that are gathering dust and gradually rusting away toward oblivion. The world is also full of people like yourselves, who are looking for some automotive treasure that they can restore to like-new condition.
Second Chance Garage is devoted to helping you find that special vehicle and then guide you through its restoration. We'll show you how to look for a vehicle, how to purchase it and get it home. Our library of technical articles will teach you how to do a complete restoration, whether you "farm out" a lot of the tasks or do everything yourself.
We're here to help, so sit back and read on. Ready? Let's go!
Choosing A Vehicle
The choices are endless, from early 20th Century cars, to post-war models, to 50s tailfins, to 60s muscle cars. The problem isn't one of finding a particular vehicle, the problem is deciding which one to buy! Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Is there some particular vehicle that you always wanted but were too young (or poor) to buy?
- Did a certain vehicle play a part in some moment of your life? Were you married in a '59 Ford, go to the prom in a '66 Mustang?
- Do you want to get back the first car you ever owned?
- Do the styles of the 1930s turn you on?
- Do you favor the European cars of the 50s or 60s?
First, think about what your interests are, then list on paper your top 5 or 6 candidates. If you need some help, go to the library and look at car books. You'll find books on all subjects, eras and makes, so spend a little time narrowing down the ones that appeal to you. While you're creating that list of candidates, take the time to look up values in pricing guides (Old Cars, CPI, NADA, etc.) found in the library.
Now it's time to narrow down that list. First, cross out any vehicles that you can't afford or are so rare that it's not worth looking. For instance, if you have a Tucker or Duesenberg on the list you'd better have a lot of money!
Decided on one? Now how do you find the "right" one to buy?
Purchasing a classic car
There is no "right" one but there are a number of "acceptable" ones. They can be found everywhere, but before you start looking, make yourself familiar with our Vehicle Condition Guide. You need to do this so you can "read between the lines" of the many ads you'll be screening. Also, arming yourself with this knowledge will enable you to ask the right questions of the owner and to examine the vehicles with an objective eye. Remember, sellers of old vehicles will invariably represent their condition in the best possible light. Some will outright misrepresent things and others will overlook problems because they just don't know enough about the vehicles. You need to become the expert, so print out the guide and keep it handy.
The most well-known publication listing old vehicles, parts and services is Hemmings Motor News. Commonly known as the "Bible of the Old Car Hobby," Hemmings has been around since the 1960s and every month lists over 20,000 vehicles for sale. Also worth buying is Old Cars Weekly, another long-established publication devoted to the hobby. Both are available at larger newsstands and on the internet.
Speaking of the internet, there are literally thousands of sites that offer old vehicles, usually devoted to specific marques. Most newspapers have "antiques and classics" listings in weekend classified sections.
Car clubs are often good sources for purchases, since their members buy and sell those types of vehicles routinely. Hemmings Motor News has a publication that lists nearly 5000 car clubs nationwide, and many local clubs have internet sites.
Talk with the seller extensively before going out to look at the vehicle. Ask pointed questions, not general ones. The first question is always, "is the car complete?" If not, what specific parts are missing? The next question is always, "where is any rust?" How large is each area? Next, ask these questions:
- Does it run and can it be driven safely over a considerable distance?
- Do the brakes work correctly?
- Do all instruments operate properly?
- Are the tires in good condition? How old are they?
- Are there fluid leaks and where are they?
- Are there tears or other severely worn parts of the interior?
- How long have you owned it? (Beware here if the answer is "a few months" or "I don't remember." That usually means the seller is either getting rid of a problem or 'rolling over' a recent purchase for a quick profit.)
- Why are you selling it?
Write down the answers and make sure the seller is giving complete information. This is especially true for vehicles located long distances from you. If you aren't satisfied with an answer, ask the question again. If still not satisfied, move on to another seller. Line up several sellers so you can look at a number of vehicles and compare.
Take your written answers (and our Vehicle Condition Guide) with you when you go to examine the vehicle. Take along a copy of the appropriate page from one or more pricing guides showing values for that vehicle. Take your time and look over the vehicle carefully and meticulously. If there are discrepancies, note them and get the seller's agreement on them. Get the seller to agree with your assessment of the overall condition using the guide for reference.
If the vehicle is drivable, go for a ride with the seller. Note any and all problems, verbally discussing them with the seller. Make sure the engine is running within normal temperature ranges. Tell the seller you'll get back in touch when you've seen some other vehicles.
Once completed, ask yourself which vehicle you want. Make the offer based on condition and buying guide information (remember, you've already gotten his agreement on the vehicle's condition, so your offer should reflect the pricing guides' levels, not his asking price.)
Once a seller accepts an offer, get the title and a written bill of sale, plus any documentation, manuals, etc. that pertain to the vehicle. Now it's time to get it home!
If you are lucky the vehicle runs well and is licensed, and you live close to where you purchased it. Under such circumstances all you have to do is drive it home, followed by someone else, or have the seller deliver it to you.
If a vehicle is drivable but not licensed, check with your state DMV and see if they issue temporary tags for transport. Most states do, and for a nominal fee. Of course, you can always take the title back with you, apply for tags and then go put them on, but that's fairly tedious. Some states allow you to drive such vehicles without tags if you call the state police for permission. Don't use tags from another car, however, as some states consider that a felony. Stiff fines and legal difficulties might ensue.
Usually a restoration project is in no safe condition to drive and/or it's located a long way from home. In that case it needs to be shipped, typically by truck. There are lots of trucking companies that specialize in transporting vehicles, and their charges are quite consistent - usually $1.00 per mile in an uncovered truck, $2.00 per mile covered. Hemmings Motor News advertises lots of trucking companies.
Of course, you always have the option of renting a trailer and towing your vehicle yourself, with total costs typically averaging $0.45 per mile. It is generally not a good idea to tow the vehicle itself, unless the distance is relatively short. You have no way of knowing the condition of its wheel bearings and a failure could be catastrophic (read: expensive).
Once your vehicle is home the fun really starts, and this web site is here to give you plenty of material on how to perform a total restoration. Before doing that, though, take a few minutes to read about the process and how you should go about it.
Now, To Assess The Situation!
To do a restoration you will need plenty of space, a good assortment of tools, lots of patience and a camera. A camera? Yes, either one with film or a digital, but you will be glad you have it. A camera will record the buying process, its arrival home, its disassembly, parts restoration and reassembly. In fact, reassembly is a lot easier when you can refer to old photos that show how it looked assembled, so shoot every part of the vehicle, from several angles. Keep the camera handy to record every step in the process, from beginning to end. It will also provide proof of your work when/if you sell the vehicle.
Next, keep a clip board with several sheets of note paper nearby. Draw three columns on each sheet. One column is for the name of each part, and the other two note whether that part will be restored or replaced. As you disassemble the car, list each component and whether you expect to rebuild it or replace it. When you are ready to order replacement parts, send the replacement list to several parts supply houses. Let them know that you have sent the same list to several other supply houses, and that this is a competitive bid. Oftentimes you may save a considerable amount on replacement parts this way.