When looking for a vehicle for your car restoration project, this guide will help you define a particular vehicle's condition in such a way that you can obtain agreement from the seller. Also, we include a relative value statement to give you some idea of the relationship between condition and worth. These assessments result from cumulative years of buying experience by our staff and many other collectors/hobbyists. Current auto restoration value guides (CPI, Old Cars & Parts, NADA) are available at newsstands. These guides reflect the selling prices of thousands of vehicles and are updated quarterly.
Before going out to look for your next car restoration project, get someone familiar with that model to go with you. Consult a local marque club to find your "expert." Clubs exist for virtually everything ever sold in the U.S. If you can't find someone with that level of expertise, look for someone who's performed one or more auto restorations. They know generally how to examine a vehicle's suitability. The listing below shows the basic levels of condition. Following that is a detailed guide on how to assess rust damage, and following that is a discussion of other factors affecting a vehicle's value.
F—Basket Case: A completely disassembled vehicle who's parts may not be all there or made up from the parts of several others. Only experts on that specific vehicle would know what is missing, and such finds are worth very little. New or reproduction parts do add some value, but not as much as their actual cost. In general, such projects should only be undertaken by experienced restorers. Value = 1/4th that of a complete running vehicle at most.
E—Complete (All Parts There), Not Running Or Partially Assembled Many long-stored vehicles found in garages, barns and carports fit this category. At some time their owners were going to "fix them up." Examine these projects carefully for rust (see rust guide below) and attempt to turn engines and axles before committing to purchase. If running gear is "frozen" consider it useless and unrestorable. Value = 1/2 that of complete running vehicle.
D—Complete And Running Such vehicles may have light rust and be missing some minor trim pieces, but are capable of passing state safety inspections. They should be able to be reliably driven more than 100 miles without overheating, smoking or exhibit drivetrain noises. Most instruments are operable. Value = #3 to #4 or "fair" condition in value guides.
C—Good Condition Complete, running and safe to drive. No visible rust anywhere. Looks very well kept with no serious body damage or torn/ragged interior. Generally, these don't have high mileage. Value = #2 or "good" condition in value guides.
B—Very Good Such vehicles are extremely well kept originals or older/partial restorations. Everything is in nice condition, possibly showing some scratches and dings. No rust. Should run and drive smoothly with no rattles or shaking and all accessories/power equipment works correctly. Value = #2 to #1, or "good to excellent" in value guides.
A—Superior Fully restored or original vehicles in perfect condition (these are extremely rare). These vehicles appear as they did in showrooms when new. Partial or cosmetic restorations do not qualify. Superior vehicles command maximum value, but only if sellers can provide proof that they were totally restored. Receipts and photos are a must.
Rust, The Enemy Of Vehicles The most important factor affecting the ultimate value of an old vehicle is how much rust it has. It has only been within the past 12 years that vehicles are manufactured with rust-preventive metal treatments, so anything built before the 1980s is susceptible to the cancer that is rust. Below are some examples of rust conditions that should be borne in mind when looking over potential purchases:
Severe Frame, suspension, body are heavily encrusted. Body has rust-through holes in floors, fender wells and edges, and door sills and rocker panels. Unless such a vehicle is extremely rare, it is not economically restorable and should only be considered for parts.
Serious Frame, sub frames show surface rust, but are not structurally weakened. Body has rust-through in wheel wells and floors, but is otherwise sound. These vehicles are restorable but the considerable metal work required will be costly.
Moderate Frame and sub frames are good. Body has small rust-through holes, usually in front floor and wheel wells. Metal replacement is minimal.
Light Body is intact and sound, showing only surface rust on areas where paint has faded away. There might be some light pitting around windshield or rear window.
No Rust This means no rust anywhere! If vehicle is represented as such and you find any rust, walk away from the transaction.
Other Factors Affecting Value Knowing what to look for in a vehicle's condition goes a long way toward reaching a truly fair price for your sought-after acquisition. However, some additional factors can affect its value: