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The Ultimate Guide to Classic Car Restoration

Date: 2020-03-14
Author: Clasiq

As you might have guessed all things ‘classic car’ are our passion here at Clasiq. And, not only do we love driving classic cars, we love getting our hands dirty and restoring them too. To this end, we’ve compiled this handy guide on how to go about restoring a classic car along with some handy tips, tricks and things to look out for.

 

Firstly, It's of the utmost importance that we plan well in advance. Having an idea of what you want to do will make research and planning much easier. The final outcome will actually speak volumes on how well-prepared you were and how much forethought and planning was done before the rubber hits the road.

 

Image Source: @american_muscle_cars_official

 

Choosing the right classic will depend on your time, money and, importantly, the condition of the car you are restoring. While most pistonheads say ‘yes’ to any project car, knowing if you can make it will mean the difference between a truly successful restoration and one doomed to fail.

 

As the saying goes, failing to plan is to plan to fail.

 

Image Source: @american_muscle_cars_official

 

Us pistonheads are always looking for the next car restoration project. It's easy to take on a handful of old cars and start working on them, but finishing the task is always the hard part.

 

A fully restored classic will be your pride and joy, and like many of our stories illustrate, the finished article will be much more than just a restored car — it will be your baby.

 

 

1. To fail to plan is to plan to fail

 

A classic restoration begins once you have your project truck or car, tools, parts and supplies, a defined budget and a dedicated work space. You'll have to think about the layout next. As a rule of thumb, old car restorations will require a two-car garage space as a bare minimum. Plus, you'll need extra space when you're taking out the interior. Body panels will be stripped down to the barest metal parts and stored in safe areas where it won't rust or get damaged. Replacement panels will need their own area as well.

 

Image Source: @american_muscle_cars_official

 

Making the motor run will be a bit more difficult if you have no experience with the vehicle's make or model. Success will largely depend on a number of factors, including mileage, engine and mechanical condition, damage and more. If the engine is original then you may not want to start it; instead, you can haul it out and do a separate rebuild before putting it back in.

 

It's perfectly acceptable (and in some cases, necessary) to outsource some restorative processes to a professional auto shop. For example, interior restoration may be sent to a car shop that has specialty tools. Fixing the rear axles and transmission is best left to the experts, and if you come across complicated engine work, it's best to ask the professionals for help.

 

Image Source: @muscle.car.america

 

We know as a fact that poor planning can turn the whole thing into a tedious, exhausting and drawn-out affair. In order to prevent this from happening, you can set a monthly schedule with deadlines and short term goals to give you momentum. Start with the things you can do, then go from there.

 

After planning the time and money, add approximately 30% more to the total budget. It's best to prepare for any eventuality that might come your way.

Ask yourself the following as you plan an old car restoration:

How are you going to use the car?

 

  • Will it be a daily car that you drive to work?

  • Will it be a cruise car or something you'll only use on weekends?

  • Do you intend to show it on parades and car shows?

  • Are you planning to do off-road competitions or four-wheeling with it?

 

How much is the total budget, including the initial costs?

 

  • Under $5,000

  • $5,000 to $10,000

  • $10,000 to $15,000

  • Beyond $15,000

 

What’s your planned yearly mileage?

 

  • Under a thousand miles

  • 2,000 to 5,000 miles

  • 5,000 to 10,000 miles

  • Beyond 10,000 miles

 

How much time per week will you be able to spend on the project?

 

  • Anywhere between 4 to 8 hours

  • 8 to 16 hours

  • 16 to 32 hours

  • Beyond 32 hours

 

How much work will you be doing yourself?

 

  • A bit of mechanical

  • Almost all the mechanical

  • A bit of bodywork

  • Most of the bodywork

 

Here's a short guideline if you're planning on outsourcing classic car restoration work to a professional auto shop:

 

  • Ask if they have prior experience or knowledge working on the particular car make or model.

  • Do they seem genuinely interested in restoring classic cars, or are they simply in it for the money?

  • Ask questions and see if there's a flow of communication. Notice how they listen and respond to your questions.

  • Check and see if the auto shop has good reviews and has done quality work - ask for some pictures and testimonials.

  • How much auto work can they handle at the same time?

 

Proper planning is just as important to a successful classic automobile restoration as determination and drive.

 

Image Source: @niklasphotography1

 

2. Building your own Auto Shop

 

Space

One of the most important things you'll need to address when working on a classic car restoration is space. So many projects end up in failure simply because they don't have enough real estate. At the very least, you'll need a garage or something similar in order to do a complete car restoration.

 

Imagine taking apart an old car and having hundreds, even thousands of parts lying around. You'll need adequate space to lay them all out on the floor. Then comes the part where you'll work on these individual parts, which in itself requires a separate workspace.

 

Suffice to say, you will need to rent space that's sizable enough to contain the automobile and its innards (or, have a generous friend lend you their two-car garage for a span of time). Keep in mind that restoring a classic car can take upwards of two years or so to complete.

 

Image Source: @we_love_muscle_cars

 

Tools (The Absolute Minimum)

For starters, you will need a good set of open-end and socket wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers. When shopping for wrenches, look for established brands that offer lifetime warranty. Tools will definitely take a beating, and replacing one at absolutely no cost when it breaks is an excellent proposition. Aside from that, you'll need to buy wire brushes, drills, sheet metal scissors and a variety of electrical tools, including a saber saw, a grinder and a drill, amongst others. Don't forget to add a bench vice that has a 3-inch jaw as a minimum. This will serve you well and in many instances when you're working on various automotive components.

 

Your layout of space should accommodate the following specialized tools- a welder, a torch, a few jack stands, an air compressor, a floor jack, an engine stand and an engine crane. As a rule of thumb, it's better to rent out this specialized equipment unless you're confident that you'll be using it again outside the classic car restoration project.

 

If you are buying then it's in your best interest to purchase a compressor first, which opens up air tools and painting possibilities. You can get a good-sized compressor for approximately $300, while spray guns and air tools are available for cheap at any hardware store.

 

Image Source: @adzie_aj

 

Picking an air compressor

 

Air compressors are a dime a dozen, and choosing the right one pays off in huge dividends. The size of the air compressor will depend on the kind of work you intend to do. If you're planning to paint or do some light air work, then a small-sized unit should do nicely. For all-around jobs, then a 2 HP compressor with a 20-gallon tank should suffice, as it can deliver 4 cubic feet of air at 90 psi per minute. Most air compressors run at 220V, but you can have it wired for 110V. In any case, your workshop should have an available 220V socket to prevent delays.

 

Write up a list of air-powered equipment you'd like to own. Then, find out what the requirements are for each piece. Your compressor should be able to meet or exceed the minimum requirements. Double-stage compressors will have more power and are more efficient than the single-stage ones. Plus, they work more quietly, can handle more pressure and typically have longer lifespans than single-stage equipment. Last but not the least, there are double-stage compressors sold in oil-free configurations, which lessens paint gun contamination.

 

Whether you're buying compressors on wheels or upright ones, it's best to get a demonstration first before committing. Demos can eliminate potential future problems such as noise concerns and whatnot. You can shop around for the best compressors at popular retail stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, Harbor Freight Tools, Sears, and others.

 

Image Source: @dyersdesignandfabrication

 

Welders

 

If you're just starting out in the world of car restoration, then you may want to brush up on your welding skills. Check and see if you can get a crash course in your local community college, and you'll be glad you did. It's an essential skill that not only comes in handy with car work but with many home projects as well.

Image Source: @rob_brooks_the_welder

 

If you're looking for the easiest welder to use on old car restorations, then give MIG, or Metal Inert Gas a try. Before, MIG-type welders were ridiculously expensive, but today you can buy one for $200 and up. Bare-bones MIG welders are cheaper but they lack extra features such as easy wire feed and gas pressure controls, multiple current settings and others. A quick look at a MIG welder will reveal 4 settings for current, variable speed controls and a gas bottle controlled by a manual valve that's useful for almost all automotive work. It only takes a few hours practicing with a MIG welder to be proficient with automotive restoration tasks.

 

Other welder types include Oxy-Acetylene, Arc and TIG, but they usually require more practice before you're confident enough to work on classic cars.

 

As a side note, make sure to get an instant darkening welding helmet. This equipment gives you better protection and it frees up both hands for more efficient metalwork

 

Floor Jack

 

Floor jacks are widely available, relatively inexpensive and they are must-haves in auto restoration. Steer clear of compact floor jacks that can be carried in a car trunk. You'll need your floor jack huge, heavy and with steel wheels. Moreover, a proper floor jack must have a minimum lift height of 16 inches and lift capacity of two tons.

 

Image Source: @emieux90

 

Other "Must-Haves" for Classic Car Restoration

 

Screwdrivers are a staple in any home or car restoration project. You'll need a set of them with varying lengths, and in flat and Phillips. The same rule applies for pliers- you'll need varying sizes of regular, locking, wire-cutting and needle-nosed always ready and on hand.

 

Moreover, you'll need a set of sockets. If possible, get both the half-inch and 3/8 inch ones, but a 1/2 inch set should suffice if you're on a budget. Just keep in mind that a smaller set won't be able to do anything to a large fastener that's torqued down.

 

Don't forget box-end and open-end wrenches. You'll need overlapping sizes, i.e., one wrench will have 1/2 inch to 9/16ths, while the other has 9/16th inch to 5/8ths so you'll have the luxury of having two wrenches work on a single nut or bolt at any given time.

 

Rounding out the must-haves include tape measures, spark plug sockets, allen wrenches, a hacksaw, hammer, a cold chisel and some files. In the electrical tool department, you'll want a sabre saw, a 4-inch grinder and a reversible variable-speed drill. If you can, get an electric impact wrench. You'll be glad you did!

 

Some of the equipment and tools listed here will require knowledge and a bit of skill. Take some time and familiarize yourself before conducting actual restoration work. If you are a novice, you may also want to consider joining a local club and asking a member or a professional to mentor you during the restoration process.

 

Image Source: @thedancherry

 

3. What the Experts Say?

 

When we look for cars that we want to bring back to life from the Muscle Car Graveyard, a little-known fact is that cars from the Northeastern Sector of the United States that were subjected to excessive Salt during bad winters not only had problems with rust.

 

In the usual places, but many have suffered Rust problems on the top side of the frame which can’t be detected with the naked eye even when closely inspected on a lift. Make sure you get as much history on any Classic Car you might want to restore. You will thank me later..." - Eric Grandi - Eric's Muscle Cars.

 

 

4. The Engine - the heart of your classic car

 

Restoring a classic car generally falls under three main categories- the interior, body and mechanical. As you move from one phase to the next, you'll be touching upon these categories frequently until the whole car is restored to its former glory. Before that, you'll need to overcome a big part of mechanical restoration, namely the classic car's engine.

 

Restoring a classic car generally falls under three main categories- the interior, body and mechanical. As you move from one phase to the next, you'll be touching upon these categories frequently until the whole car is restored to its former glory. Before that, you'll need to overcome a big part of mechanical restoration, namely the classic car's engine.

 

Experts claim that the most difficult restoration work lies in the cosmetic aspects, mainly in upholstery and body. Arguably, the car's engine will come in at a close second.

 

The purists amongst us will often want to rebuild a classic car's engine or replace it one that's periodically correct. One option (budget or skills depending) could be to take out the engine, disassemble it then send it to a machine shop. They could replace worn-out parts with new ones and you could reinstall it after the machine shop has done their job. The rebuilt engine is then fitted back to the car and a test tuneups could be done at home.

 

Mail order parts for authentic classic engines are rare, which is one of the reasons we created our parts shop.

 

Engine removal is a task most restorers can do on their own. You'll need to allocate anywhere between 4 to 6 hours stripping the engine of accessories, i.e., the fuel pump, starter, generator and carburetor, removing the electrical connections, plumbing, the bolts and fasteners in the chassis and finally, lifting the engine out via a hoist. Most auto shops will charge you anywhere between $300 to $450 (at around $75 per hour) to take the engine out, and another $300 to $450 to put everything back in. When you take the time and understand the process, you can save yourself nearly a thousand dollars by doing the overhaul yourself.

 

Image Source: @conlinphotog

 

Pop out the car hood and remove any sheet metal that could snag as you take the engine out. Then, disconnect fluid lines, cables, wires and linkages leading to the engine. If you’re at a loss, you may consult the car's shop manual for a step-by-step process. Do follow the steps to remove an engine carefully, and make sure to take pictures and notes whenever you do something. Have a pen, index cards and zip-loc bags handy. Each time you remove a part, insert it in the zip-loc bag, along with a description written in on an index card.

 

The whole engine removal work becomes easier as the parts are taken off and tagged. You'll have a clearer picture and understanding of how particular parts, such as engine mountings work. Ready your hoist and lift the power plant out the chassis; some engines may have attachments for the hook, but you can just put a sling around and have the hoist do its job. Use a rope sling if you're worried about your engine paint being damaged by chains.

 

The tearing down of the engine will depend on the restorer. Keep in mind that this process will require expertise and skill, as some delicate parts such as manifold studs and head bolts may break during the process. It's recommended that first-timers get help from an auto shop. Some professional rebuilders will offer to do the tearing and other necessary work for you, but it's better to do as much as you can before entrusting the restoration to other people.

 

Once the engine is broken down into parts you can take them to the machine shop. Tell them what you need and not to cut any corners. Forewarned is forearmed and if you know what you’re talking about any less scrupulous garages will be less inclined to take you for a ride! The shop will probably outsource it’s sourcing of spare parts to a specialist, like Clasiq. While the engine is sitting at the shop, you can get to painting the valve cover, air cleaner, the exhaust and intake manifolds and timing cover. Rebuilding the instruments will be part of engine work. Once the engine is restored, you can hook it up to functioning gauges for testing.

 

Image Source: @sandoval_performance

 

5. Brakes

 

In restoring a classic car you'll eventually start working on the brakes. As soon as you find where it's hiding and decide on whether to overhaul, restore or replace, you'll need to apply some elbow grease and really put in some effort!

 

Image Source: @american_muscle_cars_official

 

Don't lose heart, though. Here's what you'll need to do to get things started.

 

Back in the day, it was common practice for car manufacturers to use asbestos on their brake shoes. Today, auto hobbyists must exercise caution when working on classics as it could still contain this toxic substance. When taking apart brake assemblies, it's best to do regular vacuuming in order to minimize your chances of coming in contact with asbestos dust. Wear a dust mask until you're sure that all asbestos has been cleared out.

 

It's also important to determine the type of brake and how you want to go about restoring it. Do you have an old mechanical, a new hydraulic, traditional drum or modern discs? Does the classic car have dual or a single hydraulic system? Are you planning to add or change suspension, air conditioning or horsepower?

 

You'll need to address these vital questions before you can even start working on the car’s brakes, as it will serve as your guide to which parts you'll save and which ones you'll throw out. For classic car purists who want to go 100% original, then it's a clear-cut path of rebuilding what you have. To those who want to modify and for people who intend to use the car for daily drives, then you'd be better served with a modern brake upgrade, i.e., larger wheels, power assist, better brakes, etc.

 

Cleaning and Assessment

Now turn your attention to the master cylinder. Prep the exterior using mineral spirits and follow it up with a good wash of soap and water. After drying, pop out the cover, the pushrod and any attached bleed screws and seals. Remove the inner piston(s) and clean the exterior using either alcohol or plain soap and water. Remove any brown sludge with plastic or wooden chopsticks to prevent scratching and damage.

 

Image Source: @col.carmenrn

 

Using a bright light, inspect the cylinder closely and look for major scratches, pitting and rust. How badly the pit is will determine the next move, i.e., re-sleeved, honed out or discarded and replaced.

 

Re-sleeving is a process where the seals and piston gets a new inner surface, done by reaming the cylinder using a milling machine. Professional shops can do this work and charge per job or by the hour.

 

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your classic car's rarity. For models like the V-16 Cadillac, the Tucker or anything similar, the costs of re-sleeving is often well worth it. Fairly common models like the Mustang will often warrant a replacement if the cylinders are severely pitted.

 

Rebuilding

The good news is that pitting is a rare occurrence in most classic car projects. Cylinders can be honed out using an electric drill and an hone that's sold in most parts shops. Before honing, apply some brake fluid to the cylinder and adjust the tension spring to fit in snugly along the cylinder walls. Set the drill to rotate slowly and run the honing stone on the cylinder's surface in an up-and-down motion until the scratches and pitting disappear. Less honing is more, as you wouldn't want to make the diameter big enough that it can't prevent leaks.

 

Wash excess brake fluid using alcohol when you're satisfied with how the cylinder wall looks. Use paper towels to fill the excess space and to protect the cylinder until it's ready to run.

 

Then comes the exterior part. Use a wire brush until the surface is clean and free of rust. Prep the surface with alcohol or mineral spirits, then apply some metal prep to de-oxidize the metal. After priming, coat the cylinder with your preferred paint color. You can also opt for powder coat here, but make sure to fill up the bore with paper towels and tape openings shut before applying paint. If you're looking to paint your calipers and wheel cylinders the same color, then it's much more efficient to wait and do them all at once

 

Image Source: @bigger______b

 

Brake Cylinders

Wheel cylinders are fairly simple to restore, but it gets a bit complicated if you see a stepped design. Start by cleaning the cylinders and removing the piston(s) and seal. Clean the bore and hone as needed. Paint the exterior while protecting the insides with paper towels.

 

Brake Calipers

Image Source: @bigger______b

 

Brake calipers can come in different designs. You may see anywhere from one to four individual cylinders, all of which need to be cleaned. If any of the cylinders are severely pitted, then it's better to do a re-sleeve or replace the whole thing.

 

Take extra precaution when taking the calipers apart as they could be bolted together. Also, don't mix different halves as it will always result in leakage; the same applied to the bolts that hold each cylinder in place.

 

Hone the caliper cylinders as you did the master or wheel cylinders. Wipe them clean and prevent dust and grit from getting inside.

 

Getting your brakes like new

Investing in the highest quality rebuilding kit you can get your hands on is well worth it. Getting the best kit for disc brakes is of the utmost importance because the rubber seal's resilience will dictate how well your brake calipers work.

 

Lay out all the new parts in ample space with a layer of paper towel, plastic or newspapers underneath. Wash your hands before putting on latex gloves and make sure there's no dirt anywhere in the immediate area.

 

Then comes the rebuilding part. Put everything back together in reverse order of how you took it apart. Consult your rebuild kits instructions or the shop manual if you're at a loss; don't forget the small springs, ball bearings and clips. Coat each part with brake fluid but make sure the external parts stay fluid-free.

 

Mineral-based or silicone fluids?

Brake fluids made of minerals are solid favorites even among car manufacturers. The only problem with using minerals is that it accumulates water in the atmosphere, which eventually forms pits, rust and buildup. Car owners will need to flush old fluids out and get new ones every few years to keep the system in optimal condition.

 

Silicon fluids are relative newcomers in the automotive industry. It's highly resistant to water and can act as a permanent brake fluid. The problem with silicon-based products is that they have higher viscosity and capillary action, which can result in leaks, seepage and foam-ups while in the process of refilling. Moreover, most car owners report a spongy brake effect when their systems are filled with silicone fluids.

 

Image Source: @socal_camaros

 

All in all, it may depend on your classic car's make and model in your choice of brake fluids. Silicon fluids work extremely well on the '69 Camaro, '65 Mustang and the Jaguar XKE, while proving to be detrimental to the '66 Corvette, Sunbeam Tiger and the Jaguar XK 120.

 

As a general rule, silicon fluids are best for rebuilt systems that have perfect cylinder walls. You're generally better off with mineral fluids if your classic car has an undersized braking system in respect to the car's weight. If you're on mineral, then we don't recommend you replace it with silicone fluids.

6. Steering and suspension

 

Steering Basics

Most classic cars (especially American ones) use a steering system known as a ‘recirculating ball type’. This, in a nutshell, means as you steer the wheel a rod turns a column which in turn, steers the wheels.

 

Image Source: @ju_barjozoku

 

Common restoration problems

Remember, the car you are working on may have seen a lot of action and some of the worst of the weather the country has to throw at it. Below we have listed some of the common problems you are likely to find with your steering, our #1 tip? Grab a can of WD-40 and generously spray the area you are about to work on! Let’s dive in…

Front end Alignment

The most common problem you will experience is probably front end alignment. Given your car may be very old there are a number of issues which will need to be investigated. Parts that need replaced, over time, include tie rods, idler arm, pitman arm, and center link.

 

If your car displays uneven tire wear this would usually indicate a front end issue. This will, most probably, be caused by worn suspension parts. This can be a complex problem but, if you are going to use your car for only a few thousand miles a year, it shouldn’t be a massive issue. Many auto-shops will tell you the worst, for the obvious reason that they want you to spend money, but don’t be fooled. However, below we have listed the most common problems and potential remedies:

 

Image Source: @mustangmonthly

 

Toe-in Vs Toe out

 

This is the most common phrase used to describe alignment issues. Take a look at your feet, point your toes inwards and then think about your tires, you have to do it. The opposite, of course, is toe out.

 

Setting your front end is critical to the life of your tires, and toe-out is what you want to avoid more than toe-in. Our number one piece of advice on this one is look at the wear on the old tires and then adjust accordingly. This should ensure you many miles of happy, worry free motoring. Worst case scenario, a car can dart off the road due to misalignment.

 

Positive or negative camber

The camber angle is the displacement of the front wheels, either in or out. In being positive, out being the opposite. If either camber is out enough it can cause the car to pull to the other side of the road.

 

Caster

 

A caster angle is the angular displacement from the axis of the suspension from the front to the end of the car. Caster angles are essential to improve cornering and alignment. A correctly positioned caster angle will also increase the life time of your tires, which leads us nicely on to…

Tires

Radial tires emerged in the late 60’s and were standard on Corvettes from 1973. Most other classic American cars followed in ‘74. It’s key to note that you can’t restore tires — if your classic car has original tires on them, even if they appear to be in good condition, you should consider replacing them. Most tire manufacturers recommend that any tire over six years old should be replaced for safety reasons.

 

Image Source: @modernbearmedia

 

7. Advice from the experts - Josh at Evolve Custom

 

Sooner or later as you plan out your restoration project, you might see it’s not wise to attempt to accomplish the entire scope of the project on your own. For example, having the proper large equipment such as a paint booth or car lift, and proper specialized expertise such as upholstery, welding, engine rebuilding, etc., might serve to take much of the headache and suffering out of your project, and let you focus on the aspects of the project that appeals to you. Even the most capable car collectors often see value in outsourcing and hire a shop to do work for them.

 

When selecting a shop, it is absolutely critical to do your homework, ask the right questions, and make the selection carefully. Why? Because you want to end up getting what you’re expecting to get – in terms of quality of work, timeframe for the project, communication and responsiveness, and commitments being kept. In other words, when selecting a restoration shop, integrity matters. So here are some tips to help you along the way in finding just the right shop:

 

  • ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

    • If you don’t want your car sitting for two years not being worked on, ask up front what the shop’s turnaround time is for the work you need to be done. Then ask for a couple of dates along the way that will indicate if the project is on track or not, depending on how much work has been accomplished by those dates. Get the answers in writing from the shop you end up selecting, such as in an email. The shop manager needs to know that you’re someone who’s going to hold him accountable for delivering on his commitments. Find out how long their oldest project has been in the shop, and pay special attention if the shop manager complains about customers. Consider there are two sides to every story, and you might be the next one he’s complaining about.

    • Find out how much of a deposit the shop is requesting, and more importantly how those funds are reserved for your project. This is the biggest breakdown in the restoration industry: shops take large deposits for incoming projects and spend those funds wherever they need cash flow at that moment – and your project will never get those funds. As shops become stuck in this cycle, they need to keep bringing in more and more new projects to finish old projects – a business model commonly called a Ponzi scheme. This system of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” allows the shop to avoid addressing the underlying cash flow issues it’s facing. Maybe the shop is running inefficiently or is underestimating projects, but nobody will know until it’s too late. Ultimately, the snowball effect grows to a point of unsustainability, and the shop goes bankrupt. This pattern is extremely common in the restoration industry. We’ve started a new trend at Evolve: we don’t take large deposits, and we’ve invented a new payment model for the industry – a model built around an even, monthly retainer, with detailed reporting on exactly how the funds are used every month. This system levels out the cash flow for the car owner and for the shop, and at the same time helps ensure the project continues to progress according to plan.

    • Talk to employees at the shop. Ask how long they’ve been at the shop, and how long they’ve been in the industry. Shops that put out quality work have expert team members.

    • What standardized methods are being used? For example, how does the shop ensure that technicians reassembling the car after paint know where each part goes, especially if they’re not the same technicians who disassembled the car?

  • DO YOUR RESEARCH

    • Researching a shop is actually more simple than it might sound. With a few clicks online, you can find a shop’s reviews on Yelp or Google – real reviews from customers who have already been through the shop.

    • If you want to take it a step further, some counties publish court records online, and a few minutes of searching will reveal if a shop has a trail of lawsuits against them. One large Concours-level shop in Southern California has had 19 lawsuits against the shop and owner and is currently in major financial trouble, but not everybody knows that. If you brought your car to a shop in that condition and paid a deposit, how do you suppose your project might play out?

    • The next tip might seem a bit over the top, but if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars at a shop it might very well make sense: do a background check on the shop owner. After all, businesses reflect the character of the owner. You could start with mylife.com, which is a simple website that’s easy to use. Right away you can get a summary reputation score, and for a small fee, you can get a detailed report including civil and criminal charges. It might be worthwhile to do a little extra research up front to avoid wishing you had later.

  • VISIT AND INSPECT

    • It’s important to see first-hand what goes on in a shop. If a shop you’re considering is out of town and it’s not practical to visit, ask to arrange a video call and get a virtual tour of the shop, such as through Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp. Many shops already have a video shop tour on their website. When inspecting a shop, there are specific clues to look for:

      • Organized environment – Are the parts labeled, in organized containers, clearly grouped by the car they belong to? Are the tools laid out neatly? Do the team members wear uniforms? Is there trash or dirt on the floor? Are there cars with fresh paint next to cars being sanded or welded on? These are all indicators of the character of a shop and the carefulness of their work.

      • Production – What percent of the cars in the shop do you see being worked on? Are there cars sitting with layers of dust that appear to be out of the production flow? You might want to ask about these cars – how long they’ve been in the shop and when they were worked on last. There’s a term for cars sitting in shops and not being worked on: we say those cars are in “paint jail”, and that’s not a happy place to be.

      • Quality parts and materials - Look at the paint being used. What brand is it? Research this brand online. There are a small number of high-quality paint brands, and a large number of discount, low-quality brands. Also, where does the shop buy parts? Do they go to the cheapest manufacturer or do they shop for quality? Look for replacement parts and ask how they’re being sourced. The same goes for third-party vendors the shop uses, such as chrome plating. Look for any indications of vendors the shop works with, and look up the online reviews for those companies.

    • The final tip is a bit subjective: get a vibe for the shop manager; also, any other members of the management team, and importantly whoever will be your primary point of contact during the project. If something rubs you wrong, pay attention to your intuition and ask questions. You’re going to be working with these people for months. Look them in the eye and get to know them. It might even be worth taking someone out to lunch.

The process of selecting a shop might seem a little complicated, and it doesn’t need to be. Above all just keep in mind that in the restoration industry, integrity matters. Following the guidelines above will give you a head start and have you be smarter about getting exactly what you want when you bring your baby in for restoration.

 

8. The electrics

 

‘I’m restoring a classic car - there will be no electric stuff I need to worry about!’ Unfortunately this is a common misconception. Though the electrical workings of an older car can appear pretty rudimentary compared with modern versions (where a computer will be needed to diagnose an issue), issues can be tricky to identify and solve.

 

Our first piece of advice would be to find yourself an original owners manual and then compartmentalise where you will need to focus your electrical restorative attentions. So, what do we have? Roughly the areas you will need to look at are:-

 

  • Wires

  • Low Tension Side

  • High Tension Side

  • Charging System

  • Starting System

  • Fuses

  • Components

  • Lights

 

Now, let’s look at the most common problems you will most likely need to tackle with a classic car restoration:

 

Wires and Harnesses

Wires, get old and need replacing. This is a fact of life, remember, depending on the age of the car you are restoring the wires could be older than you.

 

Many electrical issues can be solved by simply replacing old wires or down to corroded connections. Remember that power distributors cannot work effectively.

 

Image Source: @xirho

 

Electrical Test Light

You will need test lights to check for any electrical shorts. Test lights that are compatible with 12V systems should only cost about $10 or less. They are also reversible- one goes to the ground while another connects to a positive.

 

Start by testing the car battery's light and turning the ignition on when necessary. Test lights will often have a pointy end that you can use to strip plastic insulation off a wire. This allows you to continue testing without having to disconnect anything.

 

Image Source: @deby_zwierlein_carter

 

Digital Multimeter

A multimeter is an awesome tool that can measure electrical values like ohms, current and voltage. You'll find that there are two types of multimeters, analog and digital. Digital ones are cheap, have a good display and are easily found at most automotive shops and hardware stores, so we would recommend this over its analog cousin.

A multimeter comes in handy for when you want to test a terminal or wire's integrity. Connect the probes to each end of the wire, then set the MM on Ohm. If it shows .02 or lower, then it's time to get a new wire or terminals.

 

Battery Cables and Terminals

 

Cables should be tested according to how firm and secure they are when attached to the battery posts. If the cables that lead to the terminal look old or worn out, replace them.

 

Ground Straps

 

You should carefully check the condition of your ground straps. Having a good electrical ground from engine to firewall and engine to frame is essential; if the straps are grimy or old, have them replaced. Run through an inspection and replace missing straps as well.

 

Ensure that the following ground straps are in good condition- the one that leads from body to negative post or frame, the one that leads from frame to engine block, the one that leads from the dash to body and the one that leads from engine to firewall. Add new ones or replace them as necessary.

 

Low Tension Side

 

Do a simple check by turning the headlights on and keeping watch while another person works the starter. The starter should turn normally while the headlights dim a bit. If the starter turns slow and the headlights dim, then it could be a bad connection or low battery. Check and see if the negative and positive cables are clean and affixed firmly, and if there's a ground strap from motor to frame.

 

Parasitic Draw

 

Parasitic draws can be determined by using a multimeter. Shut the car off and disconnect the negative cable. Ensure the doors are shut and all the accessories are turned off. Set the multimeter to 10 amps at DC; then, affix the positive lead to the negative battery cable and the ground lead to the negative battery post. You'll have a parasitic draw if the readings show 50 milliamps and above.

 

The Ignition

 

Points ignition in classic cars is easy to diagnose as they'll likely have a condenser system. A properly working ignition should serve you well and give you anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 service miles. Considering most classic car owners only drive there's a thousand miles a year, this shouldn't pose any problem.

 

Converting from 6 to 12 volts

 

Upgrading from 6 to 12V is a good option if you're planning to add power accessories such as LED tail lights, halogen headlights, power seats or windows, an electric cooling fan, aftermarket amps and radio, or if you intend to drive your classic more often.

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