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Getting Ready

Automobile restoration is inherently an irrational act. Half the time I meet people who bought the vehicle on a whim. The other half of the time they knew what they wanted and searched, but still didn't logically think things out. Regardless of the car you want to buy, here's some good fundamental information to help you start out. We'll assume that you've not bought your dream car yet, and that way have a chance to start from the beginning.

Research your car

You may know the year, make and model of the car you want. But what about the trim level? The production figures of the car? The factory and dealer options available? What about your local emissions and antique vehicle laws? Will you have to go through emissions? Are there any special registration rules? These are all important pieces of information to know in advance.

I'm a big fan of libraries. Librarians are smart and can find out all the books that were written about your car. Additionally, libraries will lend out books covering the fundamentals of car restoration. Get them and read them. On the web, you may want to start at Wikipedia. The articles there are generally written by folks who are the most knowledgable about the car. Additionally, there's always a good set of referential links at the bottom of the record.

Next, find an online/offline community for whatever your choice is. Almost every car collector group has a web site these days. With a little searching, and possibly contacting a National group, you can find a local group that focuses on the car you're searching for. This is incredibly important for networking with fellow enthusiasts. They've been there and done that, they know where to go. Many marques have large communities. These communities not only often produce magazines, but also technical documentation, web sites, local meetings, regional shows, and the like. As a side note, once you're in, this will also wind up being the best resource for locating your new project car, and then finding sources for parts once you start working.

Budgets, Time, Skills and Space

Now that you've got a much more knowledgable idea of what you want, it's time to verify all of your constraints. As I mentioned earlier, most of have the primary constraint of money. But, in your case it may actually be time, skills or space.


You may have a little money burning a hole in your pocket. It may be just enough to buy that beater you saw around the corner in someone's driveway. The initial vehicle purchase is the most critical aspect of the entire restoration process. It will inevitably define all of the work and effort that comes along afterwards. Don't immediately leap and buy the first car you find (unless it's some ridiculously rare one that they only produced 10 of them or some nonsense). The longer you can save for that initial purchase, and the more money you have stored away, the better the vehicle you can buy.

In tandem with budgeting that initial purchase, don't forget the basic fundamental expenses that come along with it. You will need to register the vehicle once it's purchased. You will also need some form of insurance to protect your purchase. In addition to that initial purchase, you have a couple options. You can work within a pre-defined master budget that defines the maximum you are willing to spend to complete the project. An alternative to this (which, personally I find to be extremely useful and realistic) is to determine how much money you can spend on the restoration effort on a monthly basis. By using this latter method you may then start to plan the restoration effort (based on the time you can realistically spend on the project) in synch with the monthly monetary offsets.


Time estimates are always difficult to accurately define. More often than not, it's only with experience that you can make decent evaluation of how long work will take to complete. Rather than trying to figure it all out immediately, decide how many hours that you will be able to focus on the project each week. Perhaps it's only 5 hours, or maybe 10, or you could be like me and average 20-40 hours (I don't sleep so well. :) Regardless of what you decide, make sure you're being realistic.


I listed out my basic rating system for skills on the introductory restoration screen. Be honest with yourself as to where you fit. Some of the work will be easy to learn on your own. Other items (like my favorite, adjusting carbeuretors) will require you to find someone who can teach you mastery. What's most important is that you can determine what is within and outside of your respective skills and that you are able to find or enlist the appropriate assistance at the appropriate times.


Where will you work? Do you have a nice big garage? Is it empty? Will you be wrenching in a car port? Out in the driveway? Your work space constrains the types of restoration you can do, and how far you can disassemble the vehicle. If you don't have the garage space or can't rent shop space, then you'll not be doing a frame up restoration. This affects the condition of the car you can buy.

On to Restoration Methods for your project

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

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