October 16, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Classic Car Restoration

Restoring a classic car to its former glory is the ultimate labour of love for many enthusiasts. Whether you’ve managed to get your hands on an ‘old wreck’ or have a vintage vehicle locked away in your garage, understanding what you want to achieve and having a clear plan in place is vital.

You’ll need to take a number of factors into account, of course, not least how much budget you can devote to your pet project. Another will be the amount of time it’s going to realistically take and where you are going to find rare parts if you need them. You’ll also need to be honest about your own skill set and how much of the work you can do yourself.

There’s no doubt that people who undertake a vintage car restoration are of a certain type – they tend to be highly focused and they’re usually not willing to give up when things don’t go quite right.

Which is a good thing considering the hurdles that you are likely to encounter, particularly for older cars. TV programmes like Classic Car Rescue and For The Love of Cars in recent times have made restoration a more popular pastime than ever.

But it’s certainly not for the fainthearted! At White’s Bodyworks we’ve got 20 years’ of classic car restoration experience behind us and we’ve put together a guide on what you need to consider and how you should plan your project.

Which Classic Car?

You may have a particular car in mind or be open to suggestions but one factor is going to be really important and that is availability. Classic cars don’t grow on trees and it can take a good deal of work to find the vehicle you want. You’ll certainly discover them advertised online in places like Car and Classic but it’s about more than simply picking the vehicle that takes your fancy.

  • You’ll need to research the car and pay attention to available parts and where you are going to find these if they have to be replaced.
  • You’ll want to be realistic about what you can achieve yourself and what you’ll need help on, including how much that is going to cost.
  • If you require specialist help, you’ll need to find a garage that understands your vehicle. Expert companies that are focused on vintage car restorations are few and far between.
  • You’ll also need to decide where you’ll keep your classic car while you are working on it.

You can, of course, choose a car that has been partially restored but that will inevitably cost you more. For most classic car enthusiasts anyway, the restoration is often the be all and end all of why they are doing this in the first place. For newbies, it helps to get to know the classic car environment better, talk to enthusiasts and get some good advice before taking the plunge and buying a vehicle.

Fortunately, there are quite a lot of groups to choose from. You can find most of them at GB Classic Cars Directory. You’ll find vintage car enthusiasts are always ready to talk and impart their wisdom and it’s an entertaining way to build up your knowledge before you buy.

Is It a Good Investment?

While many are simply in it for the excitement of restoring an old car, others are looking to get some sort of return on their investment. If you find a really rare vehicle and restore it well, it can deliver a good profit but the market can also be volatile. You need to take into account the time and money that you are putting into restoring the car.

Our advice is not to be so focused on making a profit as it can be difficult to gauge, especially in the early stages – if your plan is to restore a classic, you probably need to be doing it out of love rather than profit.

6 Things That Could Be Wrong With Your Classic Car

Unless you’re a qualified mechanic, it’s going to be difficult to judge the extent of the renovations needed before you buy. You’ll have some idea, of course, but it helps to get professional input if you don’t have the skills and knowledge. The age of a car and it’s condition can vary wildly and you’ll want to certain you’re not biting off more than you can chew.

  1. Scratches and Dents: No car goes through life without some form of damage to the paintwork and body. Much will depend on the age of the vehicle and how it’s been treated in the past. If the car has been left to its own devices out in the open, those dents and scratches can be compounded by rust that has developed underneath the surface of the paint. Damage can vary from the minor to the catastrophic depending on the state of the vehicle.
  2. Corrosion: For any classic car restoration, dealing with the effects of corrosion is one of the big challenges that you are going to face. Far reaching damage can mean that whole panels and parts need to be replaced and simply can’t be restored. Certain types of oil, too, can cause corrosion over time in areas like the fuel tank and hoses as well as affecting important areas such as the manifold lines. While some corrosion can be blatantly obvious, other areas can be concealed and not easy to spot.
  3. Seized Components: Any car that has been sat in a garage for a while is likely to have at least one or two seized component, anything from engine parts to the breaks. Often these need to be replaced, which for older models can present problems with sourcing the right parts. This often means doing a lot of research to find a classic car enthusiast who has a spare you can use. If there are no replacement parts out there, you might need to consider having them made from scratch which can be more expensive.
  4. Hardened and Cracked Hoses: Smaller problems where hoses have become hardened over time are not unusual with older cars but it’s certainly not the biggest job you are going to face during your restoration.
  5. Damaged Electrics: There are normally a number of different electric parts that can degrade with age and lack of use, including the battery. Making sure all these areas are safe and in good working order generally needs someone with the right training to put right.
  6. Mould: It may not be top of your list of things to focus on but mould can occur in classic cars that have been left to the vagaries of the weather. Clearing this represents quite a bit of hard work but isn’t a job that needs major technical expertise.

Finding Replacement Parts

Finding replacement parts for your classic car restoration is going to be a key factor. Some parts, of course, you’ll be able to salvage and restore with the right skill and approach. There are sites like Classic Car Parts For Sale which you can check or you may be able to get help and advice from collectors who have similar vehicles.

How difficult this is going to be will depend on both your own knowledge and ability as well as your resolve to find the part you want. It’s also why you will profit from building a good relationship with a garage that specialises in classic car restoration. It’s not just big things either that you may be looking for. Small parts like branded windscreen wipers and upholstery trimmings might be needed if you want to restore your car properly.

Other online sources include:

You may also need to look further afield, particularly if you are restoring something like an American classic or a French or German vintage vehicle. The truth is that, for some restorations, you may need more detective skills than engineering ones – for many enthusiasts that’s all part of the fun. Others can find it a bit frustrating.

What Skills Do You Have?

Your skills are going to define how you go about your classic car restoration. It might be a personal project where you want to learn those new skills along the way. If you have the time and money, that’s fine. For most people, getting from A to B and a finished restoration as quickly as possible is important.

That means you need to have an understanding of your own skill set and be honest where you are going to need help. Botching a job because you don’t have the right ability or the right tools can cost you more than you think.

Your Classic Car Restoration Plan

If you are going to take an ad hoc approach to your restoration, you may like to think twice before starting in the first place. You need a good, well thought out plan and it should be put in place before you pick up that first spanner or start sandblasting the paintwork. Here’s our quick run down of what you should be covering:

  1. Assess Your Car

Whether you have the technical knowledge or not, the first thing you need is to give your car and the restoration a full assessment. That means going over it from front to back and top to bottom to see what needs to be undertaken to return your car to pristine condition. You may be lucky and the engine is in decent running order but the bodywork needs some careful love and attention. Make a list of what needs to be done and which are the most important jobs.

  1. What’s Your Budget?

Deciding on what budget you have available is not only going to determine the type of car you buy but also what limitations there may be in the restoration process. It can also delay your work if you have to wait for funds to become available. Most people tend to underestimate the cost of work when it comes to restorations. Our tip is to list all the things you need to replace and repair, add up the full cost and then add on another 30% just to be sure. That should give you a realistic figure of what everything is going to cost and some useful leeway.

  1. How Much Are You Doing Yourself?

Your final budget is going to be impacted by how much work you are going to do on the car yourself and how much is going to be handled by a specialist mechanic or garage. On the whole, those undertaking a classic car restoration normally want to do a lot of the work themselves but if the skill set isn’t there you’ll have no option but to seek third party help. If you are looking to do some jobs yourself simply to save money, it’s worth considering the consequences (and cost) if you get things wrong.

  1. Which ‘New’ Parts Need to Be Authentic?

A restoration might mean putting a car back together so that it matches the original as much as possible or it could just mean that you want it to be roadworthy. Finding original parts can be hard work, particularly for older cars, but you can often find replacements which are less authentic but do the job you require. This can come down to personal preference or simply the fact that you can’t find an original at all. In terms of time and money, it can be sensible to opt for unbranded replacements that come at a lower cost.

  1. Plan the Work

Once you’ve got all the basics in order, the next job is to plan a schedule that works for your restoration. There will be some work that needs to be undertaken before you start others and that’s where having the right skills and knowledge comes into play. If you are dismantling anything, by the way, having your smartphone camera on hand is useful for ensuring you put everything back together properly.

Of course, a lot is going to depend on the extent of the work that is being undertaken. It may be that you are replacing a good deal of the old car for one reason or another. Most restorations don’t generally run to schedule but having a plan in place gives you a clear guideline and certainly helps keep you on track.

  1. Build a Help/Advice Network

Assuming this is your first classic car restoration, a help and support network is going to be important. Joining groups that cater for your specific make and model is a good start and attending rallies and meetings will definitely give you the chance to mix and pick the brains of those with more knowledge than you.

Looking for a Classic Car Restoration Garage

For most restorations, you’re going to need to build a good relationship with a local garage that knows what they are doing when it comes to vintage vehicles. At White’s Bodyworks, we’ve got a 20 year track record of helping with a wide range of different classic car restorations. Take a look at some of our work here:

Whichever garage you choose to work with, getting to know them is important. Any classic car restoration represents a big undertaking and one that often requires at least some specialist experience. The last thing you want after investing your money in a vintage car is someone who doesn’t understand all the nuances that come with classic vehicle restorations. It’s worth searching around and choosing your garage carefully and checking what experience they have.

What Return on Investment Can You Expect?

A classic car restoration can take anything from just a few months to a few years, depending on the level of damage and what repair work needs to be carried out. Working out the return on investment can be difficult at the best of times and usually only matters if you are thinking of selling the car on after you have finished it.

There are, of course, stories of rare cars being restored and sold for vast amounts of money. A 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti recently sold for over £25 million but that’s an exception rather than the rule. Most classic car restorations barely break even and many make a loss for the owner. For most enthusiasts, the profit is not really the point anyway.

Classic Car Insurance

Finally, once you’ve restored your classic car, of course, you’re going to need to insure it for the road. After spending all that time and effort it makes sense to go for a specialist and find a broker that understands your needs. Most main stream insurance companies don’t have the experience of dealing with cars like this and can prove difficult when it comes to agreed value.


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