October 16, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Classic Car Trim Restoration

There are classic car enthusiasts who like to buy their vehicle completely fixed up, in pristine condition and ready to hit the road. Many others find the journey of restoring a classic car (often from a very poor condition) is a vital part of the process and their enjoyment.

Although it’s less technical than a renovation of an engine or exterior bodywork, a serious classic car trim restoration is never easy, even for more recent models.

There’s a lot of work to do, finances to find, parts to replace and critical decisions to make. A classic car restoration could take a few months or several years, depending on the condition of the vehicle, the time you have to focus on it, the support you get and the money you have to spend.

Here at White’s Bodyworks in West Sussex, we have many years of experience in dealing with a wide range of different classic car trim restorations. Here’s our guide for getting started and what you need to consider if you want to restore that vintage vehicle to its former glory.

What is a Classic Car Trim Restoration?

When a particular make of car comes off the production line it will have a certain configuration internally. The car trim refers to this arrangement of components and covers all the internal finishing from the woodwork and panelling to seals, dash top, seats, carpets and even the steering wheel.

If you’re looking to restore your vehicle to its original condition, understanding what is needed here is critical. Trim restoration normally comes after you have repaired and renovated the essential working parts such as the engine and bodywork if this is needed. It can add the right finishing touches and really bring your vintage vehicle back to life.

Classic Car Restoration: Considering What is Possible

Even the most basic of classic car restorations will present a trade-off between what can be replaced, what can be restored and what is affordable either way. If you are aiming for a faithful restoration then a lot of your time is likely to be spent sourcing materials and replacement parts that meet your needs.

  • The state of the vehicle: The biggest consideration will arise from the initial state of the vehicle. Obviously, if you just have a frame and a few engine parts, any car restoration is going to be much bigger than if you need to just change a few components or repair some rust on the bodywork. Trim covers a wide range of elements but they are the components that often tend to degrade more quickly over time.
  • Your skills: Even if you are a qualified mechanic or artisan, there are likely to be some things you can do yourself and others that you will need to outsource to an appropriate garage. Many vintage car owners do use their restoration journey as a take-off point for learning new skills and a lot will depend on what you are looking for personally.
  • Your resources: It’s not just money but where you can access elements such as replacement seats or panelling. The good news is that there are plenty of classic car groups that can help with advice and finding original parts. You also need to think about the location where you will be restoring your vehicle and what specific tools you will require to get the job done.

Planning Your Classic Car Trim Restoration

As with any major project, getting a good plan in place is critical if you want to make your renovation cost-effective while still fulfilling your dream. If the bodywork and engine are in good working condition, you may be able to gradually replace trim elements over time while still taking the vehicle out on the road.

It pays to give the interior of your classic car a thorough examination to look at what needs repairing or refurbishing and what may need to be replaced altogether. If you don’t have experience, then working with a local garage that has a track record of trimming renovations can help keep you on track and allow you to plan better. Another option is to link up with a fellow classic car enthusiast who has been through a similar process.

Order is going to be important when you’re planning your classic car trim restoration. Some jobs may be relatively small and inexpensive, others might require research and the sourcing of replacement parts and all the time, energy and money that involves.

Check out this quick guide from Autoshippers.

Classic Car Panelling

The panelling of your car covers everything from the dashboard to the inside of the doors and much will depend on how these are constructed. For models such as the older Morris Minor or Jaguar, these are likely to be wood and as such can be subject to a lot of degradation over time.

If there are holes or other damaged areas, the first consideration is whether these can be repaired by filling in or need to be replaced completely. In general, the older the vehicle, the more difficult it can be to find replacements but don’t let this deter you.

If the damage is intensive, you may be faced with the only option of having a replacement part made by a specialist which can be expensive.

The good news is that custom-made door panels are not as difficult to find as many people think. It’s critical to make sure that you have the right OEM specifications for the panel so that it is an exact fit and choosing the right colour and material is also critical.

It’s relatively easy to remove an old door panel but a lot depends on the make and model. If you are doing a DIY restoration, there are a lot of tutorials and videos online that can help you out.

Seats

Seats can be problematic and, once more, a lot will depend on the condition. It’s important to not only check the upholstery for blemishes but the frame to make sure there are no problems such as rust. It’s much easier to check your seats if you remove them completely.

For minor damage such as scuffs and rips, the restoration work can be fairly simple. If you want any repair to look seamless then it pays to have the work carried out by a specialist, especially if the seating is leather. Fabric seats can be a little more tricky to clean properly and you might want to consider having them reupholstered completely.

Removing seats from your classic car is a relatively easy process and it’s much simpler to carry out renovations if you do this. Another issue you may have is if one seat is damaged and the other isn’t and how you match them up more completely if you are carrying out a renovation. For example, it may be better to have the upholstery replaced for all seats even if you only have one that is damaged.

Check out this video on how to prepare a classic car seat for general restoration.

Knobs and Dials

From the gear knob to the panel dials, these are essential elements in any classic car trim restoration and they can make a big difference in the final look and feel of your vehicle.

Things like the gear knob can get well worn over several years and you will likely need to find a replacement for much older vehicles. Fortunately, these are easy to remove. They are either held in with a thread and you can just twist the gear off or there will be a small screw on the side holding it in.

In some cases, the housing or cover holding the gear stick may also need replacing, either because it is ripped or tarnished. Again, this is relatively easy and involves removing the surrounding housing, undoing the gear knob and then removing the lever cover.

Replacing, repairing or renovating dials in your classic car is a little more difficult and may require input from a professional. If you want to replace like for like because the original dial is too damaged, it can take a lot of work to find what you are searching for, especially for older models.

You might, of course, want to swap or upgrade the dials for something more modern. These new dials have to work with the car system so it’s critical to get professional advice before you start.

Steering Wheel

Because it’s handled all the time, the steering wheel can come in for some pretty sustained punishment over the years. Some classic cars have highly distinctive steering wheels that are difficult to source but if you’re looking to recreate the original it pays to keep searching.

The good news is that there are online sites such as Mark Davies Racing that, for example, manufacture bespoke solutions for customers. Another option is a company called Holden Vintage and Classic.

Carpets

Carpets and flooring for vintage cars are other areas where wear and tear can cause quite a bit of damage and look unsightly.

There are a couple of options here, either to restore the original or have it replaced. This may involve careful cleaning or removing the flooring and ordering a new one. Retailers in this area are available online including Coverdale and Hamilton Classic.

Roof Hood

If your classic car has a roof hood, this can be one of the more problematic areas to either replace or repair. Whether it’s the material of the roof hood itself or the mechanism, there are fewer bespoke solutions out there so renovation is usually the key.

Why Partner with White’s Bodyworks?

Whether you are trying to renovate your classic car trim or simply want to update it, then working with a professional garage will be a key part of your journey. At White’s Bodyworks, we have nearly 30 years of experience in restoring classic car trims, including helping to resource the right elements for our customers or find alternative solutions.

Check out our portfolio of classic car renovations and refurbishments here.

Based in West Sussex, White’s Bodyworks has a long history of liaising closely with classic car owners across the UK. We’ve worked on many different models and makes and all ages of vintage vehicles, whether it’s repairing bodywork or engines or refurbishing internal trim. Key to our success over the years, is our state-of-the-art, fully equipped garage facility and our attention to detail.

If you need advice and help on your classic car trim restoration, contact the team at White’s Bodyworks on 01273 933633 today or contact us online.

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