Restoring a classic car can be a scary topic for some people. There are a lot of different types of work that goes into a classic car restoration and most people are not skilled at all of them. When you break the process down into the types of repairs that go into your classic car restoration, it's easier to come to grips with what you really can or can not do yourself.
An accounting of your skills can help you decide how much work you can do yourself, and how much of the restoration work you should get done by a professional.
Your classic car restoration can be broken down into a few repair categories.
- Knowing your car,
- Mechanical repairs
- Electrical repairs
- Interior or upholstery work
- Sheet metal or rust repair
- Surface preparation and refinishing
- Auto body and painting
- Trim or molding repair and refinishing
Some of these categories are self explanatory. Allow me to clarify the ones that are not so obvious.
Knowing your car
Cars have always been available with options like sport trim packages, air conditioning, V8, 6 cylinder, or 4 cylinder engines, and the list goes on. As the car gets in on years, some of these options get removed from the vehicle, replaced with something substandard, or never replaced at all. Option codes and shop manuals are generally available for most American classic cars that detail this information.
This covers a lot of what makes up a car and would be most of the moving parts. You'll find the engine and transmission will need rebuilding, as well as all the regular maintenance repairs like brakes and suspension, and rebuilding components parts like starters, water pumps, and generators. Other components that rarely get considered are the under dash parts like heater or vent controls, window parts inside the doors, hinges, and latches. I'm only touching on the subject, but you get the idea.
Electrical can be the scariest of them all. On an old vehicle the sheathing on the wiring can be dry rotted, and cracked and brittle creating the risk of an electrical short. Switches wear out and even fall apart. On some vehicle where these parts are impossible to find, you'll need to be creative and improvise by using parts from another vehicle make.
Interior or upholstery work
Cloth, vinyl, leather, threading, and stuffing or padding materials all dry rot over time and need to be replaced. Colors fade really bad as well.
Sheet metal or rust repair
Any metal made with iron will rust, even aluminum will oxidize and even disintegrate under the right conditions. The body sheet metal will need to be replaced or patched. This means knowing how to work with sheet metal, how to weld, and even how to shape metal.
Surface preparation and refinishing
Other than the exterior of the car body, there is a lot of sheet metal surface that will need to be stripped of old paint and surface rust, then prepared so it will not rust anymore, then painted again. This includes the car frame, suspension parts, differential, fasteners and more.
Auto body and painting
Aside from the sheet metal work the exterior of the car body will need to be smoothed and painted. This is an awful amount of work which is why it can be so expensive.
Trim or molding repair and refinishing
Classic car trim and molding was made mostly from metals. There are steel chrome plated parts, chrome plated pot metal parts, aluminum, stainless steel and even brass or copper. until recently, some parts can not be fixed and re-plated, pot metal is on of those. In extreme cases, you'll need to weld new metal into your trim or moldings, grind and sand them down, polish them and get them ready for re-plating.
That's a lot to know how to do.
Luckily there are some really good how-to DVD's available that cover all these topics. Even still you might want to specialize in only 2 or 3 of these skills, and get a professional to do the others.
Learning how to do something like this can be entertaining. Even if if you do not plan on doing some of this work yourself, you'll want to know how the work is done so you can recognize a job well done.