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How To Decide Which Car You Should Restore

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JUNE 20: Rob Naish, a car restorer at Charles Ware's Morris Minor Centre, helps prepare a partly restored 60-year-old 1948 Morris Minor, which is being transported to a motor show this weekend to celebrate the marquees 60th anniversary on June 20 2008 in Bristol, England. The rare car, one of the oldest left, will form part of a display by the Bristol based Morris Minor Centre, which has restored Morris Minors since the 1970s, at the Morris Minor Owners Club 2008 Rally at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. Cars and motor enthusiasts from all over the world are expected to attend the event to celebrate the launch of the Morris, Minor 60 years ago at the 1948 Motor Show. The revolutionary car was designed by Alec Issigonis, who later designed the Mini, and was built from 1948 to 1971 by the Morris Motor Company, quickly becoming one of the icons of British post-war motoring.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to buy and restore an older car, the next decision is which car would be the best restoration project for you. This is not the easy conclusion one might think, especially if you’ve never fully restored a car before. A quick and hasty purchase without proper research is not advisable for novice or expert. We suggest that you put pencil to paper and ask yourself these questions before you pull out the pen and check book.

What Are the Top Five Cars You Would Like to Own?
We always suggest that you have at least five makes/models of cars that could be a possible restoration project because as you go through the following questions, you’d be surprised how quickly the desirability factor of a car can diminish under close scrutiny. Whether it’s the initial cost, availability of parts or the difficulty level of the particular car, your research may have you thinking that your dream car would be a nightmare restoration.

Your best education about a variety of marques is available at car shows and auctions. Talk to owners about their car’s design flaws and what they did to remedy them. Ask how easy or difficult the car is to maintain and find parts for. Look at all the cars very closely, and you may find yourself admiring a marque that you wouldn’t have considered before.

Just be sure that you have actually driven the cars you place on your top five. What may look like a really cool car while parked in your garage could be a real wrestling match for you to drive. Remember that older cars don’t handle or brake like newer cars. And if you keep them as they were originally produced, they will not have the creature comforts you have come to enjoy. Why take all the time to restore a car that you won’t have fun driving.

What do You Plan to do With Your Restored Car?
Restoring a car for investment purposes will play a big role in deciding your purchase. You need to find a car that is as close to original as possible, especially one that has matching numbers on the engine, body, frame and transmission. Restoring the car’s original parts will retain the cars value much more than sourcing parts from similar makes and models.

But if you’re looking to restore an older car to be a regular driver that will used more for fun than turning a buck, a solid car would be the better criteria. A solid car that has little rust, a straight and accident free body, and decent bright work will save a lot of time and money in a restoration project.

How Much of the Restoration Can You do Yourself?
If you are not handy around the house and have never changed the oil on your car, then be realistic about finding accomplished professionals to do the heavy work for you. This will make a very expensive restoration compared to buying an already finished car. Even the home mechanic can be intimidated with the mechanics found in vehicles produced in the 60’s and 70’s. First timers may want to look at the more straight forward 40’s and 50’s engines and electronics.

The key factors on the affordability scale are then driven from your ability to do the work, and what you think you should pay for the jobs that you have done, the availability of quality shops for specialized work at a reasonable cost and of course, the availability of parts or spares at reasonable prices. The reasonable price criteria is directly related to the numbers of cars built of the model you have chosen and the network of clubs from which you can gain intelligence for their sourcing.

How Much Money is in the Budget?
Only 30% of restoration projects get back out on the road, mostly due to the lack of funds for completion. It is a rare occasion that we find a restoration project costs us less than expected even when we generously pad the budget for unexpected repairs or part replacements.

Once you have made a complete inspection of the car, make a list of all the repairs or replacement items necessary and the tools you will have to buy to do these repairs. If the engine doesn’t start, don’t assume that it ever will and put that repair on the list. Source parts and get quotes from professionals to complete the restoration before you make an offer on a car. The inconvenient truth behind automotive restoration is that the car you buy for $5000 can cost you $25,000 to restore only to find that the resale value is $21,000…even if you do a high end restoration.

Where Will You do the Work on the Car?
If you think you can just put your main transportation outside and restore your classic in its parking space, think again. Once you start taking the project car apart, you will find that it takes up much more room than your main ride did.

Parts that come off need be stored in an organized and documented fashion. Before you know it you’ll have boxes, body parts and bright work with no place to put them. This can cause damage and loss to parts of the car you didn’t have in the budget.

If space is limited, consider a smaller car like an MG, BMW Isetta or VW Bug. These cars can offer some very thrifty thrills.

Why Do You Want to Restore a Car?
If you think this is a silly question to ask, you obviously have never fully restored an old car. Restoring an older automobile with the goal to get it back to its former glory and on the road again, is truly a labor of love and can be great fun. Every time you come up against a nut that won’t budge or find that apart needs to be fabricated, you need to remind yourself of this.

We suggest you make the reasons for restoring this car a mantra to be repeated constantly when aligning your newly painted doors back onto its hinges and trying to get them to close properly. This helps curb the obligatory profanity usually used during this part of the restoration.

We’re not trying to scare you away from restoring a car, we just want you to understand that there are frustrating moments in the process. It’s similar to golf…when you shank the ball left into no man’s land, you have to remember that this is a game and you’re supposed to be having fun.

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