Car Restoration: A DIY Guide - Part 1: Finding the Right Car

I have been working closely with Chris to conceptualize a multiple part blog series that will hopefully serve as a guide for the "at-home" DIY builder.  This is the guide that will seek to compile Chris' years of experience into a compact series of posts that can hopefully help others not make painful, time-consuming, and ultimately budget wasting mistakes.

Since this series is aimed at providing exceptional value to you, the reader, we welcome any and all questions or comments!


Part 1: Finding the Right Car

In the first part of this series, we wanted to tackle the first step -- finding the right car.  The reality is, when seeking to restore a car, we are typically dealing with 40+ year old cars, so there are many factors that must be considered.  The end goal should seem obvious: find the best car for the cheapest price.

However, before actually being able to find the best car, its important to take the starting point of determining two specific starting points.

1. What is your budget?

It's very important to determine a budget going into your project, for obvious reasons.  This will save a lot of trouble further down the road, because there are many decisions that will come up that can greatly alter the price.  

2.  What is your intended purpose of the car?

This might seem obvious as well, however, its important to determine this aspect from the start.  What purpose does this car fit?  Will you and your family of 4 be using this car to drive around Washington state? -- if this were the case, you probably don't want a 32 roadster.  Do you want to drive this car on long road trips?  -- you probably don't want to install drag racing suspension.  Just because something looks cool, or is seemingly higher quality, doesn't mean that it will fit the specific purpose.

Stick to the Plan

Once you've brainstormed the two previous questions and clearly defined an answer, it's important to stick to this plan.  Another way of looking at this can be picking your genre and filling it.  Budget and purpose work together to solve any confusion further down the road, even when it might be tempting to add certain upgrades.  If they aren't practical, or within the budget, it's a simple answer.  Now that you have your goals clearly defined, it's important to move forward and actually work on finding the car itself.

6 Steps to Finding the Right Car

Now you have your 2 goals defined, its time to decide which car is going to be your project car, and further, actually shopping around for different cars.  We've put together a list of 6 steps to making sure you find the right project car that fits your needs and also saves you money in the long run, leaving you with a car you can be proud of having built yourself.

1. Stay Away from Obscure Cars

Cleaner cars that are more common are simply easier project cars, especially if this is your first project car.  It's also important to consider the fact that more common cars have more appeal and a higher resale value.  If this isn't in your long term purpose for the car, thats fine, however just keep in mind that a more common car often comes with cheaper parts.  Choosing a car that is very obscure has many problems associated with it, including harder to find parts, also increasing the price. 

2. Stay away from Disassembled Cars

Be very careful when choosing what car you purchase.  Cars are listed as complete, until you actually personal start to take it apart and realize that you're missing several key components to a fully functioning, safe vehicle that you can be proud of.  This is even more so for cars that are disassembled.  You will not actually be able to fully take inventory of the parts that you need until you take it apart, so its important to be wary of any cars that aren't listed as complete.  Keep in mind your overall budget.  Even though a disassembled car might be listed cheaper, you might be spending much more money in the long run trying to account for various missing parts.

3.  Stay away from Rust

Major reconstruction already is an absolutely time consuming process.  Adding major amounts of rusting to any vehicle becomes a huge multiplier for time spent, plus there will be hundreds of hours of time put into the car before it even starts to look like a car.  Lastly, if you don't know how to do rust repair on a professional level, it's going to cost much more money in the long run.  Avoid rust as much as possible.

4.  Ask a Professional

This is an extremely important step.  If you have no idea what you're looking at, make sure you consult a professional before handing over the money in a purchase.  There are far too many people in this industry that are seeking to take advantage of your money and enthusiasm.  There are many professionals who are willing to check out a car with you for a decently small fee (including Chris).

5.  Check the Numbers

VIN numbers are extremely important to check.  Just because the owner hands you the title to a car doesn't mean that you are purchasing a legit car.  To further explain this point, we are dealing with 40+ year old cars.  Therefore, the person you are purchasing from may not even know that the VIN isn't clean.  It's always best to check and be sure.  You don't want to end up that guy who poured thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a car, only to have it eventually returned to its rightful owner.  There have been cases of owners who had their cars stolen over 30 years ago, only to be returned a professionally restored car when the builder tried to ship it.

6.  Reaffirm the Plan and Stick to it (again).

Yes, we keep driving this point home, but this is one of the most important steps of the whole process.  If you don't care about a full restoration, don't but a specific car as a project.  For example, an SS Chevelle is much more expensive than a Malibu with a 283.  If you are absolutely set on the SS Chevelle, do a full restoration on it.  However, if the general idea is what you're going for, stick with the cheaper alternative and do a more extensive restoration.  Always seek to build a full, complete car that you can be proud of in the long run.

Hopefully this blog was of help to you.  Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below, or contact CHC.  Our next part in this series will be "Shopping for the Perfect Project Car."