Car Restoration

In this thread masonite asks:

Rather than answer in the VW thread, I thought I’d start a thread specifically for car restoration.

I’m not really a “car guy”. I like driving 'em, not fixing 'em. When I was looking for a CJ2A I found a few for sale in the L.A. area for $2,000 - $2,500 (they’re more expensive here than in other parts of the country). All of them were in need of a lot of work to get them really roadworthy. I estimated it would cost at least $3,000 to do the work. I ended up buying my 1946 Willys CJ2A in excellent original condition for $5,500. So I spent the “restoration” money up front and didn’t have to wait for the work to be done.

Last November I bought a 1966 MGB roadster. As you can see, it’s in poor condition. Nevertheless, the body looked straight and the engine was said to run – and it was dirt-cheap. I knew that it would need new floor panels, but they are inexpensive. I turned it over to a couple of MG enthusiasts in Orange County, figuring that I could do a “rolling restoration” – that is, get it running, and then slowly fix it up. Let the games begin.

The engine did indeed run. Good sign. But the rest of it is a mess. The chassis went to A-Z Auto Works in Huntington Beach, a very respected body shop. There they stripped the car completely. Uh-oh. British cars are famous for rusting from the inside out. Not only did I need floor panels, but the rocker panels were shot. This is a problem, as MGBs are monocoque (“unibody”) construction, and the rather complex rocker assemblies are critical to the car’s strength. The bottom half of one rear fender was rotten as well, in addition to the main crossmember and front longitudinal members. Both doors had been damaged and there were holes in them where they were pulled out. (When I saw them, the thick Bondo had been removed.)

“In for a penny, in for a pound”, though I. I’ve gone this far, so I’d better get the job done right. The body tub will be sandblasted and parts that will never be visible will get a protective coating to prevent rusting. I’d originally planned to just have the engine bay “spruced up”, but at this stage it made more sense to sandblast it at the same time as the rest.

In short, my $4,500 body-and-paint work is now costing $9,000.

The engine ran, as I said, but the head was cracked. More money. The transmission was full of water. That’s not good. I’ve bought an overdrive transmission and am trying to have it shipped out from Pennsylvania. Pre-'68 overdrive transmissions are extremely scarce, but they are necessary for the modern (read: fast) driving environment. More money.

I’d planned not to really go into the restoration until it was finished (and besides, I’m only providing the cash and not the work), and post a link to a page. So I’ll just go on to some general advice that someone only periferally envolved can give.
[ul][li]Look for rust. Older cars are likely to have rust somewhere. Check the body panels, the battery tray, the frame (if it’s a frame-on design), under the carpet, under the spare tire, in the trunk… everywhere.[/li][li]Make sure of the mechanical condition. If you’re like me and don’t have access to a garage or tools, or if you are “not good at fixing cars”, make sure everything works.[/li][li]Have a realistic budget. Body work can add up quickly and become enormously expensive. I planned on around $6,000 to “restore” the MGB. Right now it looks like it will cost closer to $15,000 (which is in the middle of the $10,000 - $20,000 value placed on MGBs by Classic Motorsports magazine, and a little less than the going price for restored 1960s MGBs at auction).[/li][li]Buy the best car for your project that you possibly can. You’ll pay more up-front (as I did with the Willys), but it can save you money later. It will probably be better to buy an already-restored car than to restore one yourself (or have someone do it). [/ul][/li]Okay, that’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ll leave the floor open to other posters who can give their first-hand experiences with restorations.

Thanks for opening the thread, Johnny!

I just bought a 1973 Beetle this week. It’s necessary transportation, or it’s going to be, as soon as I sell my Accord. I had it checked out beforehand and it’s a pretty good car. New engine 50,000 miles ago, not too much rust.

Next week I’m having the most major stuff attended to … new steering box, new brakes, various other little things I don’t quite understand. I’m working with a trusted mechanic who only works on classic VWs.

Last night I went a little nuts online at and, buying a set of sunvisors, a mirror, and wiper blades. Those new parts are amazingly cheap, actually! I wonder if the recent shutdown of old-style Beetle production is going to hurt the availability of new parts.

After that, a new windshield, which I might attempt to install myself, or perhaps I’ll take it to a glass shop. Then a new door hinge, and a new driver’s seat which I plan to find at a junkyard – apparently you can use Golf seats, although I’ll look for a Beetle seat in good condition.

THEN comes bodywork. The bumpers are quite rusty; do I need to replace them or is it possible to refinish? I’m considering buying new fenders, but the rust seems to be not too deep – I may be able to sand them down. Eventually, I’ll paint it as close as I can get it to Kansas Beige, I think.

Other than the seats, which are trashed, the interior is pretty clean. No rust anywhere that I can find so far, and the headliner is almost spotless. The dash is a bit faded; it seems even new dashes aren’t that pricey.

I am loving this car in every way. I don’t know jack about cars, but I’ll be learning.

Currently, the wife has a '67 Camaro in the garage that is being ever so slowly restored. The engine is rebuilt, and there is no rust at all, but it needs a full interior, rear springs, control arm bushings, and paint. Also new wiring as the current wiring is original and in bad shape. Time and cash are limiting factors in the speed of the project. We’ve had it for about 4 years now and someday, it will be complete.

When I was in high school, a couple of neighbor kids and I got into cars as yet another way to make some spare cash. We did a lot of cars, but it was more “trick” than “restoration” as in all original stuff. This was also in northern MN, in the 80’s, when you could buy a '57 BelAir for $500, and a gallon of Emron or Centauri cost about 20 bucks. We did cars with money we earned from our traplines, which I will say was pretty good, magnitudes over what today would bring. These days, the cost of paint alone almost requires a second job. My wife has voiced her opinion of perhaps just selling what is in the garage as it will be a couple or few years before we get it finished. Expense is one factor, but time is the biggest one. Restoring a car takes time. You get home from work, then make dinner, hang out with the kids, get them in bed, clean the house, do dishes, have a drink and relax, and by then you just aren’t in the mood to go wrenching or sanding. You can have somebody else do the work, but then the price just quadrupled, and then you’ve spent more than you will ever get in return if you ever want to sell.

To do a restoration you need one of two things. Time and cash. Time if you are going to do it yourself, and lots of cash to have somebody else do it. The Camaro was a bargain considering the shape that it was in, and is driveable. But to be a fully “sweet ride”, a lot of work needs to be done. It can be overwhelming at times. While fixing one area, you notice something else, and then something else. It is fun, but it is a slow process. When the wife bought the car, I was excited, thinking that I could relive my carefree days. Now I almost hate the car, but really don’t want to part with it out of pride. I know I can turn it into a sweet ride, but the older I get, the less discipline I have when it comes to actually working on it.

No first hand experience in restoration, but in a slow economy it is quite possible to save a ton of time, money and aggravation by buying a high quality non-classic already restored by someone else who was willing to do the work himself for the equivalent of an 80 cents per hour return on investment.

Lots of handy folks who might know better start restorations and grossly underestimate the costs involved. If you really want to do it yourself, don’t act like a neophyte. Whatever you think it will cost and however long you think it will take, it’s going to cost more and take longer. Is it still worth it to you?

“You don’t want a restaurant. You want a friend with a restaurant.”

I’ve got my own project waiting in the wings for after graduation, after I get my hands on some money, after I get a place with a garage, etc.

I plan to put aside a lot of money and do most of it myself, but I am fortunate enough to have a sort of a contact already. It’s not a classic or old car at all, though, so it shouldn’t be so bad. :wink:


Know your limits, on money, mechanic, and time. It seems it will always cost more, have more problems involved, and take longer then you thought.

Understand why you want this car. Are you trying to make money, had one the same model when younger, or you saw same model on street and liked the look.

Find out everything you can about it before you buy it. Check with car clubs, look on the web for message boards about them, search the value of them finished and unrestorted, and the biggie is check if you can get parts for it (nothing worse then getting a project and can’t get parts and have to have them special made $$$)

Once you get it, join a car club. The info these guys have is unbeliveable, if you need help alot of people will help no questions asked ( just make sure if someone else needs help you are there even if just to hold parts and hand tools)

Hope some of this helps and great thread Johnny

My mom got a brand-new 1966 MGB roadster when I was little. Old English White (sort of an ivory) with a red interior. She gave it to me when I was in high school and I drove it from about 1980 - 1984 (when I got a used Porsche 924). Like an idiot (or a cash-strapped kid), I sold it. I always missed it (well, except when I had the 911SC) and I finally decided to replace it.

I quickly found the local MG club. The two guys coordinating the restoration are active members. One has the friend in PA. I talked to the PA guy today and asked how I could compensate him for getting the o/d transmission out to me. “Just the shipping charges. John [one of the guys] has helped me out before, and I’m happy to return the favour.”

I’ve done a car, a truck, and a tractor, and a motorcycle. Someday, when I’m done with my house, I’ll do another car.

I’ll take polite issue with a couple of things that have been said so far.

First off, you have to plan the scope of your restoration project: Are you looking to get a running serviceable vehicle, or are you looking to do a first class restoration job and restore the vehicle to new condition?

I’ve only done the former, but I’ve helped with the latter. If you are planning on fully restoring a vehicle there is only one way to do it, an that is right from the get go. A “rolling restoration” is generally not a good idea from either a time or a money standpoint. It’s a lot easier to strip the car to the frame and restore it from that point, than it is to do it piecemeal. Most of your time will be spent in stripping cleaning and build. You only want to do this once, and there is the old mechanic’s adage that one worn out or bad part will destroy the two parts adjoining it.

For a first project, I would recommend a fairly common vehicle with good parts availability at reasonalbe price as well as access to parts at a boneyard. I would also be recommending large vehicles, with common parts.

My best project was my truck. I started with three '79 Chevy pick up trucks. Only one had an engine. I stripped them down, sandblasted the frame, had my friend do what welding needed doing, then primed, painted and coated it.

I did the same with the best cab and best bed. You can get a lot done with a wire brush on a drill. I didn’t use bondo at all. Bondo sucks. Get new metal welded on, and grind it flush. Take your time and do this part right. This will show, and prevent your vehicle from rusting out after the restoration.

You also need to know what to send out and what to do yourself. One of the trucks was wrecked but had a good manual tranny which I sent out for overhauling $350 because I pulled it and took it over, picked it up and reinstalled it myself. $1,500 on a new Chevy 350 factory engine (a rebuild costs $1,000 or more and has a 90 day warranty. A new has a three year,) new drive lines for a four wheel drive $600 machined and balanced (God knows why I bothered to balance a front driveline.) and then lots and lots and lots of parts.

I made a list as I was stripping, and any hardware that wasn’t in top condition I got new. It’s not worth wasting your time dicking around with marginal parts. You end up having to do it over. Again, one bad part wears out the two next to it. So it was new cab mounts, wiring, bulbs, brake pads, parking brake, belts, valve covers, starter, alternator, radiator, gaskets, weatherstripping, plugs, wires, coil, anything that could get worn or go bad was replaced.

If the vehicle is over ten years old this is a good idea. The simple act of removing and replacing these worn parts is gonna destroy them or shorten their lives. When you’re done you want a serviceable vehicle.

The most important thing to remember is to take your time, and don’t rush to get done or get sloppy.

Surprisingly good paint for a service project is tractor paint. You’re looking at $10 can instead of $100. My truck has $30 worth of Ford blue. Can’t tell the difference between it and a maaco quality job.

If you’re painting yourself, do it while the car is stripped down. I did mine in a garage. I hung plastic paint tarps to create a clean room, put a fan on end blowing out, and taped a furnace filter to a hole I cut in the other end. I breathed through a garden hose, and sprayed my paint from a $40.00 sprayer on my air compresser.

Best tip for painting is to practice. Get it thinned and spraying nicely, and practice on cardboard until you’ve got the particular mix you are working with down. My theory was to use lots and lots of very light coats. You get a very nice sheen, and a high quality paint job. Just keep adding transparent layers once a day for a week or so. Avoid streaks and runs like the plague. They are hard to get out. Multiple layers will also make the quality of your job better. You are unlikely to be heavy or light on the same spot over and over.

Let it rest for a week when you’re done painting. Then get a couple of cans of rubbing compound and a power buffer and go to work. Give it a few layers of wax.

Do that and an old truck with tractor paint will look better than a new one on the lot, guarranteed.

When I was done, I had essentially a new 4 wheel drive Chevy truck with plow. Total cost under 5k, and got it done in 3 months of nights. That was back in '94 and I haven’t had to do anything to the truck besides oil changes since. It pays to do it right, and all at once.

That was a service restoration rather than an original restoration. My next project will be an original. I want to turn a '73 Buick Centurion convertible into a show hot rod. Got to find the car first.

The main issue I take with the earlier advice is that a mechanically sound vehicle is not what you are after. If you are doing a restoration, plan on either a rebuild or new engines and drivetrain components. A “running” vehicle will cost you big time over one that’s not, and you’re going to have to do it anyway if the vehicle is vintage so you might as well plan on it. Take Johnny’s example. The fact that the vehicle “runs” wasn’t exactly a bonus.

You should be most interested in the frame and body condition. Be wary and afraid of rust. Get the vehicle on a lift and look under it before you buy. Lots of cars look nice from the outside but are rotting from the bottom up. A stored vehicle will rot in this fashion. The dampness and the condensation comes from beneath.

Everything else is relatively cheap and easy to fix compared to frame and chassis. Those should be your priority.

A lot of times people will claim they are selling you a restored vehicle when all that’s really happened is it’s gotten some service and been well-cleaned where it shows. The things you care about, and that make a good restoration do not show so easily, and if they’re not done, and done right you will have nothing but problems. My friend has a beautiful '68 Mg. It’s a wonderful car to look at until you realize that it’s touching the ground in the middle from a bent out rotten frame.

Be wary of imports from the 60’s and 70’s. They used secondhand metal that was very prone to rust in their vehicles. That’s why most of the 280zs, Toyotas and MGs have serious frame rot issues.

Frame rot is almost impossible to repair and is costly beyond beleif when you do it.


I live South of Harrisburg, if you need help getting that tranny to you and I can be of assistance let me know, and I’ll see what if anything I can do.

Good luck with the project!

I’ll also second the car clubs. Classic auto show are another great resource.

If you have a difficult or impossible problem with your vehicle, all you have to do is mention it and people will almostliterally fight for the priviliege to help you, and share their hard fought wisdom.

As for my last two pieces of advice.

  1. Plan on doing it all, and do it all. Don’t hope to get away with a partial restoration.
  2. If you’re reading something in the shop manual, or somebody tells you to do something a certain way and while you’re doing it it seems like that it’s going to be a lot of trouble and unnecessary and you have figured out a better way…

Don’t do it. Listen to the shop manual. Listen to the people.

Otherwise 3 weeks later you say to yourself “so that’s why they tell you to do it that way,” as you suddenly have to remove the engine you just spent two weekends installing in order to put in the steering box that you were sure shouldn’t go in until later because it would just be in the way. Then you realize the reason they all told you to put it in first was because it won’t fit once the block’s in place.

From my garage:
I have a 1964 Hi-Po Fairlane. Was my uncles car when I was younger thought it was cool and bought it. Many parts are not easy to get to restore to original, had to make many parts myself, sheet metal patches, linkages small things. Worked on it for 4 years straight, got sick of it put it in storage for a year. Didn’t work on it didn’t even think of it. Pulled it back out and paced myself to the finish.

The current project is a 1968 convertible Camaro, like the looks of them, re searched the parts available, the cost of parts and the value. Looked for over a year to find a basket case for the price I wanted to pay. Stripped it down to bare shell and building back up as a hot rod not an original.

Had a 1966 Chevelle and tried to do a driving restore, waste of time. You work on something for 4 hours then the next week you work 2 hours undoing what you did to continue

Johnny, I absolutely love early chrome bumpered MGB’s.

I almost bought a 1971 MGB a few years back, which was in decent shape, ran well, but changed my mind when I realized that the rockers were showing evidence of patching. I still want one really bad though, absolutely love little british cars, even if they do have “fiddly bits.”

Recently, I’ve been working on my '74 Road Runner, and my '67 Chrysler, which is now a daily driver.

Reason I bought the Chrysler, is because I love learning new things, and while I like my '96 Olds, I couldn’t work on it. Hence the Chrysler. I like having something that I can work on, learn new things with, and putz around with, without worry of screwing with computers and all of the other modern stuff you see on engines. With old cars, the technology is nice and simple.

Plus older cars seem to have a lot more soul than newer ones.

As for buyers advice, mechanical things are much cheaper to fix than rust. It seems kind of backwards to say, but rust is hideously expensive whenever it comes to proper repairs of it. Take that MGB I looked at, proper rocker repair would have been well over a grand to get it done properly, as while it seems straightforward, on an MGB, the rocker is a complex, load bearing structure. And if it shows evidence of rust on the outside, you can be assured that it is completely gone on the inside. An engine rebuild on the other hand, might cost you like 800 bucks.

One thing to keep in mind, is if you see chrome dress up panels on the lower parts of a car (like say, if you saw chrome rocker covers on an MGB) be wary. It could be that those panels are covering rusted out metal, or a poor repair. Whenever looking at old cars, I usually keep a weak magnet with me, so that I can check for Bondo in panels. If the magnet doesn’t stick, I don’t buy the car.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to aluminum or fiberglass cars, but you knew that.

Don’t be afraid to pull up carpets, look under trunk mats, crawl under the car, just carefully look over the whole car, and don’t buy on impulse.

What? No mention of Hemmings Motor News? This is probably the best source for where to find parts. Jay Leno, who has done tons of restorations, says that if you’re restoring a car, and you expect to get out of it what you put into it, then you’re fooling yourself. Either you’re asking too much for the car, or you’re not doing everything that needs to be done for the car. There are exceptions to this, of course, but in general, don’t undertake a restoration project unless you love the car.

As for the car clubs, my experience has been mixed. I’ve been a member of 4 different clubs, and out of those 4, the club that was dedicated to the kind of car that I owned at the time (The Falcon Club, I had a 1965 Ford Ranchero, which was just a Falcon station wagon that had been turned into a pick up by Ford) was absolutely worthless as far as my car went. I learned more about my car and taking care of it from the clubs dedicated to Packards, Studebakers, and Tuckers!

Also, get the factory service manual for your car! Don’t rely on Chiltons or Haynes! I’ve caught glaring errors in both series of car manuals. One incorrectly described the car as being rear wheel drive (it was a 1988 Lincoln Continental that was most definately front wheel drive), the other had reassembly instructions for nearly everything wrong.

Most importantly, DO NOT “jerry rig” a repair, thinking you’ll fix it right later! It WILL fail at the worst possible time! If you can’t fix it right, leave it and fix it later.

What I wanted was a good-looking “daily driver”. Once I got into it though, the plan changed and I wanted a full resto. Changing one’s mind costs money.

I think if you are looking for a sericeable daily driver, there’s nothing wrong with a rolling restoration. Sure, it will cost more in the long run; but you get to drive it around while you’re waiting for the “someday” when you can do it properly. In my case, I couldn’t do a rolling resto because of the condition of the rockers. I really had no option but to have it done right from the outset.

Fortunately there were over half a million MGBs, MGB GTs and MGCs made. The British Motor Heritage Trust manufactures brand new sheet metal on the original equipment that people “hid away” instead of letting it be scrapped. You can even get brand new entire body shells, including aluminum bonnets for the older cars. Being such a popular car in its day, there is a fairly vast network of MG enthusiasts all over the world.

Very good advice.

Again, I didn’t “plan” on a full restoration. I wanted a nice-looking car that I could drive around. I figured I could do a full restoration later. That is, I’d end up doing two restorations – one to get it driving and looking okay, and another from the ground up. As you say, it would “cost big time” restoring it twice. When I realized that a partial restoration would not make economic sense, I changed my mind/plan and now it’s a full-on ground-up resto project. But given that a full resto was not my original plan, I think good mechanicals are a good thing to look for if you want a serviceable daily driver. But you’re right that mechanicals are not so important if it’s intended to be a full restoration project.

As you can see in the OP, I agree with you about rust. I would never have gotten this particular car if I had known how extensive the rust was. Fortunately, brand-new OEM chassis and chassis parts are readily available for the MG. Why use second-hand metal when you can get a new piece? Repairing the unibody frame and its associated stiffeners etc. on an MGB is not at all impossible. But it is expensive; not because the parts cost very much (some do, some don’t), but because of the labour and craftsmanship involved in doing it correctly. As I said, had I realized how much rust had eaten the car, I would have found a different one. Beware rust!

Again, this is fixable. But he’ll have to take it to an experienced frame guy and shell out the bucks for the work. In case your friend is interested, he can get the following brand-new parts: rocker panels (OEM or replacement – there’s only a $5 difference, so he may as well go original), inner panels, side member panels, sills, sill tread plate, jacking bracket, jacking bracket brace, full-length crossmember, and rocker filler pieces. He may also want to look at the spring mount assemblies and the floor panels. It’s actually a rather complex structure. The sill goes on the top and inside, the side member panel goes on the bottom, and the jacking bracket brace goes inside. The inner pannel closes the panel off, making a long box structure, and the rocker panel goes outboard of that. You can get half-crossmenbers, but if one is bad then the other is probably too. Better to get the full piece.

A note on Bondo: The body guy will be welding the holes from the previous Bondo repair. I’ve asked him to hammer out the rest of the door panels instead of using Bondo, and he says he can do that.

Thanks. I think I have it covered though. The hard part is hooking up the seller and Greg, the guy who has agreed to send it. I think the seller lives in Connecticutt, but the transmission is in PA. Greg’s son is going into surgery next week, so he said it may take a little while for him to send it; but he should be picking it up today. I’m not really in a hurry for the tranny. A-Z says they will not be done with the body until around the end of July. (As I said, he’s doing it right – and that takes time, considering the condition of the shell.)

A-Z said I could win a trophy at an MG show when he’s done. I’ll have one sharp-looking roadster when it’s finished! But the cost! Rust is not a friend. Fortunately, he is “rust-proofing” the inside that no one will ever see. To reiterate:

[/list][li]Look for rust. Older cars are likely to have rust somewhere. Check the body panels, the battery tray, the frame (if it’s a frame-on design), under the carpet, under the spare tire, in the trunk… everywhere.[/li][/quote]


See my comments about how the rockers go together, above. They can be replaced by new OEM metal, but better to look for a good California car – and even California cars rust, especially when they’re pushing 40 years of age.

The 1970-1972 MGBs are my least favourite. The bumpers are chromed, but I think the grilles are ugly. They have these black inserts in them with the round MG badge in the middle. If you look at an MGB bonnet, you will see that there is a “fairing” in the middle. This is so that it flows smoothly into the MG shield mounted high up on the pre-1970 and the 1974-1974-1/2 cars. It just doesn’t look right on the 1970-1972 cars that have the round badge in the middle. Also, the 1970-1972 grille is much more complex than the earlier and later ones.

The 1973-1974-1/2 grille still has a black insert, but it’s much nicer than the 1970-1972 ones. They also went back to the nice chrome surround with the high-mounted shield-shaped badge. My favourite is the pre-1970 all-chrome grilles.

Due to U.S. regulations, padded dashboards were required after 1968. The 1968-1971 MGBs do not have a cubby locker (glovebox). You can retro-fit an earlier metal dash (very nice with its black crinkle finish), and these were still used on U.K cars; but it would not be proper for a U.S. car.

I like the rubber-bumper cars (1975-1980), but they have a couple of “problems”. First, and again due to federal regulations, they sit higher than the earlier cars so that their bumpers will (theoretically) match the height of other cars on the road. This degraded the handling somewhat. Also, the newer the car, the more emissions controls they had. While modern cars have learned to develop power even with all of the smog stuff on them, the mid-to-late 1970s cars were still evolving. As such, the last MGBs were the tamest of all.

Now, I’ve had two 1977 MGBs. They were fun to drive and had fewer “endearing British car quirks” than my old '66. A nicely-restored rubber bumper car (I’d avoid 1975 and 1976) will be fun to drive and will probably have fewer rust problems than earlier chrome-bumper cars. The convertible tops fit better and the folding mechanism is easier to use. (My old '66 and the one I’m having restored have stowable tops – you remove the top and bows and stow them in the boot.) They’re quieter, which is better for long drived; but you just can’t beat the exhaust note of the chrome-bumper cars! And of course, vhrome-bumper cars look better! :wink: