Restoring a classic car, whether it's a Camaro, classic Chevy truck, Chevelle, or Nova, can be a dream or a nightmare depending on how well you plan and budget with the emphasis being on 'budget.' Outlined below are the most commonly replaced items on a classic car restoration project. Whether you believe you need them or not, include the cost and the time into your budget. You can always put the leftover money under your mattress.
- Engine. If your "diamond in the rough" has been lounging around in someone's yard or outbuilding for several years, this is definitely your starting point. Few classic clunkers have a good working engine. The quickest test of a good engine would be to check for signs of oil in the radiator, antifreeze in the oil pan, and external leaks, especially at the gaskets and freeze plugs. If those signs are present, it is likely that the block is cracked from a blown head gasket and a replacement engine is recommended. Other tests are recommended if these signs are absent such as a compression test for the valves and seats; a running compression test to verify cam wear and valve lash; a test of the oil pressure at idle according to the manufacturer's specifications; and a test for a consistent temperature at various locations on the block after the engine has idled for a few minutes. The temperatures around the block should be consistent and the temperatures from the heads should be consistent but bear in mind that the temperatures from the block compared to the temperatures of the heads will not be consistent. If the engine in your restoration project passes these tests, you can most likely keep the engine. In that case, the only reason to replace the engine would be to upgrade the performance.
- Transmission. If it is a manual transmission, you will also need to add the cost of a clutch to your project. Assuming that the car's engine cranks and the car is drivable (not to imply that it is road ready), shift it into gear. Will it move forward or reverse? No movement is the best indicator that a new tranny is needed. If it will move, does the transmission slip or take its sweet time engaging? If it makes a clunking sound when you shift into or out of gear or if it whines as you speed up and the fluid smells burned, a replacement transmission is in order.
- Body. No restoration would be complete without replacing body parts. Bondo is fine for patching and sealing holes but applying it correctly to look as if it isn't there is an art. If you intend to resell your finished project, classic car aficionados will search for signs of painted-over body putty and want to reduce the sale price if they find it. Painting an automobile correctly is also an art form so prepare to take your time and do it correctly.
- Cloth and Vinyl Interiors. Think seat covers, door panels and headliners. These are available for purchase to look just like the original from restoration parts specialists or you can have them custom made. If you intend to have custom interiors, leave the covers in place on the frames. The upholsterer will need to see how the finished product should look upon completion, understand where all the wires and fittings go, see how the covers come off, and how they go back into place correctly. Custom interiors could cost you more if this advice goes unheeded.
As you begin or continue your classic car restoration project, choose Classic Muscle as your one-stop shop for resources and parts. We carry all the parts you'll need at a competitive price. Contact us today if you questions or begin by browsing our online store.