Skills you need to restore a classic car

Restoring a classic car can be a scary subject for some people. There are many different types of work that go into the restoration of a classic car and most people are not qualified at all. When you break down the process into the types of repairs that go into your classic car restoration, it’s easier to understand what you really can and can’t do yourself.

Taking stock of your skills can help you decide how much work you can do yourself and how much of the restoration work you should have a professional do.

Your classic car restoration can be broken down into a few repair categories.

  • If you know your car
  • Mechanical repairs
  • Electrical repairs
  • interior design or upholstery work
  • Sheet metal or rust repair
  • Surface preparation and post-processing
  • bodywork and paintwork
  • Repair and repainting of trim or moldings

Some of these categories are self-explanatory. Allow me to clarify those that aren’t so obvious.

know your car

Cars have always been available with options such as sports equipment packages, air conditioning, V8, 6 cylinder or 4 cylinder engines and the list goes on. As the car ages, some of these options are removed from the vehicle, replaced with something inferior, or not replaced at all. Option codes and workshop manuals are generally available for most American classic cars that contain this information.

Mechanical repairs

This covers a lot of what makes a car and would include most of the moving parts. You will find the engine and transmission in need of an overhaul, as well as all regular maintenance repairs such as brakes and suspension and the rebuilding of component parts such as starters, water pumps and alternators. Other components that are rarely considered are the under-dash parts such as heating or ventilation controls, window parts in the doors, hinges and latches. I’m just touching on the subject, but you get the point.

Electrical repairs

Electrics can be the scariest of them all. On an old vehicle, the wiring sheathing can be dry rotted and cracked and brittle, creating a risk of an electrical short. Switches wear out and even fall apart. Some vehicles where these parts cannot be found require you to be creative and improvise using parts from another vehicle brand.

interior design or upholstery work

Cloth, vinyl, leather, thread, and padding or upholstery materials degrade over time and need to be replaced. Colors also fade very badly.

Sheet metal or rust repair

Any metal made with iron will rust, even aluminum will oxidize and break down even under the right conditions. The body panel needs 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 post-processing

Aside from the exterior of the body, there are many sheet metal surfaces that need to be stripped of old paint and surface rust, then prepared to prevent rusting and then repainted. This includes the vehicle frame, suspension parts, differential, fasteners and more.

bodywork and paintwork

Apart from the sheet metal work, the outside of the body needs to be smoothed and painted. This is an enormous amount of work and that is why it can be so expensive.

Repair and repainting of trim or moldings

Classic car panels and moldings were mainly made of metals. There are chrome plated steel parts, chrome plated pot metal parts, aluminium, stainless steel and even brass or copper. Until recently some parts could not be repaired and recoated, pot metal is one of them. In extreme cases, you may need to weld new metal into your trim or moldings, grind and sand them down, polish them, and prepare them for recoating.

That’s a lot to know how to do.

Fortunately, there are some really good instructional DVDs that cover all of these topics. Even so, you may wish to specialize in just 2 or 3 of these skills and hire a professional to handle the others.

Learning how to do something like this can be entertaining. Even if you don’t plan on doing some of that work yourself, you want to know how the work is being done so you can recognize a job well done.