Car restoration can be a rewarding hobby, and sometimes even a lucrative job. Unfortunately, it can also be a massive headache and a financial loss for those that rush into it. Here are the first steps you should take when thinking about restoring a classic car.
The first step is fairly obvious: what car are you going to restore? If you already own the vehicle, great, problem solved. If not, you should probably find something you like, that way it is a hobby instead of just more work. Keep in mind that if you love something popular, like a 1969 Camaro SS, then you will be competing with several others in the market and might end up in a bidding war. On the other hand, if you are looking for a 1984 Isuzu i-Mark, you will probably find owners offering to give the car away if you will just take it out of their sight.
That brings us to the next consideration: money. How much are you willing to spend on this project? Refurbishing a good condition Pontiac Fiero could run you only a few thousand dollars if you do it yourself. On the other hand, paying a shop for a Concours-style restoration of a rough Duesenberg Model X will run you well over a million. Be honest with your budget, as it is better to finish a small project, than to give up on something more ambitious.
With the budget in mind, consider what route you want to take. This is determined by your end goals. Do you want to impress strangers at car shows and take home trophies? Factory stock is probably for you. Stock is a popular choice for 1960’s muscle cars, and involves restoring them back to the way they rolled off the assembly line, limitations and all. There are several segments within the stock category, such as over-restoring, a process that that makes the car look better than new. Think high definition paint, polished aluminum, and other small touches the factory did not bother with back then. Or, you could go full out Concours mode, and replicate the factory workers’ grease pencil markings and over-sprayed paint. On the other hand, if you are looking for a nicely driving car to take your spouse out on nostalgic date nights, consider a resto-mod. This is a direction that allows lots of room for modern fuel-injected horsepower, big brakes, and even bigger wheels. You can create a classic muscle car that is as docile in traffic as a modern sedan, but has the performance to blow the doors off a supercar.
Finally, assess the car itself. Is the car mechanically sound, or do you have a collection of moldy old parts and rust? A top end gasket replacement on the engine is obviously going to be cheaper than a hot tank, hone, blueprint job. Realize every car has some problems it is hiding. Just accept that newly discovered floorboard rust as just another adventure in the road.