Carl Heideman
Carl Heideman
6/6/18 2:56 p.m.

Restoring a car is a risky proposition.

While TV shows and auction coverage make it look like it’s quick, easy, and without risk of financial loss or frustration, that’s rarely the case. Most restorations require hundreds to thousands of hours of work, an upside-down amount of money, and a timeframe that can stretch on for years. Sure, they have their highs, like the day of purchase, the day the paint is done, the first start of the engine, and the first drive. But they’re also filled with lows, like bad news about unnoticed damage, budget overages, and plain, simple mistakes. The mistakes are probably the worst part.

Buckminster Fuller had it right: If you can learn from mistakes, you’ll be smarter. While your own mistakes probably teach you more, learning from other people’s usually costs less. Take some time to study these nine common restoration mistakes. Hopefully your restorations will see more highs as a result.

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rsikes None
11/28/18 4:39 p.m.

As a shop owner,  all I can say is YES x 9!  Spot on! Great article!

TexSquirrel New Reader
11/28/18 4:39 p.m.

10. Losing momentum

I have a friend who has been restoring his 196x Ford Mustang for at least 20 years.

It is setting on a rotisserie waiting to be completed...someday

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
11/28/18 5:08 p.m.

Thanks, Ralph and TexSquirrel. It freaks me out how many stalled restorations I see in my travels. Most blame it on money, but the hard work cost very little on a restoration, if you are doing it yourself.

theonlyiceman53 New Reader
11/28/18 5:25 p.m.

Great article.  Focus is really the biggest thing in completing a restoration.  It's easy to stay focused during the first phase of readying the car for bodywork but after the reassembly begins it is hard to keep your eye on the ball.  I find that I start looking for the next project when I'm about 80% done with the original one!  That makes it really hard to stay focused on the first one.   I won't take on a project if it requires a lot of money.  Of course what exactly is a lot of money?  My wife thinks I spend a lot of money on cars but I don't!

bklecka New Reader
11/28/18 5:56 p.m.

I have have hauled home many cars that I parked in my shop did some exploratory disassembly on and decided that the job was beyond my skill set or price range to do a proper restore and sold off. Now I am focusing on my SVT Focus, clutch and suspension finished. Timing belt, brakes, wheels, tires and finally paint. There are plenty of small, one hour or so inexpensive jobs I can complete so I keep thinking that I am making progress on the project while I find the funds for the next large job (timing belt and water pump). I chose this car based on your recommendation in several GRM magazine articles. 

Donatello New Reader
11/30/18 11:21 a.m.

More on point #7: A money saving tip is to decide beforehand how deep you want the restoration to go. You will save heaps of time and money if you decide intentionally to not be a perfectionist and ignore some of the flaws that you (and probably only you) notice. And you will worry less about taking your car to the track.

On point #8: Get a few other people to drive your car too. A mechanic specializing in the car you are restoring can fast-track diagnosing some issues. My wife who is no mechanic at all does a very good job at pointing out why my car still dives like an "old car". Thanks honey, I didn't even have to ask you to do that for me, lol. Now that my classic has most of it's squeaks, clunks, bad smells and other quirks I had been willing to put up with all gone I do enjoy driving  it more.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
11/30/18 6:48 p.m.

How about Rule 3a:  Don't disassemble the car until it's time to disassemble the car.  Lots of people tear the car apart and do a poor job of cataloging what goes where.  If it's not a full body-off or rotisserie job, perhaps doing one section at a time (like,say, the rear suspension) and reassembling it would serve the first-time restorer far better than ending up with a pile of parts inn the middle of the garage floor with a forlorn-looking body on jacks.

914Driver MegaDork
12/1/18 7:09 a.m.

11.  (my nemesis) Bouncing around too much!  Spend a few hours in the garage on something, next time go do something else, a month later everything is 1% closer but nothing gets done.

Pull a fender, bang it, smooth it, prime it, set it aside.  Next.

maj75 HalfDork
12/2/18 10:00 a.m.

#1. If you can’t afford the nicest version of the car you want, you almost never can afford the cost of restoration.  It’s a thing on the C3 Corvette forum.  Guy wants a C3 Corvette, but won’t spend money for a running driving example.  He’d rather spend $3000 for a pile of crap than spend $8000 on a good runner.  Project takes years to complete or more likely never gets finished and is parted out.  Funny how those guys think their time isn’t worth anything.  My time is worth $$$.  I’d rather have a car I can drive and improve than wait years and $$$ to drive.


NOHOME UltimaDork
12/5/18 2:21 p.m.

In reply to maj75 :

True up to a point...Wont work for me. I am in the hobby for the project, not so much cause I dream of driving and maintaining the finished product. I consider my time spent on the car in the same way that others consider their time on the gold-course; money well spent. Not like you get to sell the scorecard for a profit after the 19th hole is completed.



Mr. New Reader
1/4/19 7:07 p.m.

Great article with a lot of truth.  I have just gotten back after 4+ years of restoration and modification, my 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.  I think one of the most important things you must decide early if not before you begin is "what are your goals?"  Do you want an absolute original, concourse quality car or do you want one with tasteful modifications that make the car easier and more enjoyable to drive.  In my case, I simply was never driving my gorgeous Pantera because it was such a pain in the rear.  First, getting it started nearly always meant pulling the air cleaner, dumping gas into the carb, running back into the car to try and start it, running back out to screw the air cleaner back on, and hoping the car was still running.  You couldn't drive it in termperatures above about 75F and you had to make sure there was little or no traffic lest you overheat the engine.  On the track, it would run all day long without any issues, but on the street, it was always nervous time.  So my goals were either I make this car something I can actually drive without hours of thought and planning or I sell it to someone who would do those things.  My 5.0L Jag XKR was quicker, more agile, easier for me to drive on the street and on the track, and I didn't have to worry about all of the external conditions as well as whether or not it would start.  But (a big but), that mid-engined brute that ferociously barks behind your ears wrapped in a spectacularly sexy Italian body was too much for me to give up.  But even knowing what I wanted to do, I still kept adding things besides the original goal. such as a new built engine of 500+hp, headers, new exhaust, complete leather interior along with new seats, harnesses and a respray even though the old was in beautiful condition.  I wanted it all!  And I can say that in the 4 weeks I've had the big cat back, I've driven it more than the previous 5 years prior to the restoration.  There are still a few things to do, but they're going to get done in the next few weeks while I can still continue to drive it and have fun.

I think it's important to set goals for what you want and pursue that plan.

Torqued New Reader
1/7/19 3:52 p.m.

I've made several of these mistakes along the way, but #6 wasthe most embarrassing. I did forget what I already had.  I inherited a pickup truck load of surplus MGA parts from a fellow enthusiast who was moving across the country and couldn't take with him all that he had accumulated over the years. These all sat in my garage for six or seven years, and when I retired, I had a little more time and began working on the car. I began looking through the parts that Tom had given me, and discovered that along the way I had unnecessarily purchased, when on sale of course, some of the same parts that were in some of those boxes of parts that Tom had given me. So I stopped dissassembly and did a complete inventory of all the parts on shelves and in boxes, put the info in a spreadsheet (312 lines so far).  I'm also adding parts to the spreasheet inventory as I remove them now. Hopefully this will help me avaid buying another extra carpeting kit or set of horns or bumper support bracket. 

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