Classic Car Restoration Basics

A classic car restoration can go wrong quickly if you don't start out with the right car. When you're buying that project car, there are certain things you must check that may not be obvious at first glance.

Spotting Rust
One of the things that is difficult to see, especially for a person trying to restore a vehicle for the first time, is rust. The rust is usually covered with body putty and paint. When restoring a classic car, you do not want body putty in the car, you want metal. If metal is not possible, you need to use fiberglass.

The easiest way to check for body putty is to touch a magnet to all of the panels on the vehicle. Start with the fenders, especially next to the wheel wells. If the magnet does not stick, someone filled in the area with body putty or fiberglass, but most likely body putty. Another common place to find rust is the rocker panels.

Open the hood and check for rust at the firewall. Remove the vents between the hood and the windshield to check for rust where the wipers connect. Lift the trunk to check for rust around and under the trunk rubber and on the trunk floor. Check under the carpets inside the car for rusted floors.

Cleaning the Car
While you can restore a car by simply taking the top coat of paint off, then sanding and priming the paint, you will have a much nicer job if you take the paint off all the way down to the metal. Taking all of the paint off allows you to see any rust spots you may have missed.

Once the paint is completely removed from the car, paint it with gray primer, than add a coat of gloss black paint. Run over the entire body with a sanding board. High spots will be visible, because the black and gray primer will be removed. Low spots will stay black. Perfect spots should be gray with a bit of black, depending how much paint you remove in this process.

Restore Inside and out
When restoring a classic car, don't forget about the engine compartment. If you are showing the car, judges will look inside the engine compartment. Remove the engine, then sand down the entire engine compartment. Paint the engine compartment; most people paint it the same color as the car.

When painting, do not forget to paint the door jambs and under the edges of the trunk. If you have a hood with a scoop that reaches over the vents between the windshield and the engine compartment, don't forget to lift the hood and paint the vents under the scoop.

If you are restoring a car to its condition when it came off the showroom floor, make sure you purchase new old stock (NOS) parts. These are manufactured using the original molds. If you are restoring a car but want your own look, you can use any specialty parts you want. Dress up the engine compartment with chrome valve covers, air breathers and accessories, including the alternator, air compressor, etc.. You can also add wire looms and wire covers. These can be purchased in various colors to match the paint job.

Depending on the condition of the interior, you may need to replace the headliner, door panels, carpet and upholstery. You can do this at any time during the process, but it's best to do it before you paint the exterior. That way, you won't risk scratching the paint while you're working on the interior.

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