I know many of us car guys will laugh at the obvious recommendations, but we are all on a learning and discovery journey as we restore our cars. This post is aimed at the newbies, those just wading in to the waters of restoration and especially for those using outside shops to do the labor. I purchased a 65 GTO from a guy in January that had started a restoration 7 years ago, but he really knew nothing about cars, other than he liked them. Unfortunately he made some very bad choices and while that can happen to the most experienced of us, there are some basic rules to follow that can help avoid the pitfalls.
1. Get in writing with the body or repair shop the scope of work to be done and be specific. For example, if the car is to be stripped to the metal, state it in the agreement. Always set a time line. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of a 3 month project turning into a 3 or more year stay at the body shop. Never pay in full up front. A reasonable deposit can be expected, but timed payments for work performed can help move things along. Stay in touch with the body shop and unexpected visits will tell you a lot about their workmanship and progress. Don't be afraid to pull it out of the shop and go somewhere else if things drag on.
2. Never allow the body or repair shop the throw away your old parts
! Even if you plan on replacing them, having the old parts until you completely finish the project will save your bacon. Even the old wiring harness. You may not be able to find the parts in reproduction or used and in better shape than what you have. Save every clip, nut, bolt washer and screw. Be especially mindful of the bright trim work and emblems.
3. Before you begin a restoration take lots of photo's and from many angles, engine, wiring harness, trim, interior, under the car, drive train,etc. and take copious notes and draw diagrams. Trust me, you won't remember every detail a year or two later when you or they put things back together. If you take anything apart, take a photo and keep all the associated parts from that assembly in a bag and mark the bag.
4. Have a plan. Is this to be a concourse restoration, street machine, pro street, etc. A lot of this will be determined by the rareness of the car and how it's optioned and the condition it's in when you get it. Are you building it to drive or to show? Budget is often a driving factor and be prepared for things to cost 2-3 time more than you expect.
5. Ask a lot of questions. The forum is a great resource in finding a good body shop but be prepared to do your own research as well. There are two types of body shops. Those that specialize in insurance claims and just work on project cars when then can ( which usually cost less, but takes longer) and those who specialize in classic car restorations. It's still hit and miss, but see #1
recommendation for a better result.
6. If you are not a car person, or new to the game, I highly recommend you have someone you trust and knows cars to examine any project car you may be thinking of buying. A paint job can hide a lot of bad body work, rust and bondo. Buy as complete of a car as you can find and sometimes it's cheaper to just buy one that has been restored already. These old cars can be a lot of fun to build and own, but they can be a real money pit too!
7. Don't overlook or cheap out on the safety issues. A new gas tank, sending unit and gas lines are almost always required, but replace the brake lines, metal and especially rubber lines too if they are original or really old. Front bushings and ball joint's, tie rod ends, etc and be expected to be worn out. it doesn't matter how fast the car goes, the most important part of any car are the brakes and steering. If your build is not to original it's a good time to upgrade to disk brakes and dual master cylinder at a minimum.
Hopes this helps those just starting in our hobby and please help keep it alive for generations to come!