You've found and bought your restoration project, it's in the garage and you are itching to get cracking. Enthusiasm abounds and you just want to get stuck in. A long weekend and you will have most of it apart. In three months you will be driving your dream on the open road. Unfortunately it doesn't always work out like that. Three months turns into three years and the remove parts and the chuck in a box approach to the strip down now has you confused about what goes where. Worse, there's a growing pile of parts you don't recognise.
We've all done it, not necessarily with restoration projects, even repairs and modifications that take a long time can cause similar chaos.
So let's back up to just before you brought your project vehicle home and do some planning and organising. A full restore requires a lot of space, up to three times the size of the assembled vehicle, depending on how much of the original vehicle will be restored or reused. For a car, interior trim takes up a lot of space and needs to be stored in a dry location to prevent the trim rotting. Body panels that are to be reused need to be stored where they won't be damaged and new panels need to be dry to prevent rusting.
If possible invest in good quality racking for your garage or workshop. The amount of racking required depends on the vehicle and number of parts you will keep either for restoration or re-fitting, but being able to store parts in an orderly fashion will help you as the part you need is always in the bottom box.
Next you need something to store the parts in. For small parts you can use plastic lined paper bags (paper, so you can write on the outside), or plastic food bags and a roll of labels. The parts bags then go in a larger container. The size of the container depends on the storage space available, but could be stackable plastic containers, cardboard boxes or archive boxes, which have the advantage of a lid. It's worth having a think at this point how you will group the parts in these containers or boxes finding them easily in the future depends on coming up with a reasonably straightforward and logical storage plan now.
The parts bags and boxes will need to be labelled, again so that you can identify the part later in the project without too much head scratching.
The workshop manual should have a detailed diagram of the wiring loom, including the colour scheme. If you are in any doubt you can use tie on tags, available from office supply companies, to identify what should plug into the loom at what points. This is a useful technique if the wiring diagram isn't clear even if you are planning to replace the loom as you can transfer the tags from the old loom to the new loom.
If you are keeping the interior trim get hold of good quality plastic bags, large enough to seal the trim in, packing tape is ideal for sealing and joining bags together for large items such as the seats.
Work out how you are going to catalogue the parts and the digital photographs you will take during the strip down. This is probably the most crucial step, as there is no point having parts nicely labelled and stored and hundreds if not thousands of digital photographs if you can't work out what any of them are. Some sort of cross reference between the photograph and part is desirable although labour intensive if carried out manually.
With the garage organised and armed with a digital camera you can start stripping your vehicle. Take pictures of the part in place, mounting points and any aspect of the removal that is tricky or could be forgotten - for example having a part that could be replaced a part upside down, and then only being able to discover this when more of the car is assembled, causing delays as a section of the car is dismantled in order to rectify the problem. Check the photographs are OK before taking the part off; photographic software allows you to zoom into the photographs to see the detail, but if the photograph is blurred or out of focus you won't be take advantage of this.
Organising your restoration project before and during the strip down phase takes time and commitment, but the time invested will benefit the project during the restoration and assembly phases and may retain your sanity as you complete the engineering jigsaw you have created. In addition you will have a detailed record of the restoration of your dream vehicle and not too many bits left over.
Nigel West has taken apart numerous cars for racing, rallying and the road and even managed to get some back together. Fed up with forgetting how things go back together he used 20 years of software development experience to create Restoration Manager, a simple yet effective piece of software designed to manage the parts, photographs and notes that a vehicle strip down produces.