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Restore Your Own Classic Car - Planning Your Build

Dave Kite

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So you picked out your project car and you are ready to get to work but. . . . .before you break out the tools you need to have a plan. As a Restoration Technician I can tell you from experience that the hardest and often the most expensive restoration is the one without a plan. You don't have to plan every little detail but try to think ahead and cover all the major parts. Think sense-ably, After the body work and primer is laid down is not the time to decide you want to shave door handles. I am sure you have an overall idea of what you want the finished product to look like so now start to research your car and the options that are available. Page through some of the popular magazines for your model car and see what others are doing. Are those million dollar 20" diamond encrusted rims and those monster wide tires going to fit in the wheel wells or are you going to have to relocate the leaf springs, these are the things you have to think about.

How do you want the car to handle? lets face it the 50's ,60's and 70's cars were not corner carving miracles, they were more like over weight pigs! There are tons of options available today to make your car stick to the street but allot of these require modification to the car and the best time to do that is when you are in the metal repair stage. Put some thought into exactly what you want, items like roll cages, wheel tubs, air ride suspensions, and rack and pinion steering all require metal work to be done. Decide what motor you want to put in it because if that motor didn't come in that car you are going to have to fabricate or purchase different motor mounts.

Lets talk a little about some of the trick exterior modifications you can do. The after-market is endless for hot rod parts and with a little ingenuity you can fit almost any part in any car. There are shaved door handle kits that come with every thing you need, there are frenched lighting kits, LED tail light kits, Auto open trunk kits and the list goes on. while these type of things are more for looks they also will require metalwork to fill holes that were left behind and so on. You should also put some thought into the interior because some things like adding an after-market air conditioning unit may require cutting or drilling the fire wall. Different seats may require different mounting holes and you will want to weld up the old holes. These are small things and can be done at the end of the build but why weld around new paint if you don't have to?

Speaking of paint, it doesn't hurt to have an idea of the color you want to paint the car. Just remember that black will show all bodywork faults. You may want to go with metallic, pearls, or even color changers which may look way cool but they are harder to work with thus more expensive. I suggest you pick up a good paint gun and give it a shot yourself with a regular color. It may not sparkle as much as a metallic but it will be much more rewarding when your at the car show and someone asks where you got the paint job and you can say. . . . I did it! And yes. . . . when the time comes I will cover paint and give you some neat tips and tricks for that also.

Now is the time to look for a service manual for your make and model car, you will need it. I am not talking about todays Chilton or Haynes but a real manual that they used during the original assembly. Here are a few good resources for manuals - EBay,,, and one I use allot -

Well, now you should have a basic idea of what you need to think about so get some paper and a pen and make your list. The next article will start to cover the dirty part, the disassembly. I will be giving you some inside tricks that restoration experts use to keep track of all those parts and pieces.

Dave Kite - Restoration Specialist
20 plus years of auto repair and restoration experience.
Show and museum quality cars to daily drivers.
Owner of DWK Auto Restoration and Classic Auto Photography


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