HomeCar CultureCommentaryHow to Choose a Classic Car for Restoration

How to Choose a Classic Car for Restoration

Another piece of sage advice: don't get sucked into "Basket Case" vehicles.


These types of vehicles fall into several categories. The first is a vehicle that does not run and needs absolutely everything replaced to get to the final product. Next, is the vehicle that comes in many boxes.

Usually these are projects that others have given up on. Missing parts is the biggest concern here, not to mention trying to figure out where all the pieces of the puzzle go. Leave these projects to the die-hard restorer. Most professional restoration shops won’t take these types of projects on and the ones that do, want a blank check when you drop off the parts.

Another good thing to keep in mind about “Basket Case” type restorations is that they eat up a lot of time and cash! The fun is in doing the restoration work, not in chasing after a ton of parts or going broke. Therefore, you should look for solid, complete vehicles when choosing. The more you start with the less you have to buy new or hunt down.

The first question should be: “Is the vehicle in driveable condition?” This is a very important point for the first-time restorer. Unless you have a lot of space to store a vehicle during the entire process, look only for driveable candidates. Even if you have the space, you should consider only driveable vehicles for your first restoration. The reason we suggest this for the first-timer, is that an inoperative project sitting in your garage will become very unpopular in a short amount to time. A vehicle that you can drive and restore at the same time will be much more satisfying. Believe it or not, it is very common to lose interest in a classic car restoration project. This happens when an individual takes on too big a project for their time and/or pocketbook. So it’s best to save the frame-off projects until you build some experience.

Do your research!

Once a choice has been made, the education process begins. This is where you will need to “do your homework”, because that’s really what you’ll be doing once you decide on your area of interest. As an example, let’s say your area of interest is 1955-57 Chevrolet cars. The next step will be to learn all you can about these vehicles. You will want to find out about the history, factory production totals and aftermarket parts that are available for your selection. Good sources for this type of information are bookstores, car clubs, special interest magazines and of course, the ever growing Internet.

The research process includes requesting parts catalogs from vendors dealing in parts for the vehicle you are considering. Educating yourself about the cost of parts is a good idea before you actually make a purchase. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to tell whether a vehicle is in your budget and if there are adequate parts available to complete your restoration.

This information also helps a great deal when looking to buy. You will be able to better judge a vehicle’s condition by knowing which parts are missing and the cost of replacing those parts. If you see a missing part and you know its not available in reproduction, it could be a deal breaker or a bargaining chip. You can then use this information to leverage the seller into adjusting his or her price. Information is powerful, so do your homework, and save.



  1. I agree that starting a restoration begins by choosing a vehicle that fits your interest. You also said that sometimes these vehicles have been in the family or picked up in the name of a “good deal”. I think it’s important to have a large, covered space so that you have plenty of room to work on your car out of the sun.

  2. I like the tip you gave to make sure that a car is in great working condition before you decide to buy it. My dad and I have been saving up for a muscle car for a while now, and we want to make sure that we buy the right one. I will be sure to let my dad know that we need to check if the car that we are looking to buy is in great working condition, so we will be able to drive it around without repairs.


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