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Vehicle Restoration

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Introduction To Vehicle Restoration

I’ve been involved in vehicle restoration for the past 50 years. I started at age 19; do the math if you wish. 

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Men and women love restoring cars for any number of reasons.  For most, it brings back memories of the old cars we patched up in high school. In high school, if you had a car that ran, you were the big man on campus, as the expression goes.

My first car was a Chevrolet Impala. I found an ad that said “1965 Chevrolet for sale $100.” I went to the address and found a canary-yellow Chevrolet Impala Super Sport with a black leather interior. I paid the family and drove away. I had no idea that it would be highly collectible decades later. I drove it for the summer and traded it for a Chevrolet Pickup truck. That was my introduction to collecting vehicles. As many car buffs lament decades later, “I sure wish I had that car now – it’s worth a fortune!”

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One of the first things your customers should do is take a self-assessment and see if collecting and restoring vehicles is right for them. They’ll need to consider their skill level, tools and the equipment needed, and determine if they have the finances needed for parts and paint.

After that, they need to find a place to do it. The shop or garage they choose may need to be a long-term commitment. Once they’ve decided to take on a restoration, they’ll start shopping for a vehicle (if they don’t already have one that’s ready to start on).  There are many repair shops and retired mechanics that provide vehicle-evaluation services for a modest fee. They can be found in the classified sections of vintage-car magazines and on the internet. It’s important to ask the vehicle evaluator where they got their experience and if they’re certified for such work.

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As far as vehicle makes go, it’s easiest to find parts and other resources for General Motors vehicles. After that, in my experience, it goes Ford, Chrysler and International, as far as ease of restoration projects. 

One method of restoring and collecting vehicles is to find one that’s in great shape paint- and body-wise and doing the mechanical restoration. I came by a nice 1997 Chevrolet C10 pickup about 14 years ago and restored the mechanical part of the project. In today’s market, the 1997-era trucks are just starting to become collectible.

Here’s a picture of it. As you can see, the body and paint are in great shape. In restoration, the body and paint are the most time-consuming and costly aspects of the project. 

As you can see in the image, below the truck is a small drive-over hoist. This makes the entire restoration a lot more fun. I got tired of using a floor jack and stands all the time. These drive-over hoists are inexpensive, and there’s no installation needed like a hoist with posts. I shopped the hoist companies over the internet and found that some of them sell freight- and warehouse-damaged units at a deep discount. They generally have cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect the operation of the unit. Also, they make a great storage fixture when the project is done.   

Storing your project in the air takes all the weight off the suspension and tires. I’ve driven vehicles that were stored for long periods of time on the ground and it puts flat spots in the tires and collapses the springs just from the sheer weight of the vehicle (and they don’t ride well).

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A smart way to restore and collect vehicles is to get them just as interest is beginning to build and let them incubate. This vehicle has tripled in value in the past 10 years. 

Hemmings Motor News has a wealth of information about collection trends, collectible vehicles for sale and service providers for restoring all makes and models. Another great resource for restorers is car clubs. Those guys have been restoring for decades and usually know where to get what you need. They also have meets where you can make new friends who are interested in restoring vehicles like yours. 

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Another great place to get parts and guidance for your project is NAPA Auto Parts (my employer). In my four decades as a technician, NAPA was the place to call when you needed parts for older American cars. After I retired from being a mechanic, I applied at NAPA, and I was shocked at how quickly I got hired on there. I figured it out later when I noticed how many customers came in for technical advice as well as quality parts.  

All things considered, restoring a classic (or soon-to-be) vehicle is fun and rewarding for the entire family. The kids want to help, and the wife likes the outings with me. Oh, and the dog is a fixture in the back of the truck.

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