Nothing’s wrong with having a brand new car. All the bells and whistles certainly make for some comfortable driving experiences, and what’s more is they are incredibly safe, in fact much safer than older cars. Sometimes, however, you get an itch to restore a car back to former glory. It suddenly becomes your life’s mission to transform a rust bucket disintegrating in the backyard into a work of art.
If you’re new to this world of car restoration, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind to make it as enjoyable as possible. No matter what car you pick, there will be some complications and it could cost more than you expected. However, if you keep your wits about you, do as much of the work by yourself as possible you can save a lot of money and not break the bank, because the sad truth of car restoration is you generally won’t see much of that money again.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to find parts, and that includes everything from wheels to a wiring harness, so look at production numbers and you can see what the odds are of you being able to find parts. There are also lots of places you can check out that could have parts you’re looking for.
We need to get this one out of the way, because despite all of the negativity it receives, it is simply one of the best cars to restore. Every generation can be restored because parts are everywhere, and some platforms lasted for a long time. The SN95 chassis was used from 1994-2004, and yes that does mean you can swap the differential and suspension in a ’95 GT with the independent rear suspension of a 99-04 Cobra. Because there’s such a big aftermarket presence in the world of Mustangs, these cars are extraordinarily versatile.
Rust isn’t even a big problem with older models, such as ones from 1965-1970s, because you can’t walk more than 50 feet outside your own house without stumbling over a Mustang shop that specializes in restoration. Support for this car and all of its various platforms is abundant, pretty much no matter where you go.
There are a few cars out there that, when you put money into them, you’re almost guaranteed to get some of it back, depending on how much you spend of course. The Toyota Supra Mk4 Turbo is one of those cars. They aren’t terribly difficult to find, but in good running condition can go for $40,000 or so, which is a lot considering it’s from the mid-late 1990s.
The demand for Supras in the tuning community won’t run dry any time soon. You could find one in horrific condition, bring it back to life, and possibly get at least some of your money back.
Like the Supra, the Porsche 911 is another one of those cars you can restore and almost guarantee getting some money back. Porsches are known to hold their value pretty well. Older Porsches are beautiful machines that many collectors chase down, so if you restore one and decide you want to camp for greener pastures you can throw your restored 911 on the market and It’ll be picked up.
It’s important to know where the car was recently stored and where it lived most of its life before you buy it. If the car was stored near the beach, outside, year round without a cover then 90-percent of the car is probably rust at this point, which can be tough to deal with and especially restore. If the car was garaged all of its life and stopped running for whatever reason, then it’s a much safer bet.
There’s a reason you keep seeing old American cars on the road, and that’s because they are durable, reliable cars. Parts are everywhere, there’s loads of clubs and support for almost all mass produced models. Chevys and Fords could be your best bet for finding a car to restore. They are more common and cheaper than Mopars, or Chrysler cars like Dodge and Plymouth. Firebirds, Camaros, Mustangs, and Chevelles among others are a dime a dozen, and seem to dominate most classic car shows.
You could hold out for a Plymouth Barracuda but chances are it’s going to be super expensive for even one in poor condition. For a first project, it’s best to stay with the common, easily-sourced classics. Also it’ll be easier to find engines and things like suspension and wheels.
Before Nissan, there was Datsun. From a performance per dollar perspective these are some of the best cars you can restore. They are small and light, and are also fairly common. They came with 2.4-liter inline-six engines that had a relatively high compression ratio of 9.0:1, an overhead camshaft and produced 150 horsepower at 5600 RPM, a maximum engine speed of 7,000.
You’ve probably heard of them, the 240z, 260z, 280zx, etc. These are the cars we’re talking about, when we mention the classic Datsun. They’re incredibly simple, almost as simple as a car can be.
Basically, any car you can get a great deal on and restore for a minimal amount of money is a good car to restore. Restoring a car requires a lot of attention to detail, as well as strict budgeting of both time and money. The fact of the matter is, you don’t really know what could happen while restoring a car, so make sure you plan for a number of months, or years if it takes that long, taking up a significant portion of the garage. Once it’s all over, though, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment like no other.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.