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Once you have made up your mind which type of car you are going to restore, the next step, before you even think of buying, is to do your homework. You cannot know too much about the make and model of your dreams. The relevant owners’ club will be an important source of information, and most of the classic car magazines run articles on specific models and will supply the appropriate back numbers. From all these you can find out which are the more collectable versions, what sort of price you are likely 10 have to pay, the cost of commonly needed spares, the weaknesses of particular models and especially the sections that are most prone to rust.
Try to get hold of a workshop manual. Haynes publish a wide range of manuals covering many models, but if you have chosen a very old car it’s possible that the book you need will be out of print. In which case, look out for a copy at the many autojumbles that take place or check your local library.
The general advice is that you should never buy the first car that you go to see. This is based on the premise that the more you see the more you will learn about the model, and you will get a feel for values. Of course, you will have to decide whether you are going for a complete re-build or just a partial one and adjust your purchase price accordingly.
Check out Before Buying
When you have actually made up your mind to buy, assure yourself that the seller is the actual owner of the car. The Registration Document, V5, should indicate this provided that the seller has not assumed the identity and address given in it! If you buy from someone who is not the owner you stand to lose both the car and the cash, so check also whether there is an outstanding hire purchase agreement on it. In the UK, a call to HPI or other such organisation, will give you this information as well as whether it has ever been stolen or repossessed. When paying, cash or a Banker’s Draft are the easiest ways for both parties, and will mean that you can take instant possession of the car rather than waiting for a cheque to be cleared.
Will it be worth doing? As already mentioned, you are unlikely to cover your total expenditure if you sell the car on completion of the restoration, but to offset that is the satisfaction that restoring a car brings, the fun per hour and the knowledge that the gleaming, efficient machine which has been brought back to life is the result of your own efforts. Only you can tell whether it is worth it, but there are not many of us who do not go on to another restoration project.
Spares and Repair Services
Depending on the age of your car, you may still be able to obtain spares (though they could be limited) from the local dealer, and it is worthwhile making friends with whoever staffs the parts counter as they will have access to the manufacturer’s spares network and be able to look up part numbers for you on their microfiche or computer systems. If it is too old for the dealer network to carry stocks there are two other sources open to you, the factors and the owners club. Factors sell mainly to the repair trade, but they will also do business with individual customers and they carry a very wide range of spares, often going back many years. As they also sell tools and equipment they are worthwhile getting to know. The owners’ club’s list of spares may be restricted to otherwise unobtainable wearing parts or panels. As they are usually made in batches you may have to wait for the next lot to be made, but enterprising clubs will have bought up stock from sources that have closed down or off-loaded slow-moving items. There are also specialist suppliers who are often professional restorers themselves and who have had batches of items made up for their own use but are happy to sell them on. They advertise in the motoring magazines and have good relations with the respective clubs.
You will realise that the cost of spares is usually related to the original purchase price of the car when new, so Ford or Fiat spares are going to be a lot cheaper than Mercedes or Rolls-Royce items. However, even making allowances for this there can be unpleasant surprises as the cost of one particular component may be out of all proportion.
Remember that not every part of your car is specific to it – some parts are common to other vehicles. Wherever possible manufacturers use existing common parts to save expense, and components ‘bought in’, such as electrical equipment, carburettor or fuel systems and instruments, are probably used quite widely by other manufacturers. Again, the clubs are likely to know this, as will the fuel and electric specialists, and it means that availability is improved because so many units were made.
It is also not generally realised that things such as belts, bushes and bearings are unlikely to be specific to your car or its manufacturer and that your local bearing supplier may be able to provide all that you require in this respect, often at a considerable saving in cost over specially sourced components. In fact, once you start asking around it is amazing what you can find and how relatively little is special to your car in the way of wearing parts.
In addition to this you will find that there are specialist services that can do almost anything you require, from making parts that are otherwise unobtainable to complete engine and gearbox rebuilds. There are back axle specialists and, of course, metal polishers, instrument rebuilders, radio repairers who can rebuild your classic radio to incorporate FM and CD input and firms that will make windscreens to any shape or curvature. In fact almost anything you may want is available from someone, provided you can pay for it.
The illustration shows a 1933 singer Sports Nine rebuilt by the author some 30 years ago. It was bought as a collection of bits and was not complete, although the collection contained seven carburettors (not all the right ones), some spare dodgy wheels, and so on.