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Grace
Hagerty Employee

The 13 stages of resurrecting a vintage car

So, you finally bought the car of your dreams. The only thing is, it’s dead. It had to be. It was the only way you could afford it.

 

Welcome to my world. You and I are going to get along just fine.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com: 

https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-13-stages-of-resurrecting-a-vintage-car/

 

40 REPLIES 40
drm101
Intermediate Driver

Like there's only 13. Hah! No but seriously, very good article. After paint/new interior/motor rebuild, and converting to 4 speed from auto, I just went around the block for the second time with our '63 Nova, then set timing, idle speed and mixture. The first time around I didn't have the 4 speed linkage adjusted right and it wouldn't go into 3rd gear. This time it backfired after I jumped on it, so I think I have an exhaust leak. Need to fix that.

cestor01
Intermediate Driver

I agree, great article, but only 13? I am all the way to the bottom of this list, and still have at least 3 things on my list to do.

Historian
Detailer

Whilst in the middle of rebuilding my Corvette, I participated in a police auction just last week, and bought my wife a 2007 Toyota Avalon, and bought myself a 96 Chevy Silverado truck.  The auction lists vehicles by the reason they ended up in the impound yard, such as Stolen, Abandoned, Arrest and "Other".  Both of my wins were "Other".  What is "Other"?    Cars may or may not have keys, and really, you don't really know much about what you are buying, so it is a gamble.  The Toyota was the most expensive, but turned out to be the best condition.  It did come with its own collection of bullet holes and a master chipped key.  And, cleaning it out at home revealed that the previous owner was a real peach of a criminal female who kept all sorts of bizarre items in the car, including her sex toys.  I even found an expensive gold watch in the car!  It needs a new set of tires.  Since my wife's birthday is coming soon, I also ordered her a new set of wheels for it.  The only parts it really needed was a wiper washer pump/reservoir, and a pair of hood struts.  Oh, and a $125 chipped spare key from the dealer.

 

The truck is more of a project.  It didn't have a key. and the wheels are locked in a right turn because of the steering wheel lock.  So, when the tow driver unloaded it from the flat-bed, he had to constantly pull it sideways to keep it from rolling off the side of his flat-bed.  Then, as it came off the truck, we discovered that the transmission wasn't holding in Park, and it rolled backward into my driveway gate, damaging that badly.  Before I can really assess what all it is going to need, I have to drill out the old ignition cylinder and install a new one with a new key.  But, it is a Chevy truck, and they are almost always worth rebuilding.  Considering what I paid for it, I am not too worried about what it will cost to restore.  I am a glutton for punishment.

audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

I'd say it was most fortunate that it was you who found the "toys". 

Now; the watch... 

DavidHolzman
Detailer

The brakes can be seized in a minor, but still important way, that you don't necessarily notice right away. In 1985, I bought a '77 Corolla with 90k on the clock, for $450 ($1,075 inflation-adjusted), the first car I ever bought. It had been driven occasionally for the two years before I bought it. I even had a mechanic go over it before I paid for it. I don't remember what prompted me to feel the wheels, beginning after I'd had it for at least a few days, maybe a week, but they would be hot to the touch after driving. The brakes weren't fully releasing. The brake job cost me more than the car.

Patrician
Intermediate Driver

That BMW is a parts car!

F360Spider
Detailer

Back when I was in my 20's, I purchased a basket case Triumph Spitfire that had a tree growing through the floorboards. Cost me $50 for the car and thousands to restore it to near perfect. If the project is what you're after, then a basket case might be fun. When I finally sold the car after 5 years of ownership, I got less for it than a reasonable original condition Spitfire. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours wasted in the end.

 

The reality is that if you can only afford a basket case, then you're making a huge mistake. Buy the best possible car you can afford and one that is original and in running shape. An original car, in good condition will be far easier to sell when the time comes and far easier to keep running than something that's been butchered by you and the previous 50 owners.

jrmedsel
Pit Crew

Or another solution is to simply NOT sell the car when you're done.  Keep it and enjoy it!

About a dozen years ago I bought a 68 International pickup, non running for $400.  I went through about 15 of Rob's 13 steps to resurrect it, enjoyed rebuilding this and repairing that.  Got it to the point where I could drive from Portland to San Francisco in a day (a looong day at 50 mph max), then moved on to repairing the typical IHC cowl rust with the help of a friend, then paint, new seat upholstery.  When the engine and transmission got tired, they were rebuilt  - but I couldn't tell you what that cost??

Now it's the best looking work truck I've ever owned, with every mechanical system rebuilt. I don't think I'll ever sell it.

In my mind it's still a $400 truck, the best deal I've ever come upon....

F360Spider
Detailer

@jrmedselExcellent! I didn't really learn my lesson from the Spitfire. Went on to buy a basketcase 911 and got really lucky that the dealer who sold it had no idea how to troubleshoot a Bosch mechanical fuel injection (K-Jetronic) which I took apart, figured out and fixed. Had that one for 15 years and continuously upgraded it. Sold it to a guy who hunted me down and made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

 

My latest car is a gated Ferrari 360 Spider that I bought completely original and in near perfect shape. This car is a real joy to work on as it's the first car I've ever owned that was hand built and made to be taken apart.

 

F360_engine.jpg

Rick2
Detailer

I bought a Fiat X/19 years ago that the owner thought the transmission was going out. It was hard to find a gear. The shifter went back to the transmission with a glued rubber disk connecting to the next metal shaft that moved the gears. Two pop rivets and I was in business.

jrmedsel
Pit Crew

@F360SpiderMy daily driver is a Mercedes 300SEL (w109) with Bosch k-jetronic.  If you were able to trouble shoot that (and work on a Ferrari), you put my meager mechanical skills to shame!  Give me a carburetor and A-arm suspension from a 50s American car any day.  But when the fuel injection or air suspension on the Mercedes need work, I'm forced to take it in for repairs and write a fairly good-sized check.

By the way, that engine in your Ferrari is a work of art!

RickB
Pit Crew

I, like many others underestimate the true cost and time it takes to restore a car from junk to a nice driver, let alone a trophy winning beauty.  We seem to forget the need for (1) the knowledge of how to restore a car, (2) the cost of tools, (3) the time it takes to do a ground up resto, and countless other expenses that were un-accounted for.  How many times have you watched a Mecum or Barret Jackson auction on TV and after the hammer dropped heard the announcer say "you couldn't have built it for twice what this car sold for".  Fram Filters had a great commercial, stating "You can pay me now or pay me later".  Do yourself a favor and save your pennies until you can afford to buy the car you want, ready to drive and enjoy.  Believe me when I say "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" 

TC
New Driver

I like the ratty BMW.  Looks like the garbage I buy and fix up. 

Honolulu
Pit Crew

I only WISH I could find a BMW 2002 that "ratty" for any price (and I've had 15 of them).  They just aren't around any more.  The ratty ones long ago dissolved; the cream puffs are available at $14,000-plus.  I live in a small automotive market, time to move on... to the '90 325i, '02 325xi, '94 525i, the 'E30 318is 'vert I hesitated too long about... 

elldorado2000
Intermediate Driver

I bought a 74 Pontiac Grand Am, that "ran and drove".  It ran for about a mile to the place I ultimately had to have it towed and eventually trailered home.  But I digress.  It's a solid car that came with a typical Grand Am problem of that era.  No nose piece.  The famous endure nose had rotted away.  While the car was solid, the little things just kept on coming.  Bent power steering pulley, bad water pump, rotted tires, bad alternator, stuck float, wore through plug wires.  I have had it a year and am just getting comfortable driving it a couple miles.  https://youtu.be/0wp-GCkXY74

MarveH
Intermediate Driver

I know your article was talking about non-running basket cases but I have a point to make so I'm going to stray from that framework (like a typical opinionated curmudgeon).

If you buy a car that runs and drives resist the temptation to pull it apart. I've seen many projects die because people pulled a running car to bits to "prep it for paint" then years later sell it as a project with boxes of parts in the trunk.

If it runs; make it safe, functional, and legal and enjoy it ugly for a while. Then when you have the time, the money in the bank, and the the appointment with the paint shop, prep it for paint. 

It's much easier to lose enthusiasm for a car that's a garage obstruction and a shelf hog then one you can use and enjoy.

Unsafeatmyspeed
Passenger

Money and profit for resale aside, saving a car from the bone yard and having fun with whatever you find are the more important goals.  I have owned 128 cars over the last 36 years and have not always profited financially in my buying and selling although I am a net positive.  I have, however, enjoyed the adventure and the experiences with all of them in one way or another.  I have memories that involve breaking down, excitement in seeing a barn find come back to life and go on to live with its next owner and just about anything in between.  What is the fun in always expecting perfection?  I was always told by my grandmother that if there was no color in the world, if the weather was always the same, if we never experienced adversity, we would not know what it means to dream, strive for better or look forward to what the next day has to offer.  With my cars, the pretty ones, the not so pretty ones, I have loved them all and people who know me look forward to what I will drive in with next.  That is part of their excitement and I am happy to provide that. 

BudOsbourne
New Driver

Interesting article and a good outline of one man's way of getting it done.  All good stuff, but I take a slightly different approach.

After making sure the engine is serviceable, I'll replace all coolant hoses, v-belts, thermostat and water pump.  Then, I replace all flexible fuel hoses with "high pressure fuel injection hose.  It's not expensive and it's resistant to ethanol.

Then, I move on to the braking system.  I replace all flexible hoses, as well as any significantly pitted hard lines, then wheel cylinders and brake lining material, if it's significantly worn, or contaminated with brake fluid or oil (if it's oil, the source of that will have to be determined and corrected).  Although the German hydraulic stuff seems to hold-up longer than the hydraulics in the Brit cars I've been working with for the past 50+ years, if the car has been sitting for a long time I will replace the master cylinder.  Better safe than sorry.

Next will be the electrical system.  The older Bosch stuff is pretty good, but the newer Bosch stuff...........not so much.  I've learned that Lucas electrical components are really quite good, if given just a little bit of care (which generally has NEVER happened since the cars were new), such as keeping grounds, battery terminals and other electrical connections clean and tight.  It's important to understand that these cars are NOT idiot-proof.  But, the reality of it is that they are really very well-built, well engineered cars (at least the BMC products and all of the German cars) for the price and, if you are having problems with them it is because you, your mechanic and/or a previous owner (or all of the above) were/are IDIOTS.  So, more often than not (especially with the cars which started out at a much lower sticker price), these cars have been in the hands of complete idiots for the past 40 or 50 years and you've got a lot of sorting and un-doing to get done before you will once again have a reliable driver.

One other thing, before I sign off:  The suspension.  It's been my experience that the majority of classic Brit car (and a lot of German stuff, too) is running around on worn-out suspension components.  Shocks, bushings, king pins/ball joints, etc. are so often completely neglected and seriously worn.  Since nimble, safe handling is what most of these cars were celebrated for, when new, it amazes me that so many of today's owners are willing to accept a chassis that wanders all over the road and requires constant steering input to keep it going in a straight line.  Most of today's classic car owners seem to drive at a more stately pace, so handling characteristics are lost on them.  But, sheesh!  At least the car should track straight and not be thrown off course by surface irregularities.  So, give that suspension some love, too. 

HASCpres2019
Intermediate Driver

I bought my '25 Buick coupe through an estate sale. It had been restored in the '70's, then squirreled away in a basement garage.The last gas was added in 1992 to make a brief appearance at a wedding. The spark plugs and wires had been removed when I bought it.

A complete cleaning of the fuel system was the first order of business. Getting an old vacuum tank (precursor of the fuel pump) to work is a tricky piece of business. After changing all fluids and installing plugs and wires,we were ready to start it. Nope. Not even a cough. The engine looks much like a stovebolt Chevy and I assumed the firing order would be the same too,153624. Nope.After everything else fails,read the manual. Turns out it's 142635. After a quick rearranging of the plug wires,it fired right up.

Time for a test drive. Put it in low gear,Let out the clutch.Stall. Repeat.Same result. Read manual. The '25 Buick has a reverse pattern shift . Third gear is where first should be. It drives ! Remember to double clutch.Remember to advance the spark. Remember that you have mechanical brakes.

The joy of resurrecting a 97 year old piece of history ? Priceless !

 

phog
Pit Crew

Lazy, fluff article; any of us could dictate a better one in five minutes.

audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

It's now 12:24 PM... GO! 

Bruceski44
Passenger

I replaced all the fluids in my non-running new to me 63 T-Bird, then replaced all spark plugs, wires, distributor cap, battery and fuel filter. All while wearing a hip to ankle plaster cat on my left leg due to knee injury. Then I added some fuel and started it up. It ran, although it smoked like crazy, and did not overheat. That's when I discovered an important step which seems to be missing from the article: CHECK THE BRAKES. I put the car in reverse and nothing happened. I gunned the engine a little and it started rolling backwards. Hitting the brakes had no effect. The only thing that stopped it was my 66 El Camino conveniently parked right behind it. If not for that, the T-Bird would have run into other cars and carports and what not  before it stopped. That T-Bird left the prettiest circular dent on my El Camino, perfectly matching its large round taillight trim and bumper.

qualicas
Pit Crew

Within our local BMW club I am known as they guy who brings them back from certain death. 95 318is, 97 328is, 97 M3 sedan, 99 M3 convertible, 97 318is, 02 325i, 04 330ix, 02 M3,  04 M3,  2013 528ix. Sold some of them and have others as well.  Brought a few other brands back as well.

dartvader
Pit Crew

Just got my 69 Dodge Dart up and running after 5 years of sitting outside. Fixed a couple of electrical glitches, New battery, changed the oil and antifreeze, put in fresh gas and it actually ran pretty good on it's own. Tried it back and forth in the driveway and transmission and brakes were doing good. Now to take it on the road. Renewed the registration and away I went. The engine is a 440 big block so I had to hit the highway. Plenty of power and torque. I was having a little too much fun. On the way home the temp gauge started to rise rather quickly. Good thing I was close to home. My son and I pushed it back in the driveway. I popped the hood and it threw the fan belt. No fan and no water pump makes it get hot very quickly. On my way to get another belt.

SteveNL
Intermediate Driver

I don't know......I used to believe that the best way to obtain the car of my dreams was to buy a basket case and to rebuild it.  I also believed that my sweat equity would deliver a great car for less.  But time after time, I have proven myself wrong. 

 

That is especially true with German cars.  I currently own an '87 325is and an '88 Mercedes 300CE that were purchased needing restoration.  Both were straight, rust free cars with basically good (but leaking and neglected ) engines.  Both had drive lines that were good, but needing service.  Both were neglected, but not abused.  Yet, by the time I had invested 100 to 200 hours of labor, my parts costs escalated the total price way above what I could have purchased a better quality car for.  I now have about $30K in my beautiful 325is and $25K in my 300CE.  I could buy cars that are almost as nice for far less.

 

Granted, my cars are fully reconditioned and I have paid attention to all of the details.  That means new suspension, brakes, leather interiors and repaint.  It means that every rubber or plastic part that I removed was also replaced (when available).  I also have an intimate knowledge of my cars that only comes with tearing them apart and putting them back together again.  However, it's not a good way to save money on the car of your dreams.

qualicas
Pit Crew

Had you bought a nicer car it would have almost certainly just had paint polished and corrected. Interior detailed, oil changed and leaks fixed. Then you would have had to do all the work anyway. I buy cheapest rust free car I can get and know everything has been neglected so I know everything needs fixing. Might as well start from a lower base price.

SteveNL
Intermediate Driver

@qualicas  makes an interesting point that if you buy the better car, you end up doing much of the restoration anyway.  I kind of agree.  But it's important to note, that good paint on an old car saves you about $10K in restoration cost.  That's what a repaint costs today.  You can do a garage job, but it will never be the same as a repaint done in a paint booth.  I've repainted a number of cars in my garage.  Orange peel and bugs in the clear coat are signature characteristics of my paint work.  If the leather interior on a BMW or Mercedes is still in good shape, that will safe you between $3K and $6K for rebuilt leather seats.  But qualicas is correct that most 30 year old cars normally need a lot of work.  All of the rubber bushings in the suspension on my 300CE were shot.  Most rubber bushings on a 30 year old Mercedes will probably be past their prime. 

 

Parts for Mercedes Benz are incredibly expensive.  I reduced my costs by avoiding Mercedes parts in favor of OEM suppliers to the greatest extent possible.  Bosch, Bilstien, Febi, Lemfoerder, Meyle all make Mercedes parts for about half the price of Mercedes.  But the costs still add up.  It's possible that Mercedes aficionados may reject a car that hasn't been restored with genuine MB parts, when it's time to sell.  But a beautiful MB 300CE just sold for a little over $6K on Bring A Trailer last week.  So, it that's the going price, I wouldn't be selling my car anytime soon.  It's a great driving car, anyway.  So, I have no desire to sell it.

Balocco
Pit Crew

I just looked at a $3500 Porsche 944 in good running condition with a bit of rust and cracked dash.  In this case I can just drive it and not worry about a major reconditioning.  I’d say look for good bargains and be flexible on which car you buy.  If you have your heart set on owning a specific car model/year etc be disciplined and don’t let emotion get in the way of good decision making.   My 2cents.  

Balocco
Pit Crew

My ‘74 Spitfire has been a longer term project that has been mostly fun and reasonably affordable for a novice. Easy to find parts and very fun to drive; a road legal go cart.  It’s very rewarding to see the progress and even more fun to drive.  Next up is replacing the leaky pinion seal on the diff.  

highmiles
Pit Crew

That is a good list, if only it was always linear!  Plenty of times along the way you get to circle back, sometime way back, as some of the old components that are working just fine decide to change their mind!  

RickL
Intermediate Driver

I bought a MB 560SL for "cheap" from my wife's boss. He had purchased at an auction and had the car for several years but rarely drove. He was not a "car" guy, so repairs done by others, meaning $$$$. I have had it for almost 5 years and have been working on it, learning about it, replacing parts, and most importantly "DRIVING" it. Sure there are days I ask why am I doing this. But when the top is down and just cruising along I do remember why. Not sure I could take something from that point and resurrect but maybe I could. Invaluable is researching how to do things from other enthusiasts. I have found ways to do things that I would have just stared at and said "Huh"? Anyhow, fun with cars, it IS a way of life!!!! ENJOY.

man-mark-7
Pit Crew

Very intuitive steps. Well done.

I tend not to factor resale value into a car purchase too much. Sure, I don't want to be under water 10's of thousands if/when I resell, but I do it for the fun of the resurrection. I always try to buy a car that can be driven while being "improved". Weekend replacement of the brake booster / master cylinder for a leaky master cylinder and an upgrade to a Tii booster on the way to installing DCOE side drafts. A few days to replace all the springs and shocks. Rebuilt 3.91 LSD to replace the leaking 3.64 one-legger. Drive around with no door panels for a week or two while replacing the door cards. These are all things I can do while still keeping the car on the road intermittently. Paint has never been high on my priority list. I once did a complete frame-off for a '70 TR6, fully restored the frame, then dropped the unpainted body back on it.  For me, and I'm sure many others, it's about bringing the car back to the driveability it had when it was new, or perhaps even improving on it a bit! 

chrlsful
Instructor

Of all 13 I wrk on the last 5 with every daily driver. "Have I ever hada car w/the last?"  Well, sure, its has been the Italians from the '50s and 60s but I get "the Joy to Drive" from just sittin in them in the garage !  8^ )   X   8^0

4 me it's abt understanding every minute detail, problem solving, persevering & the beauty of the sculpture B4 me.  When done just movement is over the top. Comfort anda Inspection Sticker (Commonwealth of MA) are just pluses. "We don't need no stinkin..."

70Mopar
Passenger

I am at the Comfortable stage.  I just got the gas smells fixed.  Getting the ac fixed...again.  And a spring stuck to me when I left the car....sigh  But seat material on order and it will be a different car after that.  

Zephyr
Advanced Driver

SteveNL is right - if you restore a car you will end up spending way more than it would have cost you to buy a restored car. The only reason to restore a car yourself is if you happen to enjoy working on cars. In 40 years of working as an auto damage appraiser I only met one person who actually made a profit flipping cars; his system was to go to the South and seek out rust free low mileage high value cars (Mercedes, etc.) in good condition that were literally owned by little ladies. He would buy them at whatever the prevailing price was in the South, have them transported to California, and after having them detailed sell them for the prevailing California price, which would usually net him  a few thousand profit. That was decades ago and I don't know if that system would still work.

llawrence9
Intermediate Driver

A vin number can get you a key at most GM dealers.

wentwest
Intermediate Driver

For me, buying something in serious disarray and putting it back into good solid running condition is satisfying, and makes me happy.  When it's finally done enough to be reliable and reasonably good looking, either it's really fun to operate or it's gone.  Owning the vehicle you rebuilt, only to find out you don't like it much, is just not smart.  Sell it, take a loss if you have to, and move on.   The hobby is the process, not the product.  My father was a life long stamp collector who would spend years and money assembling a complete collection of something, and then sell it because he was done.  He was finishing off his collection of the postal stationary and postmarks of every single post office from the years when Germany colonized Tanganyika.  After he died he directed that everything be sold at auction in small lots so the 10  other people in the world who cared could cherry pick what they needed.  He was right.

 

It's the process, not the product, for me. 

GoFast
Detailer

I've never found driving to be an appropriate means of resurrecting any dead car.  After verifying the crankshaft will rotate with a hand-operated wrench with all spark plugs removed and the cylinders well lubricated, I suggest checking internal working surfaces with a bore scope.  

Brakes should be inspected statically, one corner at a time.  Look for terminally rusted rotor or drum surfaces. With someone operating the pedal, verify wheel cylinder, caliper, or pad movement that stops a hand-rotated wheel. This is also the opportune time to shake the rim in search of wobbly wheel bearings, worn suspension bushings, and loose tie-rod ends. An assistant should move the steering wheel while you monitor all downstream linkage action. Hand turning drive- and half-shafts will expose their viability. Replacing all working fluids--oil, gas, brake fluid, coolant--is an excellent idea before the engine is started and any driving attempt is mounted. Patience in the early stages will pay off with a lower likelihood of damaging potentially hard to find working parts.

jonZ
Instructor

Someone here replied that it's the process not the product. I agree. For me it's my hobby. It all started with an old MGA. My dad and I restored it, drove it and showed it. While talking to folks at the shows we both realized that it was the experience of the restoration and the drive that was the most fun. The fellowship and knowing that we actually brought it back was the best. Although I don't purchase basket cases anymore, I still get what I can afford and try to put em back as best I can.

Spuds
Advanced Driver

I never was capable of a resurrection and father time has given me a 2 hour work limit with a days rest in between.So for me Im the third owner of original 59 VW transporter and a 69 Jeepster Commando,both with about 100K on the clock.All I have to do is keep them up,thats in my wheelhouse.My 'new' car is a 98 Lexus LS400.A simple alternator/power steering pump became an 18 day adventure when I stripped the blankety blank left hand thread on the serpentine idler pulley,meaning the front of engine required a teardown.Why Im a buy the best you can guy and why the newest joke on any auto repair in my family is "Do you have an 18 day block of time scheduled out" ?LOL!!