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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.


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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.

Intermediate Driver

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.

Intermediate Driver

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.

Intermediate Driver

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

Now; the watch... 

Pit Crew

That BMW is a parts car!

Intermediate Driver

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.

Pit Crew

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.

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" 


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