19th July 2022

FJ Guide: How to choose a classic car restoration project

Knowing how to choose a classic car restoration project is an essential skill if you’re in the market, and a sure-fire way to save yourself time, money and stress further down the line. As enthusiasts, we all like to think we’ve got it covered, but it’s often easy to be blinded by the mere presence of our dream classic when viewing.

It pays to do your research, take your time and find one suitable for your budget and skillset. While each model has its own unique checklist, there are some general questions you should ask yourself before you buy any classic car. Read on for Footman James’ top tips on how to choose a restoration project.

Have you checked for rust?

A thorough rust examination should be your first port of call with almost any vehicle. The dreaded tin worm is responsible for the demise of thousands of classics; chasing and curing it completely can be impossible and once serious corrosion has taken hold it can be game over. Some sellers will provide photos of a vehicle’s underside on request, or even allow you to view the car on a ramp. Don’t be afraid to poke your head underneath for a closer inspection, while checking for any signs of previous welding repairs.

Is the vehicle authentic?

It can be common for owners to modify a lesser model to resemble its high-performance counterpart, so make sure you know what you’re looking at. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a well-executed replica, discovering your RS Cosworth began its life as a 1.8 LX wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. Check the VIN and logbook carefully to make sure your new project isn’t a sheep in wolf’s clothing – it may also be worth commissioning a specialist to view the vehicle and confirm its original identity.

Are replacement parts easy to source?

We’ve all seen those slightly sorry looking projects in the classifieds, described as ‘95% complete’ with just a few minor items missing… Proceed with extreme caution, you may have discovered the reason why the car is listed. Missing parts can be a nightmare to source and a major barrier to completion, and you may find that even minor items such as interior trim are now obsolete. Hunting for scarce parts can be a costly and time-consuming exercise, so our advice is to find a complete car.

Is there an active owners’ scene?

Behind many popular classics is a thriving community of fellow enthusiasts and this can be an amazing resource. Not only useful for finding rare parts, understanding common issues and learning about correct maintenance procedures, but owners’ clubs also offer discounts to reduce the cost of ownership. Although some once-popular internet forums are now defunct, many have been replaced by active social media groups which are also free to join.

What’s the most important piece of car buying advice you’ve ever been given? Let us know in the comments below.

Another thing to add to your "FJ Guide" Do you have deep pockets?

ger1275gt, 23/07/2022

Make sure you enough space. A project car will need double the space of the completed car

Nick, 23/07/2022

Whereas its often not the aim to make money from a classic restoration, it is worthwhile trying to get a project where there is a significant gap between the purchase price and the restored value, so that you have some headroom with expenditure. This, in itself, is not easy, particularly if you need to factor-in the cost of a good respray.

Cumbrian, 23/07/2022

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