How do I start a Restoration Project?

How do I start a Restoration Project?
Restoring a car
Date published: 06/30/2013

Ok you have found the car of your dreams in the local barn, been there since the year "Dot", under a pile of sacking just waiting to be discovered and brought back to life.


I know this is a rare event and in all my years of restoration I have never found that MG, Roller, or Jaguar in an old barn although I have met a few people who claim to have had such luck. All my restoration work has been confined to restoring cars that some idiot has played around with and/or vehicles that need a complete overhaul to get them back to their original glory. As most of my work has been on MGs of prewar vintage through to the semi modern MGB I feel I can give would be restorers a few tips on what not to do.

First of all decide what you propose to do with that wonderful find you have just purchased. The first temptation is to do a "cosmetic" restoration, new coat of paint, clean up the inside, clean up the engine compartment and polish the chrome. Well if you are willing to continue your restoration project over the next four years as each item starts to wear out and need replacement, that's the route to go. On the other hand a so-called "Frame-off Restoration" can be the best investment even if the car in question like a MGB has no frame!

Most of the work required for such a project can be undertaken by an owner with the average skills. If you can successfully take on a "Do It Your Self", home project you should be able to face the demands of a worthwhile vehicle restoration. The first requirement is to have the right tools and a clean area where you can work with ease. Next have a storage area where you can put all the various parts that you will remove from the car and keep these items in a selection of containers with the name and function of the contents. Have a good camera available to take pictures of every component that you take apart. Remember if could be several months before you start to assemble again and none of us have perfect memory.

Unless you exceptionally skilled do not attempt to paint your car, spray cans of paint are no substitute for a professional finish. I have seen to many home grown paint jobs on vehicles that deserve better. Remember, the paint and interior are the first things that potential purchasers look at, not the engine or the tyres they come much later. Electrics are another area that often requires a professional touch and of course can prove to be a fire hazard if the wrong wires are in the right place!

What you can do is the basic heavy work like the suspension, drive train, engine overhaul which in the majority of early British cars up to the MGB is a simple task. However invest in a workshop manual and allow your self time to study each section, then go back and do it again. Interiors are another area where you basic skills can produce fantastic results. Carpets are easy to install, and the interior panels are usually available. Better still if they are not seriously damaged a good clean with soap and water works wonders. Breaks are another item that any one with modest skills can restore.

Again use the Workshop manual every time you tackle such work and more important TAKE YOUR TIME. When things go wrong and they often do put down the screwdriver or spanner/ wrench, go indoors and have coffee or what ever. Never try to do something while you are frustrated you usually do more damage than good, I know as I have been there, several times. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance often two heads and four arms are better than one. Sometimes this combination can me multiplied but remember to have a few beers in the fridge to ensure an even flow of physical support. Safety is also an important consideration. Remember that a great deal of weight is involved with any restoration project.

A strong and reliable means of support must be used to hold the body at all times. Four cheap jacks on each corner is not a healthy set up. I always use six or eight top of the line holding jacks with every car I work on and even then once had a MGTC come off the front supports that gave me two months in a leg cast. Where do you locate the jacks? On the suspension at each corner with another two or more as a safety measure on the frame in the mid section.

Don't, repeat don't start up the engine whilst the car is jacked up this can be a bad mistake. If you think about it you will understand why! Whilst on the subject of starting the engine, only do this in a well-ventilated area. Now you would think that was obvious but as any insurance company will tell you people do this especially in the winter with deadly results. If you intend to remove the engine make sure you have the right lifting equipment, not a length of rope on a cheap pulley set in the ceiling. You can rent the right equipment for a very modest sum. Also, and again it simply amazing, how many people do not do this, drain the oil out of the engine block before removing. Same for the gear box and rear drive train. It saves a lot of mess on the garage floor and of course reduces the safety risk. Yes we have all slipped on a wet oil soaked floor in our time. Steering is another area where the right information and a little skill can save you money. Read your manual three times for this operation and then go back and make sure you did the right things.

I always make a list of every component that needs replacing as I remove them from the car, that way I won't forget to order new parts or look for decent used ones on the Internet. Good luck with your restoration project remember you are no different from me so don't be put off by the idea of doing your own restoration, who knows you may have found a new career!
Geoff Wheatley ©

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