The first instinct of anyone who has gone through the trouble of locating and purchasing a collector car to restore is to want to dive right in and tear it apart. But that isn’t in your best interest, because the main purpose of the project to begin with is to restore the car. So before you lay into the car with your wrenches flying, take a moment to stop and think about the future. There is going to come a time when you’re going to want to put all the new and reconditioned parts back together. A heated afternoon of wild disassembly may only leave you with an overwhelming sense of frustration and a garage full of unidentifiable car parts spread across the floor. Ideally, you will want to try to proceed as closely as possible to a reverse order of how the car was originally assembled.
Take the time to savor the moment then only disassemble what portions of the car need to be restored and keep that number down to a manageable few, especially if you’re new to restoring collector cars. Take pictures and label the parts as you remove them and keep everything organized. Use a digital camera to record the disassembly process and store small parts in labeled Ziploc bags. These two simple tasks could save you hours of headaches when it comes time to reassemble your collector car.
Digital cameras are relatively inexpensive and unlike using a Polaroid or 35 mm camera you’re not out the expense of film. Digital images can be stored on a laptop computer so you’ll have instant access to them when they are needed. This is especially useful if your goal is to restore the car to factory-new specifications. Not only will the photographs be useful in helping you to
reassemble the car, but they can also prove to be valuable in other ways. Just as there are a limited number of prize cars, there are also a limited number of quality photographs of prized cars as well and maybe you can sell the images to help finance your next restoration project after all, stranger things have happened. With digital photos you also have the added advantage of being able to blow up the images on the computer screen and see details you might otherwise miss. Many collector car restorers will mount photos from the restoration on a poster to display alongside their car at car shows. It’s just one of the ways you can show the work you’ve accomplished with your car. Every collector car restoration is a onetime event and they are all different so use every advantage you can to save yourself time, money and stress.
So before you start taking the car apart spend some time to do a little advance planning. Your careful attention to detail will shine through when your collector car restoration is complete.
Along with storing parts in Ziploc bags and photographing your restoration process don’t forget to label individual parts so that you can keep track of them. And don’t be in a rush to discard old parts that you’ve removed from your car, you never know when you might need to refer to that old part to solve a problem with a replacement part, or when a new part isn’t available you may be forced to restore the old part. If you’ve discarded any of the old parts then you’re faced with having to replace it or have a part fabricated, which can be expensive.
Back to the importance of having a photographic record of your restoration project, having a quality digital photo of the old part could be a life saver to your restoration project. With the Internet and e-mail
you could get advice from experts on the other side of the globe if such help were needed.
Once you’ve organized yourself and decided how you want to record and
go about disassembling your collector car, then it’s time to begin the actual disassembly. This is the easy part of the restoration process and to some the most enjoyable, but the frenzy with which you approach the disassembly can led to problems later on, so one final word of caution to take things slowly. A major problem some restorers face once the disassembly is complete is they run out of stream and lose the enthusiasm they had going into the project.
Many times a person will discover at this point that the financial strain on their budgets is more than they expected. If you’ve planned your restoration well then you will already have a good estimate of the expected costs before you’ve turned the first bolt in the disassembly process. It’s wise to adjust any estimate you’ve established from research by a factor of times three.
The expense of restoring your collector car won’t all hit your budget at once so you’ll have some time to work around the cost as the project progresses. Regardless of the level of restoration you’re hoping to achieve, working with one piece or part at a time will help you keep your expenses in check and maintain your enthusiasm. Using this approach will help you always have some finished work to gauge your progress. Realistically, a restoration project will take between three to five years to complete which will allow you to stretch out your expenses over time. When you’re dealing with a project that can take so long to complete you don’t want to be faced with missing or unusable parts. Label, restore and store each part as it comes off the car so that you’ll make things easier to find when it’s time to reassembly your collector car.
As a precaution, drain and remove the gas tank before continuing to avoid sparks from igniting any fuel or fuel vapors.
To begin the disassembly process start with the plated chrome trim parts, such as bumpers, interior molding on some vehicles and diecast parts. These items need to be sent away because the process of replating these parts can take several months and you’ll want everything ready once you’re prepared to reassemble the car. Plastic “chrome plated,” and stainless steel parts can be restored separately. Consider whether it is more cost effective to replace parts rather than be out the expense of having them straightened and replated by a professional, of course you can always considering doing the actual work yourself is you have the time and the skills required.
Sometimes it is simply more cost effective to replace the old parts with new ones, but you’ll have to decide how close to the original collector car you want to remain for the restoration. Time and money as well as the degree to which you want to take your restoration project will all be deciding factors. Before you begin disassembling a collector car, collect as many manuals as possible on the peculiar make and model so you can take the car apart with the right tools and in the correct manner to savage as many of the original parts as possible. These manuals are typically available from auto parts stores or directly from the car’s manufacturer. With a little careful searching at yard sales, flea markets and online you may be able to locate a manual specific to your collector car. Of course having the original paperwork that was issued with your collector car is always a bonus.
Although having original manuals is helpful, you have to remember that old parts seldom come apart as easily as new ones and sometimes you’ll need to get some help or useful tips from a more experienced restorer. Many car clubs and experienced restorers post articles on the Internet or in club magazines detailing proven tricks that can help you overcome a difficult task. Check the inside of the quarter panels to determine where trim is fastened so that it can be removed more easily. To remove trim, use a plastic pry bar and putty knifes of various sizes.
It’s a good idea to wrap the putty knifes with tape to help avoid damaging the trim or the underlying metal. This technique is especially good when you’re removing aluminum trim. Most trim work is held in place with clips or slotted backing mounted directly onto the body panels. Sometimes you can locate the clips by gently pulling the edge of the trim away from the panels. Be especially careful when trying to pry the trim free to avoid bending it. Trim that has been bent during disassembly will often have small creases in it. Soaking the trim with a mild grease or wax remover for a few days prior to attempting to remove it may make it slide off
easier. The same technique is true for window molding and trim. You don’t want to use anything that is abrasive however because it can dull the shine of the trim work or make it harder to polish once it has been removed. Once you’re completed the task of removing and labeling the trim and bright work parts, you’ll want to begin with gutting out the interior of the car. It’s a good practice to save everything at least until the restoration project is complete in the event you need to match or restore an item from the original interior. Headliners, seats and carpets may be able to be restored, but in most cases they will have to be replaced.
The idea is to have the original fabric and materials so that you can match as closely as possible to the original. Interior kits are typically available but there may be those unexpected times when you’ll need something from the items you removed. Interior kits should be ordered at this stage of the restoration and once received they should be stored flat until they are needed. Seats should be stored in plastic bags to prevent them from being soiled or damaged prior to being reinstalled in the car. When possible store the seats in a separate location until they are needed. Remove all the lighting fixtures and pay special attention when you remove the wiring harness. Replace harnesses are often available from automotive stores depending on the model of the car and where it is a domestic or import vehicle. The wiring harness can sustain damage over time and may have to be replaced. The electrical system for your collector car may be the single most difficult thing to replace second only to the engine itself. You will want the body to be completely free of anything that might interfere with the prep work needed prior to repainting.
Take measurements of each of the doors and match the alignment so you will have this information handy when you begin reassembling the car. It may be necessary to recondition or replace some of the actual body during restoration and you will want the doors to fit properly once you’re prepared to reassemble your collector car. It is important to note that removing the doors may not be advisable in all cases, because the body may sag of distort of the course of your restoration without the support of the door frames in place. This is especially true on unit-bodied cars where the cars have a compact single unit frame. Tape any metal identification panels for future painting. Some restorers will actually remove these panels and then reinstall them after the restoration is complete. These same people will usually go to great lengths to acquire original rivets from the car’s manufacturer or dealerships. Remove the doors, door panels, windows and window handles from the body. The windows handles along with any other trim, bright metal or plated chrome parts should have already been removed in an earlier step.
Depending on the extent of rust and corrosive damage already done to the car, removing all the parts from the door frames allows for dipping the doors if necessary. Dipping is a procedure for removing rust which involves dipping the part or entire car into a vat of acid to remove rust, more information about this will be covered in another article. There are pros and cons to dripping and other procedures involving the use of acid on parts so you’ll have to determine the economical and practical effects of this in your individual project. Restore the inter-workings of the door and windows while you have them off the car.
When removing the windshield and rear window, take photos so you can restore clips to their original position. To remove the glass cut the rubber molding and pull a 12 inch section free then use a plastic pry bar to remove the glass. There is also a tool that resembles a piano wire that is used by the professionals to remove old windshields. The glass should be removed from the inside of the body and pushed outward. Be certain you have a helper assistant you with removing the windshield and rear window to avoid breaking the glass. Once you have removed the glass scrap out the channel to remove rust and dirt. Recondition the glass and store it standing up to prevent distorting the glass while it is not mounted in the vehicle. Glassware which is stored in a prone position can actually flatten over time because the substance that glass is composed of is essential a liquid material. Likewise glass stored on a wire framework over time can become pitted as the glass begins to form around the wire.
Remove the dash taking note of the location and condition of the gauges. Many popular collector cars have a lot of trim and bright chrome and metal built into the dash. Label and photograph small parts and store in a Ziploc bag if the dash has to be separated into individual units. Since the interior parts are less likely to suffer damage from the elements you may be lucky enough to only have to spend some time polishing them. Many collector cars had metal glove boxes doors and ashtrays which may have to be tagged and restored individually. During your disassemble, bear in mind that areas like the interior firewall, underbody and other areas will likely need to restored and repainted prior to completing the restoration and installation of finished mechanical parts and systems. The metal or fiberglass will need to be prepped and a primer and finish coat added to protect the surfaces in the future and so your finished project doesn’t have bare areas exposed. This being the case all bodywork is typically completed before you begin mechanical reassembly. Because there are so many areas that have to be prepped, stripped, restored and repaired bodywork and painting often occurs in staged rather than all at one time.
This is why it is so important to try to manage your disassembly and restoration to one part and or section at a time. But you still need to try to schedule every stage so that everything is ready and complete at the same time. This may be especially difficult for someone who is working on their first or even fifth restoration project. So don’t get discouraged or think that you have to do everything by the numbers. Collector car restoration isn’t always going to run smoothly, there are going to be obstacles to overcome and you’ll often have to find creative solutions to the problems, but isn’t that a core component of why people take on the challenge of restoring a collector car to begin with?
Once you have the interior completely stripped you will be able to begin working on the metal body. If possible, rent an engine hoist and remove the body completely from the frame so that each can be worked on separately. While you have the hoist rented and after you have removed the body it would be a good time to remove the engine from the frame and mount it on an engine dolly so that you can work on it more easily. Every dollar saved is one more you have to add to your budget for the restoration project. Be certain that you’ve spent the time to disconnect anything that would prevent you from removing the body prior to renting the hoist. As mentioned earlier a wooden, portable body dollies can be constructed to move the body between locations. If you intend to use a homemade body dolly, you’ll want to have it built prior to removing the body from the frame as well.
The dolly is especially useful if you have a separate paint shop. With the dolly you are able to move the body around your shop plus the dolly can be fashioned to raise the body to a more suitable height to allow you easier access to it. A custom dolly can be constructed to fit the peculiar make and model car you’re working on. Blueprints for these dollies are available online and in several hobbyists’ magazines. It is also wise to remove the body from the frame prior to removing the wheels that way the frame can be easily rolled from under it.
Once you have the body and frame separated you’ll be better able to do more detailed work on the car, reaching places that you wouldn’t be able to readily work with otherwise. This will make it easier to strip and sand those hard to reach areas and allow you to restore those areas more thoroughly. The attention to detail you can achieve during the restoration process will pay off in your completed project. The use of the body dolly will allow you to keep the body at a better height to make the work easier as well. Now that you have the body and frame apart you can begin identifying any rust or damaged sections on the body which will have to be replaced, restored or fabricated to complete your project. With the frame free of the body you’ll be able to strip and clean the frame and restore it. Remove or restore the braking system, rear end and suspension. Prepare the frame for painting by stripping it down then prime and paint it. Since the frame has been the area closest to the road it will be one of the areas most affected by rust. Inspect the brake lines, exhaust system and wiring that may have been left behind when the body was removed. Ideally when you begin rewiring the collector car you will want to use weather protected connectors to prevent electrical problems. There are wiring harnesses typically available for restoration work, but if not you can fabricate your own. This is another time when it is useful to have manuals for your make and model car available for reference. After all the parts, wires, mechanical assemblies and everything other than the solid frame has been removed you’ll be ready to work on restoring the frame and repainting it to manufacturer specs, if you’re working toward a factory new restoration. Properly cataloging, labeling, storing and restoring the parts as you have progressed through this process should make things easier as you get closer to putting everything back together. If you’ve gone through and restored each part as it’s come off the car you’ll be able to look at what you’ve accomplished so far and gauge how well the project is going. By this point many restorers are anxious to put the car back together so it can be driven, being able to look at these milestones doing the restoration process will help you keep the momentum you had when you first brought the car into your shop. In some cases it may be difficult to overcome the desire to simply throw everything back together and drive the car around for a while with the intention of returning to the restoration process later. If you find yourself faced with this overwhelming desire take a moment to consider purchasing a similar car if possible to tool around in instead while you continue to work on your original restoration project. Then you can either sell off the second car or it could become your next restoration project.
If you have removed the engine from the frame while you had the rented hoist at your disposal you’ll be able to begin the process of disassembling the motor. If you decided to keep the motor on the frame you can begin working with it there with greater ease with the body out of your way. In either event, you’ll have the motor ready for you to work on. Many first time and even seasoned restorers will opt to have the engine sent out to be restored, but we’ll precede from the stand point of the do it yourselfer. With the engine mounted on a frame or dolly at a height which is comfortable to work on, you’ll begin the process of tearing down the engine. Hopefully, when you were deciding on the collector car you wanted for your project you made certain that the engine was able to crank. If you’re faced with an engine that you’re certain is not going to run then you’ve invited additional headaches that you’re not going to want.
Assuming the engine will at the very least turn over, you’re going to want to begin taking it apart one piece at a time. Like the rest of the car you’re going to want to remove, restore, label and store each part to insure you can locate them once you’re ready to begin assembling the car again. The engine is going to have a lot of parts and each one is going to have to be carefully restored or replaced in order for the car to run and perform well once you have it all back together. For many the engine is not only the biggest challenge to the project but the greatest joy as well. Many collectors get a thrill out of the sound of a completely restored motor and your collector car is going to be turning heads when you’re done. Most if not all of the rubber hoses and electrical wiring will likely have to be replaced with new ones, but this doesn’t take away from the overall value of your restoration project because these parts simply cannot withstand the test of time as well as the metal parts of your car. Engine parts will likely need to be cleaned by some form of abrasive blasting or what was widely referred to as sand blasting, because sand was the primary media used. Today other media has been introduced to the mix like walnut shells, glass beads and baking soda. Walnut shells and bicarbonate soda, (baking soda,) are the preferred media for engine and soft automotive parts. Baking soda will leave a thin coat of dry residue, which can actually protect the parts from rust for several days, but this substance needs to be removed prior to painting.
We’ll go into more detail on stripping, painting and techniques for removing rust in a later post You’ll have to decide what method is the best choice for your particular project and budget. It’s a good idea to invest in an air compressor for your shop, but you’ll want to get one that is going to be suitable for your specific needs.
Photograph, remove, restore and catalog the carburetor than store it so that it will be available when you’re ready for it. Work your way down through the engine restoring each part as you remove it. This can be a time consuming process so don’t expect to have it completed overnight. There will be number tiny parts that you will have to deal with along with grease and dirt. It’s a good idea to order replacement gaskets when you begin your project if you are certain the motor will be useable and you intend to replace it in your collector car. Always presoak removable parts with a lubricant and be careful not to break off any of the bolts during disassembly. The time and headache you save yourself will be worth the effort in the long run. There are several books available that detail the disassembly of the engine for specific cars according to manufacturer and year, having this in your shop will help you proceed with the disassembly in an organized fashion. Car clubs may also have these books available for use for their members, so check with clubs those in your area. Disassemble and restore the engine, transmission and all the other mechanical systems on the frame of your collector car including the braking system. Replacing the brakes with newer and safer systems is an option you’ll have to consider for yourself when you restore your collector car. When you work on tearing down the engine you need to look for any signs of wear which will include any metal shaving in the motor. Inspect each part for wear and insure that the parts are going to be reusable or order a replacement part when possible. Once you have completely disassembled the engine, order all the parts you are going to need at one time if you can afford to do so, this will help to reduce the expense of having potential parts shipped to you. If replacement parts are not readily available you might want to spend some time checking with salvage yards and other places where parts might be purchased or traded. Sometimes it may prove to be cheaper to restore engine and other parts from old salvage yards then to purchase the parts from an auto supply store. But you run the risk of the parts being bad so try to work with a dealer you are familiar with or that is referred to you from a reputable source. Parts can also be obtained from other collectors, in which case it never hurts to hold onto parts from your restoration projects which can be traded with other people doing restoration projects. Well now that you have the engine completely disassemble and the parts restored it’s time to put it all back together again.
If you’ve opted to send the engine out to be restored by a professional shop you can turn your attention fully to completing the necessary bodywork. This will include all the work you will need to perform in order to prepare the body for final finish painting. You will need to remove old layers of paint and rust.
You may need to repair metal sections that have been damaged by rust and prepare those areas for a coat of primer and then the finish paint.
You may also want to consider having the final finish paint applied by a professional because achieving a top quality job requires practiced skill and special equipment also the painting products used are highly toxic. After the finish paint job is complete you can begin working on the next stage of your restoration project. Remounting the trim and bright metal work to your collector will begin to give your project a completed look. Not complete finish by any means but it is a step that you have likely been looking forward to. This stage is when you begin to really see the potential your collector car has. Finally, replace the interior of your collector car and prepare yourself to enjoy the ride. By this stage everything else should have been restored and reassembled. Don’t rush through the reassembly because you still want your project to be as complete and detailed as you envisioned from the beginning of your restoration project. Reinstall the headliner and the carpeting then proceed to replacing the seats and mounting brackets. Finish by replacing the door panels and the dash and steering wheel. All interior trim and bright metal work should be the finishing touches to your collector car’s restoration. Now you’re finally ready to take your car out into the light of day and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
In review here are the steps you should consider for taking your collector car apart. Note that the time involved with each step will vary and some steps can be combined. Also note that in regard to the step involving the restoration of the engine the sequence is determined by whether the engine is removed before or after separating the body and frame units.
Restoring the engine yourself or having it sent out to a professional shop will also affect the time frame in which you are able to successful complete your restoration project.
1. Start with the exterior trim and bright metal work, have it shipped for replating or restore it yourself.
2. Next gut out the interior by removing the seat, headliner, interior panels, doors, carpeting and dash.
3. Remove and restore the engine, suspension, gearbox and wiring.
4. Separate the body and frame and complete all necessary body work.
5. Prepare the body for finish painting and restoration. Either do the finish paint job yourself or have it contracted out to a professional automotive paint shop.
6. Restore the exterior trim, bright metal work and chrome pieces to the vehicle. Be careful to avoid damaging the trim as you reinstall it on your collector car. The material can be scratched quite easily and you don’t want to have to wait while the parts are once again shipped off for replating or while you attempt to restore them yourself. 7. Replace the interior and prepare to see your project nearing completion. Each new project will present its own unique challenges and rewards and hopefully as you progress from one project to the next you’ll develop more skills that will be useful in your next restoration project. Always remember to be careful and follow good safety practices when you’re working on restoring any collector car. Restoring your collector car should be an enjoyable event you can share with your family and friends, so always be safe and take the time to really enjoy the work you put into restoring your collector car.