Where Do I Even Start on My Project Car?


Something inside you has driven you to spend your hard earned money on a rusty broken-down car that you see as the perfect restoration project. You have towed it home and now this eyesore is depreciating the value of your neighborhood, and your family thinks you are crazy! What now?

I often get asked “Where do I even start?” pertaining to a restoration. Here are a few things to consider when you get that classic home and before you roll it into your garage.

Immediate action is required. Hopefully you haven’t “adopted” any new pets that came free with your purchase. Depending on which part of the country you are in, some things to look out for are field mice, rats, roaches, cats and (hopefully not) a black bear or alligator.

Clean the car, top to bottom, inside and out. Regardless, if you see insects, definitely use a good pesticide that will take care of all the basics, and set traps if you have to.

The biggest mistake is that everyone wants to grab fancy Car Wash Soap, especially the ones containing wax. Don’t do that. As a matter of fact, avoid using any silicone-based soap product or tire dressing during this step. Doing this will help you avoid major contamination problems when you are doing your body or paint work in the future. Instead, use a professional-grade soap, such as Presta Sudzz™ Car Wash, for this job.

The fun part. Get stripping. But before you do that, get organized. Have a plan, because when you start breaking this car down, it will take up a lot of space. So take the time to label and bag everything! It’s going to be a long time before you get back to these components and you will not remember what exactly that bag of bolts labeled “Miscellaneous Body Bolts” actually is.

Next, it’s time to get a good look at this wonderful gem of yours to make sure it is still a candidate for a restoration. Most of you won’t have a Squaring Tram Gauge but, with some creativity, a broom stick, 2 pencils and a measuring tape never has let anyone down. Look for obvious signs of rot, prior collision and/or repair, and its typically a good idea to check the suspension components for any obvious problems that would raise any concern for you structurally. I’ve seen many upper ball joints break out of nowhere. I wouldn’t want to be under an old clunker when that happened.

When in doubt, hesitate. If you’ve determined there is a concern with squareness, get the car into clamps on the frame table at your local body shop. It’s going to cost you a few bucks but this is the best chiropractic adjustment you can do so that 2 years later your shiny new classic isn’t driving down the road sideways on you.

Now it’s time to make a decision. What level of restoration is this going to be? A fast and nasty? Is one more paint job on this car going to make the 6 underneath look better? Or is this going to be a full concourse restoration? That choice is yours. Either way, you’re going to be investing money in products to do the job. I would make it count. — TD

Watch Tony’s ‘89 Fox Body Mustang GT Resto series on YouTube


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