We frequently get asked for tips on car building and restoration so we decided to put together a quick list of issues that we see often. If you're not careful, these "seven deadly sins" can cause your project to go overboard on timeline and budget!
7. Underestimating Rust and other bodywork repairs
“Has minor rust. Just needs a little TLC”. Translation: Better look closely.
This is probably the most common sin in the classic car world- buying a cheap classic British car in hopes of saving thousands in the long run. What looks like just a little “bubbling” on the paint is usually a tell-tale sign of major rust issues. Body fillers won’t fix it and you can’t ignore it forever. But here’s the real issue- bodywork is expensive.
Floor boards for an MGB are only about $200, but if you have to pay someone for 11-15 hours per side to install them, they become outrageously expensive. On a really rusty MGB, for example, you could conceivably pay less for a new Heritage bodyshell than it would cost to repair. On other older vintage cars such as Morgans and MG T-types the same caveat applies to the wooden substructures.
Unless you’re capable of doing the repairs yourself or willing to pay a lot of money, bodywork can easily become the most expensive component of your car project. It can easily add dozens of hours of labor which will quickly outweigh the expensive of having bought a better car in the first place. Our recommendation is to buy as solid a car as possible. Inspect thoroughly and don’t be afraid to walk away from a potential purchase if you see red flags.
6. Buying a “Frankenstein” car
What year car is this again?
I wish we didn’t have to include this on our list, but we’ve personally seen it too many times now. It’s not the end of the world if your car is pieced together using parts from various cars but you should be wary of what you’re buying. It can negatively affect the value and give you a ton of heartbreak.
Recently, we had a customer bring us an MGB that he assumed was a fully restored 1971 MGB chrome bumper car with a fresh paint job. He paid about $18,000 for it but wasn’t well versed in MGB’s. It turns out that it was a 1980 rubber bumper MGB that had been poorly converted to chrome bumpers. The late dash, brakes, and firewall gave it away for certain. With numerous badly botched rust repairs- including sills and floorboards, it looked like someone had assembled the car using whatever MGB components were lying around.
Worst of all, the VIN was a complete fabrication. Somebody had stamped a tag with a VIN using numbers and letters that could not have existed on an MGB. Moreover, none of the numbers matched what was stamped on the frame.
This particular car was badly misrepresented by the seller and isn’t worth nearly as much as our customer paid. Now he feels stuck with a car that has an improper VIN number and a motley collection of parts of undetermined heritage.
Using parts from various years isn’t a huge problem; there’s a lot of interchangeability. You do need to know what you have, though, so that you can order the proper parts when you need them. If you’re not familiar with the car you’re buying, plan on taking it to a shop to have them inspect it. They should be able to make sure the VIN number and components are correct for the car.
5. Starting with interior and minor trim pieces
Your car project needs a lot of parts. Don’t start with an aftermarket steering wheel!
It’s easy to fall into this trap. You’ve just purchased a classic British car project and you’re not sure where to begin. You crack open a catalog and see a bunch of shiny, affordable parts you can easily add to the car. It’s tempting to start ordering and installing little interior and exterior trim pieces but it’s really the last thing you should be doing on a big project.
When it comes to car projects, make sure your car is mechanically sound and safe, then move on to bodywork/paint. Once that’s done, the last bits should be new interior and exterior trim. Doing it the other way around puts those little parts at risk of damage through handling. Also, it may be a few years before you finish your car project. All those shiny, new parts might not look so shiny or new when you finally get finished.
4. Buying tires too early on
I know your tires look brand new… But they’re 12 years old!
We see A LOT of old tires roll into the shop and it’s a bit of a paradox. The owners replaced their tires when they first bought their car because the original tires were too old to drive on. Now that their car restoration is completed many years later, they refuse to replace their tires because they haven’t had much of a chance to use them. Most tire stores won’t even service tires over 6 years old.
Unless you plan on driving your classic British car project right away, you should wait until after the build to buy new tires. If it’s just going to roll around in a garage until the project is completed, it’s best to buy those tires when the car is ready for the road. Don’t drive on old tires, even if they look new. Dangerous – end of story.
3. Ignoring major safety items
It may look pretty but if you can’t stop or steer it to safety, you’re headed towards trouble.
Even if your car project seems mechanically sound it’s still a good idea to inspect your brake and suspension systems. It’s imperative for your car brake and handle optimally in modern-day driving conditions.
We see a lot of bad brake systems and worn suspension components on cars simply because they’re forgotten or because the owner wants to do paint and interior first. Those items really should be taken care of first.
It’s not difficult to replace suspension bushings, brake hoses, and rebuild the brakes on most British sports cars. The parts are usually inexpensive, few British cars require any special tools to do brake or suspension work, and it’s always a perfect time to inspect the health of your other brake and suspension components. There’s just no need to risk using old parts. If it looks or acts sketchy- replace it!
2. Botched electrical add-ons and repairs
Electrical systems are critical in car safety and reliability. Carelessness or lack of experience can cause a fire!
By the time you’ve purchased your classic British car, there’s a good chance the wiring has been modified in some way. Previous owners may have added electrical components like radios, fog lights, horns, or kill switches.
One thing we see frequently are incorrectly colored battery cables and wiring. Red cables used for ground on Negative ground cars and vice versa. Hook your battery up in reverse and you could fry an alternator or other electrical component. Or perhaps the last owner got a great deal on green wire so everything is done in that color! Use the correct color wire in all your circuits or clearly mark them.
It’s always a good idea to print out a copy of a wiring diagram for your car. They’re usually available online for free with the help of Google but also commonly found in repair manuals. It’s a good idea to make sure you have clean grounds and wire connections. Inspect for potential electrical shorts too (loose wires or bullet connectors pulled out slightly). Make sure wire crimps and soldered wires are secure and have good continuity. Check for any damaged wires and replace as needed.
If the previous owner has added anything to your car, you should always double check their work and make sure it’s wired safely. Occasionally, new replacement wiring harnesses are a better starting point. It may seem silly, but you don’t want to see all your hard work go up in flames.
1. Buying a car that’s beyond economical repair
It’s possible to restore anything but is the climb worth the view?
Buying a classic car that needs EVERYTHING usually means buying a car that can overwhelm your time and budget. While it’s not impossible to restore those cars, the overall condition of the car can make for an extremely expensive and difficult process. Much like bodywork, hundreds of labor hours can absolutely sink your budget.
If you find yourself with a car like this, the best approach is to tackle it system by system; brakes, suspension, electrical, fuel. Do it once and do it properly. Don’t just do the left front and leave the right front for later. Once done you won’t need to revisit that system for quite some time. Be realistic about your budget, both in time and money.
In the end, it’s always best to find a car in the best possible condition for the money. No project car is perfect, and we all must learn to play our cards right to get the most value for the money.