If you fail to plan then you plan to fail. 

For those of us who attended management courses during the course of our careers, then this will be a familiar saying.  However, it is generally true that those who dive in to a car restoration without planning, end up with a failed restoration. 

I have made plenty of mistakes on my cars and would strongly advise you to take a moment to think before you start to look on that well known auction site.

Know your limitations:  The most important thing to look at is not the bodywork, or the engine but yourself.  You have to acquire a project that is within your limitations.  The main limitations are finance, skills and space, though there are others.

Finance:  Most people pay for the work as they go along so ask yourself how much can you afford.  You would be surprised how many people start while they are living on their own and finish with a partner and two children.  If you are of modest means then then you need to buy a car where parts are plentiful and affordable, good examples being MG sports cars, Mini’s or perhaps an early MX5. Even if you can buy a prestigious car for a budget price, the cost of parts will soon overwhelm you.  Restoring within your means gives you the best chance of success. 

Skills: If you have the skills then a huge restoration is practical, if not then go for a rolling restoration where a car is basically roadworthy  and projects can be done in small chunks. If you have a skill such as welding then you might look for a project that would benefit from that skill and get a rotten car with a good engine.  If you can rebuild engines then find a car with a good body and a poor engine.

But if you don’t then you are either going to have to learn the skills (or make friends with people who have them) or pay for them.  If you don’t possess any technical skills then go for a restoration which will require little work, perhaps concentrating on cosmetic improvements.

Space; If you live in a house with no driveway or garage then any serious restoration is going to be a problem working on the street.  You will need to rent some space for the build and  If the space doesn’t have power it will make the restoration more challenging.  If you are tackling a car with  separate body and chassis you will need twice the space if you plan to separate them. 

What’s the dream?  Do you dream of driving through the countryside in a classic British car from the 1960’s.  Perhaps not the best plan for someone with a large family (though perfectly understandable).  Maybe you are looking to start motorsport, historic rallying, hillclimbing , going to club events or camping.  Your intended use will determine the choice of car.  And you should make sure your significant other is onboard. If you buy a camper and they won’t go with you it makes a pretty lonely hobby.

Starting the search: Once you have this worked out, join an owners club and do your research, then you can start to look for a car.  You should always go and see the car and talk to the owner.  Never buy a car on line without seeing it and pay don’t pay in advance by bank transfer as that is a recipe for being scammed. 

Before you go write down the key criteria, for example – Mini Clubman with 1275 engine, no body rot but tired engine acceptable.  Tatty interior as this will be replaced.  Must have recent MOT.  Budget under £5 000.   If the car doesn’t meet all your criteria then walk away.  You should also take a critical friend who will stop you making a mistake. Taking the time to find the right car will save time and money in the long run. 

Don’t go straight to ebay but start with garages which specialise in the marque.  Here you will be able to look at good examples and probably some in various stages of restoration.  Then move on to auctions, on line auctions and classified adverts in specialist publications.  But probably the best place is a club website and newsletter.

Don’t rush in:  Once you have got your car then keep calm.  Don’t lay a spanner on it until you have walked around it and made a list of the jobs that need to be done and the parts needing to be purchased, especially if some parts are rare and will need to be hunted down. Then break the project down into chunks and tackle them in digestible elements. 

Don’t buy parts that you will need later in the project and especially the shiny parts that will be put on at the end.  Who knows you might change your mind about the final look by the time you get to the finishing touches.  Try to work in sub assemblies and keep the car as together as possible.  Always complete one side before tackling the other, that way you can look at how it was assembled if you have a problem.  Take lots of pictures showing the order parts are taken off.  Start a file to keep all your bills in and remember, no one restores a car to make a profit.  Your return on investment is in the  pleasure of the restoration and/or driving the finished product. 

Take your time.  In the same way that life is a journey not a destination, the same can be said for a restoration project.  Take your time and take pleasure in the restoration. take photographs and take notes as you go along.  In future years you will want to look back and be reminded of what you achieved.

If you choose to have a car restored by a specialist then you will not get a contracted completion date and price because you never know what a strip down is going to  reveal.  But you should at least have a written agreement about when the project is to be completed, payment plan, authorisation process for work and extent of the work to be undertaken.

This article was written by Mike Cowlam, editor of Classic Yorkshire magazine. www.classicyorkshire.com