2004 Pontiac GTO

Front left silver 2004 Pontiac GTO Car Picture

Building Your Baby: Tips for Beginners to Auto Restoration

by Fred Chauncy

If you have visions of restoring a DOA relic to a fabulous showroom automobile, but you're concerned about cost and your ability to accomplish this type of project, remember—you're only a beginner once. The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) reports that the average classic owner spent almost $9,000 for restoration, repairs and maintenance on his baby in 2009, starting with about $1,600 just to purchase the relic you'll convert into your dream auto.

According to Hemmings Collector Car Marketplace, these American classics make for excellent restoration options for the beginner:

  • The 1963-1965 Buick Rivieras
  • The 1971-1972 Pontiac GTOs
  • The 1964-1968 Ford Mustangs
  • The 1967-1969 Chevy Camaros
  • The 1972-1973 Dodge Challengers

You can buy them without taking out a second mortgage on your home, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and replica parts are readily available, and you might even make money if you sell them.

Don't look at the enormity of the project or become overwhelmed. Do it one small piece at a time and enjoy the process. Consider starting with a vehicle that does not need extensive technical repairs to bring it back to like-new condition.

The Older, the Better (as in Easier)

Recently manufactured autos and trucks depend heavily on sophisticated electronic systems and components. These can challenge even experienced older auto restoration veterans. Instead of complex computer systems, older autos have chokes, carburetors and relatively simple tune-up requirements. Using classic trial-and-error techniques, you can have an older car's engine cranking in short order.

Use OEM Parts

OEM parts eliminate the numerous issues a beginner faces. Non-OEM parts work, but may need the tweaking of a professional to fit or interface properly. Although OEM parts, whether mechanical or decorative, may cost a bit more than after-market items, they should fit and perform perfectly.

Replace Windows, Tires, Power Sources and Regulators

Many older vehicles need one or more of these fixes. It can be hard to find the right tires for older cars, but an updated or more efficient version may make your restoration more practical. The same goes for windows, power sources and regulators. Fortunately, most DIY guides make this a reasonable project for beginning restorers. You needn't have a degree in electronics or auto body repair to accomplish these tasks.


Restoring the seats, floors and headliners is vital to your project. There are DIY instructions and kits available for many vehicles. You can also find many replacement gauges, radios and speakers to make interior restorations relatively simple and cost-effective.


Older cars have been through adversity, just like you. Many dents do not need the expertise of auto body professionals. While you'll need some tools and a sense of humor, you'll be amazed at what you can do.

Respected car collector resource Hemmings offers valuable tips you'll enjoy. Restoring an auto, even if you need some professional intervention, is a rewarding project. The first time you drive your "baby" after restoration, you'll know your work was worthwhile.

About the Author:
Fred Chauncy teaches eighth grade Technology Education and blogs on the weekend.

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