September 17, 2003
by Jim Kerr
I just purchased another car. It’s a 1964 Chevrolet Impala and I should know better than to buy another project but somehow the car bug has bitten me again. If you too have had the urge to buy and drive an older car, there are a few things that you should know before laying out that cash.
Any older car will need work. Vehicles are available that don’t need much work, but even the best restored or cared for cars will have oil leaks develop and important rubber parts such as brake hoses that get brittle. Set some of your money aside for those little things that will need repair.
Some cars need much more work. My ’64 Chevrolet, for example, has rusty floorboards and trunk body mounts. Normally, I wouldn’t even consider looking at a car in this condition, but I used to drive one many years ago and the urge to drive another one is strong. I also did a little research about the car before buying it. The more research you can do the better!
The Internet is a great way to find out information about your dream vehicle. Everything from original production figures to parts manuals are available for many vehicles online. I started my search by looking for those “hard to find” items such as body trim and upholstery materials. I was lucky. The 1964 Impala was a popular car and there are many reproduction items available although they are not cheap. If you are looking for trim parts for a different car, such as a 1964 Pontiac however, there is not much out there so it is best to buy a car that has all these parts still there.
Next, I did some research into body replacement panels. Local bodyshops often have catalogues that list some body parts for older cars. I used the Internet to find out what was available and then priced it out locally. Purchasing parts locally may seem more expensive but it’s worth it. All it takes is for one mail ordered part to come in damaged or unsatisfactory and the trouble to return it or replace it will make the slightly higher cost for a local shop to supply it seem like peanuts.
Replacement body panels are not always the best quality. If you can order factory parts from the dealer, then this is the best choice. Some aftermarket panels are stamped with thinner metal or have incorrect body lines. I know there are some rear fenders available for my Chevy that have the wrong curve at the back and it can take a good bodyman several hours to correct it. Talk to people who have already used the body panels before spending your money on them. Again, this is where a local bodyshop can help guide you.
There is another important step in rebuilding or restoring an older vehicle – knowing your own ability. With time, most of us can do almost anything but the cost and time it takes to learn how to do something can ruin your dream. For example, I am pretty good at mechanical repairs. I know I can rebuild the complete powertrain without any problems and I have the tools and space at hand. Bodywork however is not my strong point.
I can weld in new floor panels where a little warped sheet metal doesn’t really show. If I had to weld on an outer fender, I would probably have it done by a professional. The same goes for interior work. I can cover and install most parts but a professional upholsterer will make the seat covers fit much better. Headliners are also a lot of trouble to make fit properly, so paying someone with experience is worth it.
Finally, look at the time available to work on the vehicle. Many projects sit undone because there just isn’t enough hours in the day. At an hour a week, it will take years to finish a major project.
For some, the joy of an older vehicle is doing the restoration work. For others, it is cruising on a warm summer night. Buying a vehicle already restored can be cheaper than rebuilding one yourself and you don’t have to go looking for parts. I enjoy the “restoring” part, so starting a new project feels like fun. Call me crazy!