Restoration project 101

So you've decided you want a restoration project. You know what you want, how you want it to look and you've got your budget, but before you go placing that bid or exchanging any money here are some things you may or may not have thought about...


Do your due diligence and research everything you can about the car you want to buy. Owners clubs, will be the first port of call, as well as specialists who will probably know more about the cars than most!

Value For Money

After all the hours you've probably spent looking at various adverts, you should have a good idea by now of what the car is worth. For Example, a Mercedes W113 Pagoda. Prices can range from as little as £10,000 all the way up to £140,000. (Ive seen some Brabus restored cars in excess of £200,000) and whilst a £10,000 car can seem like a steal for a car thats worth £100,000+ when finished. The question you have to ask yourself is 'How much is it going to cost to get it to a condition thats worth £100,000?' This is possibly the biggest question you should ask yourself when looking to buy a restoration project. Whilst I admit the Pagoda is an extreme example the point is valid!


This can be a make or break for many people. If the car is an absolute rust bucket, you need to seriously think if this particular car is for you. Are you prepared to either carry out the repairs on your own, or pay a professional to do it for you? Welding and metalwork in general is the single time consuming process in a restoration. Time taken to repair or replace a panel has several variables, the amount of rust, panel availability, panel quality, the skills of the person carrying out the welding, and the location of the panel. Small repairs can take as long as changing a whole panel so be sure to weigh up whether the panel is best replaced or repaired. If you are going to carry out the repairs on your own, invest in a good grinder, safety goggles, ear defenders and gloves, I find leather gardening gloves are great for this. Latex gloves wont last long and wont give you much protection. Grinding welds down is the secret to finishing a welding job.

Panel Availability And Quality

These points are so important I felt they deserved their own section. When restoring a vehicle, the biggest headaches can come, from either sourcing body panels, or the quality of reproduction parts (this is not limited to body panels). It really is a vicious circle, body panels can become horrendously expensive, for a genuine manufacturer part or a reproduction. I always, always, always recommend genuine parts where possible, which in a perfect world is every time! Unfortunately that is not the case, 90% of the time we are stuck with reproduction panels. Repro panels are a lottery, you can either hit the jackpot and get a reasonably priced panel which is a perfect fit, or panel which you had to sell your liver to buy and only resembles the shape of the original, but does not fit in anyway shape or form. Do your research on available panels sometimes more than one brand is available and I guarantee each fit differently, some better than others.

The '99% Complete' Cars

These are a personal favourite of mine, the cars advertised as 99% complete usually, (not always) means that all of the parts are present except one or two really important parts which you will really struggle to find. You may be lucky and find the parts needed to finish the car but you will probably have a hard time doing so. Be sure that when viewing a car you inspect it with a fine tooth comb and make sure all of the parts are present. Nothing is more annoying than searching for that elusive small bit of trim that someone has taken off the car and lost. Remember my Pagoda reference? Well that £10,000 car I mentioned is missing 90% of the parts, so your restoration bill has just grown significantly replacing all of the missing parts!

Matching Numbers

People spend way to much time fussing over matching numbers. In my opinion it does not matter one little bit. I think its nice a nice touch if a car is matching numbers but its not decider for me. I love it when I see matching numbers on an advert, 'engine and gear box are matching numbers' then a little further down 'Engine rebuilt at XX,XXX miles'. Once the engine is rebuilt it is no longer original, its the same block that left the factory, but alot of it has been replaced. I just don't see the point in matching numbers at all. As long as everything is correct I don't see the problem. Plus grinding engine numbers off and stamping in the ones from the build sheet after an engine change was once rife and I wouldn't be surprised if it still goes on... So if you do buy a matching numbers vehicle, is it really matching numbers? This is one hundred percent my opinion on the matter so take it with a pinch of salt and decide whether or not YOU want a matching numbers vehicle. Just make sure the chassis number matches the log book...

Does It Start And Drive?

Buying a car that starts and drives gives you a great starting point. You can hear and feel all the important things, and know where you stand with it. If it runs does it run good? No misfiring, easy starting, and no knock rattles or bangs is obviously a good sign. If it does do any or all of those things at least you know the engine isn't seized! It also gives you a bit more bargaining power. if the car has been sat a while it may not start at all, or the brakes might be seized. Each situation is different. Don't be afraid to take a torch and get underneath the car and have a look around. If it does drive and is road legal take it for a spin and see how it feels.

Check The History Of The Car

With the internet and the DVLA's super useful Mot history check, you should be able to get a bit of history of the car without even picking up the phone. This is assuming its been Mot'd in the last few years at least! Mot history can give you an insight into how well the car has been maintained (well maintained cars generally pass every time with little to no advisories) how many miles between each mot, and even point to why a car has been laid up! I always check the Mot history of a car before I make and enquiry. Speaking to the owner is always number one though, but be wary of sellers spinning a web of lies about the car, if something doesn't feel right, dig a bit deeper, or walk away. Don't run the risk of buying a lemon.

Left Hand Drive And Imports

LHD cars always seem to put a fair few people off, and I get it! It seems almost alien to sit on the opposite side and drive a car. However do not let a left hand drive put you off a perfectly good car. I personally prefer a LHD, the main reasons being prices are cheaper because less people want to buy a left hand drive and easier to work on for certain jobs (no steering columns in the way of exhausts) as chances are, it was initially designed in LHD. Not to mention you're a bit cooler if you drive a LHD car. You will be forever hearing 'oh its left hand drive? thats cool!' If the car is LHD chances are its been imported. If its been recently imported make sure all of the import duties and taxes have been paid and the car has been registered in the UK.

Log Book

Missing log books should ring alarm bells. You need to be absolutely sure that owner IS the owner and the car is not stolen. See if the owner is willing to get a new log book for the car if you leave a small deposit. If he isn't use your gut and decide if the seller is genuine. Log books are relatively easy to obtain otherwise, all you need is the chassis number and a £25 fee...

Viewing The Car

If you've done your checks, and you have decided you want to view the car, arrange a viewing with the seller. We all know how easy it is to get carried away and buy the car after walking around it a couple of times, but I implore you to go and view the car, armed with a torch and screwdriver and go through every inch of the car. Try to find as many faults that the seller didn't list as possible, everything you find is more bargaining power for you. Be fair with your offer and don't offend the seller. If you think they have incorrectly described the vehicle, tell them and ask if they would hear your offer. Hopefully they accept!

Take Someone With You

When viewing the car it is so so important to take someone else with you, an extra pair of eyes is always helpful, as well as having someone there to discuss the car with and get their honest opinion. You should also consider taking an expert with you, get in touch with a marque expert or a restoration specialist and see if they would be willing to come and view the car for you (obviously at a cost) they will probably give you some advice on what to look for too!

Budget For The Unexpected

No matter how hard you looked through the car there will be something you have missed, or something that will fail very soon. So when budgeting for the car, be sure to have a small kitty put away for if something catches you by surprise, no one wants a big bill for a car they've just bought, but by putting some money away before hand your bank balance will be very grateful! Just remember that every penny you put into the car is an investment and increasing the value of the vehicle.

Hopefully this helps some of you when looking for your next project!