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Car Restoration and Antique Car Collecting Part 4:

Now, to Assess the Situation!
by Vic Donnell

Once your vehicle is home the fun really starts, and this series of articles will give you plenty of material on how to perform a total restoration if needed. Before doing that, though, take a few minutes to read about the process and how you should go about it. Take a really close look at the car you bought. Does it require restoration from the ground up or does it just need some mechanical and/or cosmetic repairs. You get to decide. And think about this. You will in all likelihood find that you didn’t get the car you thought you were buying. Be ready for that. Let me give you some examples from my own experience.

The 56 T-bird that I bought and drove home from Dallas to Mineral Wells was in very nice but used condition. The oil pressure was a little low and it smoked a little. We knew that we would be driving this car across the country in a few months. After some additional analysis and some external advice, I decided that the engine needed an overhaul. The lesson here is, despite your due diligence, the car you decide to buy will never turn out to be as good as you thought when you decided to buy it. So, get over it. The deal is done, get on with it.

To speed things up a bit, I elected to buy a rebuilt short block through the local auto parts store. I in-stalled the engine in a gravel parking lot behind the parts store. When in-stalled and after several days of trouble shooting, the engine simply would not run. It seemed to be out of time. I disassembled the front end of the engine to examine the setup of the timing chain.

Here’s what I found. The timing marks were as shown in this picture, perfectly aligned as all V8 engines should be. That is, all V8s except for the Ford Y block which my 312 ci engine was. The Ford engine should look like the second picture.

The Ford Y block timing marks should be as shown in the second picture with 12 timing chain link pins between the marks. Once I reset the timing chain as shown in the second picture and reassembled the engine, a task taking a couple of days since I was still working days, then the engine ran as it should. The lesson here is that even technical work done by a reputable repair shop can be, and quite often is, flawed. Check their work before installing their product.

I applied this lesson learned during my restoration of Jan’s 62 Continental. I purchased a rebuilt engine and had it shipped to me at a cost less than a third of what a rebuild of my old worn out engine would have cost. When it arrived, I disassembled and inspected every component of that engine before I installed it. I think that paid off in confidence that I, in fact, had a quality re-built engine. And, I got to do the quality control of ensuring the engine is sealed up with new gaskets and sealer. It does not leak.

By the time I retired from service and moved to Austin, I had done a ground up restoration on a 34 Ford Coupe and a 30 Hupmobile, I had refurbished a 63 Continental, 54 Jaguar, 56 T Bird, 55 T Bird, 73 Corvette, 68 Corvette, 39 Chevy hotrod, and 49 Ford hotrod. There were a few other alterations and modifications as well. To do all these cars, I had to amass a substantial assortment of hand tools and automotive skills.

After settling in to my new job and after be-coming a member of the Road Relics, I decided that I wanted to restore another car and make it a national show car. And I wanted to do it all myself, in-house. I want-ed the car to be a Classic Car and to be competitive with cars like the ones we had seen at local and national shows we had visited across the country over the years. This was about 1985 and values of Classic Cars were quite high. I had always followed the philosophy that says buy the best, most complete car you can afford and restoration costs will be less. Because the prices were so high, I adopted the philosophy of one Bill Bocock from Kerrville. “If you’re going to restore the car anyway, then why buy a good one?” Since the objective was to re-store a Classic, and since the value of a good one was out of site, I decided to buy one that I could afford meaning it would REQUIRE a complete restoration.

Well, I did, and it did win national recognition. And I did all the work in a two car gar-age plus parts storage in a spare bedroom and attic space. The story of that restoration has been published in this newsletter some-time around 1993.

So, I can tell you, based on my experience that to do a restoration you will need plenty of space, a good assortment of tools, lots of patience and a camera. A camera? Yes, either one with film or a digital, but you will be glad you have it. A camera will record the buying process, your car’s arrival home, its disassembly, parts restoration and reassembly. In fact, reassembly is a lot easier when you can refer to old photos that show how it looked assembled, so shoot every part of the vehicle, from several angles. Keep the camera handy to record every step in the process, from beginning to end. It will also provide proof of your work when/if you sell the vehicle.

Next, keep a clip board with several sheets of note paper nearby. A laptop computer relegated to the restoration shop would be even better than the paper. Draw three col-umns on each sheet. One column is for the name of each part, and the other two note whether that part will be restored or re-placed. As you disassemble the car, list each component and whether you expect to rebuild it or replace it. When you are ready to order replacement parts, send the re-placement list to several parts supply hous-es. Let them know that you have sent the same list to several other supply houses, and that this is a competitive bid. Oftentimes you may save a considerable amount on replacement parts this way.

I’m going to stop right here for now. In the next part, I will discuss tools, space, and special equipment.