High Society Kustom Garage

The restoration process

Steps of Car Restoration

The basic steps of the car restoration process involve evaluation, disassembly, mechanical repairs, bodywork, painting, electrical repairs, reassembly, and interior repairs.

  1.       Evaluation: Look at the car and decide what needs to be fixed. 
  2.       Disassembly: Take the car apart.  Check every piece.
  3.       Mechanical Repairs: Fix the mechanical parts.  Make sure the car can run, turn, and stop.
  4.       Body Work: Fix the outside of the car.  Make sure things look right.
  5.       Paint: Paint the car.  Choose a suitable colour for your desired purpose.
  6.       Electricals: Check for shorts and faults.  Make sure things are safe.
  7.       Reassembly: Put the car back together.  Every part goes back in its place.
  8.       Interior repairs: Repair or retrim the interior.  Make the interior as nice as the rest of the car.


This is the first step of the restoration process.  Get an idea of just how much rust is present.  Often it will extend beyond what you can actually see, a bit like an iceberg really.   If the rust is structural, that will change the order of some of the following steps.  Bodywork may have to come before the mechanical restoration so you have a solid foundation.

Mechanical and safety components should be inspected.  It is important to be critical at this point, as your safety depends on it.  Besides, a reliable car is going to be much more enjoyable.  This is regardless of what extent of restoration you hope to achieve.  That being said, a true concourse restoration doesn’t allow for any improvements.  As these vehicles are rarely driven any great distance, improved reliability and safety probably aren’t a concern here.


Care must be taken when disassembling the car for restoration.  Often near-on-impossible-to-find parts are destroyed by carelessness or lack of knowledge.  Window mouldings are a classic example.  Digital cameras, especially on phones, have helped many when reassembly comes around.  Photograph everything from multiple angles.  Label each photograph and each part and store them in a commonsense manner.  It may be years before things are put back together, or it may be someone else doing that job.  You’ll appreciate the extra effort later.

Now is also the time to create a parts list.  Between evaluation and disassembly, most of what’s required should be known by now.  Now is when your club friends, as mentioned in part one, will be invaluable.  Experienced knowledge of what parts are hard to come by means you can start the search immediately.  Waiting until the part is required is rarely beneficial.  Club contacts will often lead to parts.  Some people just have inventory lists of all their mates in some hidden recess of their memory.

Mechanical repairs

Before non-structural bodywork, the first actual restoration step should be the mechanicals.  No matter how well presented an original classic looks, you can almost guarantee there’ll be something mechanical that needs attention.  We suggest starting with the braking system.  Check for damaged brake lines and replace any parts of the braking system that aren’t up to scratch.  Rubber lines especially are prone to decaying due to age.  As a bare minimum, flush the lines and replace with fresh fluid.  Maybe it is us, but being able to stop is pretty important. 

Next, inspect the suspension and steering components.  Like brakes, having a car that will ride and steer correctly is vital.  Any car with poor steering and suspension shouldn’t be driven.  When left to stand for a long period, things like rubber bushes tend to dry rot and fall apart.  Shock absorbers and ball joints are also items that wear out.  For peace of mind, it’s also a good idea to replace all fluids.  This includes the transmission, differential, and power steering if your classic has it fitted.  If it has been left to sit for years, you might find you have to repair more than you think.  Even if it was stored undercover.


Often one of the costliest steps of any restoration is bodywork.  Years of use can take their toll, and often, these now-desirable vehicles weren’t repaired properly.  At one point they were just another daily driver after all.  Rust damage is often far worse than accident damage and can extend into hard-to-reach places.  That means hard to repair properly, cheaply.  Doing the work correctly means many more years of service from your classic car.

Depending on the type of restoration, door gaps have different targets.  A top 60 car needs much tighter gaps than most cars left the factory with.  Factory correct restorations allow for larger gaps.  That being said, most of the time consistent gaps around the entire vehicle will be a bare minimum standard.


One of the favourite steps of restoration for most enthusiasts.  It’s at this point things start looking like a car again!  Good paint starts with paint preparation, which is arguably more important than the paint itself.  From paint not sticking, to imperfections, most problems start at the prep stage.  Glossy paint will highlight most shortcuts taken here.

Colour choice will depend on the desired outcome.  Choosing an original colour is perfect for some restorations, whereas a top 60 car can be anything your heart desires.  But originality goes beyond paint colours.  A 100-point concourse restoration can easily be over-restored.  In some instances, orange peel is desirable.  Too flat a paint finish can “ruin” this type of restoration.


The next step in the restoration process should probably be electricals.  Give the entire electrical system a thorough once-over.  Be sure to check all connections, grounds, and wires.  Check everything before connecting the battery.  A faulty wiring system can cause significant damage and more time in repairs if it is not operating correctly.  A fire can be catastrophic, even fatal.  We definitely suggest installing new battery and main earth cables.  They are critical for your electrical system to work right.


Reassembling a vehicle is one of the last steps of the restoration process.  This is when all the parts and components are put back into place.  Like a kid with a puzzle, reference your pictures to guide you through the reassembly.  This is where a well-organized disassembly pays dividends.  Often, reassembly relies 80% on experience and 20% on proper information.  This information can save delays, especially if the people reassembling didn’t disassemble the part in the first place.

Working in a clean space is always helpful, and having soft horizontal surfaces is a luxury too.  Somewhere safe to put freshly painted and chromed parts without fear of scratching.  Use quality “green” automotive masking tape on all painted edges in the area where you are working.   Thick rags or blankets taped in place are also a great idea.  Make sure any parts being reused are also thoroughly cleaned.  Running a tap or die over any reused threaded parts is a good idea too before the frustration starts.  Be careful to start all bolts properly, a stripped thread can become a huge ordeal.

This is part two of a three-part post outlining what to expect when considering a restoration of a classic car.  Next month we’ll focus on HSKG’s specialty, the interior.

Rust repairs as part of the restoration process.
Rust repairs as part of the restoration proccess.
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