Even if you’re a gearhead that’s only into cars made after you were born (and you were born in the 90’s), chances are, you’ve got a soft spot for a clean and restored classic car. Working on restoration cars is usually reserved for those of us with some disposable income, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t dream about projects we’d like to undertake some day, circumstances permitting.
Restoring classic cars is dirty, time-consuming, heart and back-breaking, and generally expensive work. When everything is said and done, though, seeing that pristine piece of automotive history looking as new as the day it rolled off the factory line is all the reward you’ll ever need. That feeling is exactly why we’ve pulled together this list of the top fifteen car restoration projects.
These cars were selected for a number of different reasons; some of them are the best cheap project cars with parts readily available while others we simply wish there were more of out on the streets. They may not be the best projects for beginners to tackle (and could come with a ton of issues) but nevertheless, here are fifteen good project cars that are just begging to be restored.
70-73 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Introduced in 1967, the Pontiac Firebird took styling cues from both the Pontiac GTO and Chevy Camaro. While the first generation of this car is great, it’s the beginning of the second generation (which ran through 1981) that we’re most interested in. There’s something special about the styling of the ’70-’73 Trans Ams that really gets those classic muscle juices flowing.
As a GM vehicle, you can bet that many parts are shared between vehicles from this era, which means that finding parts shouldn’t be terribly difficult. This may come in handy with a 1972 model, which produced only half of the average number of examples due to a worker strike.
This Japanese classic was introduced stateside in 1969 to huge success. It came with a 151-hp inline-six that did 0-60 in 8.0 seconds; it adds up to a car that is both reliable and fun to drive. It’s not winning any awards at the drag strip (not out of the box, at least) but it is widely regarded as a great cruising car with plenty of fun waiting at the next twisty road.
If you’re thinking about picking one up for a restoration project, know that these cars like to rust from the inside out. If the vehicle appears to be in pretty decent condition already, make sure to be attentive and thorough in your rust checklist. Once it’s up and running, though, expect it to behave like a much more mechanically engineered Scion FR-S. The 240Z will be lighter and have less power, but it should balance out pretty well.
Fourth Generation Lincoln Continental (1961-69)
This is arguably one of the most gangster cars ever produced, and it comes with some of the sexiest lines in the Lincoln lineup to date. To highlight this fact, notice the factory suicide doors, which make entering this vehicle like stepping through the velvet ropes of a plush and luxurious theater.
The fourth generation Continental came with a 7.0L V8 before 1966, when a 7.6L variant became available. The name of the game with the Continental was unrivaled luxury, which meant that this car would be one of the heaviest, floatiest, best-handling cars of its time with one of the smoothest rides around. Customizing a restored version is also a ton of fun, and these cars can be made to look seriously mean.
Parts shouldn’t be hard to find, though pricing may not be exactly affordable, either. That said, this could easily turn out to be one of the most rewarding car restoration projects you’ll ever take on.
Land Rover Ninety (1983-90)
Considering the questionable reliability coupled with the extreme potential of the Land Rover Defender, this is one of those classic restoration projects that may serve you better as a resto-mod. There’s plenty that could be upgraded during the renovation process to see you through the sticky times that would leave other Defender owners broken down on the side of the road.
The Land Rover 90 is arguably the most iconic body style for this vehicle, and it featured an iconic look that is still highly-prized to this day. To clear things up for those of you that may be a bit confused, the vehicle was not actually called the Defender until 1990, and the design was very much inspired by the 90 and 110.
The LR90 came with an inline-four petrol engine that produced 83 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque, or a 2.5L diesel variant good for 68 hp and 114 lb-ft. While the diesel is arguably more reliable, chances are you’ll probably want at least an I6 or V8 powering your restored Defender for optimal performance. It’s one of the best cars to restore.
And come to think of it, the 110 isn’t a bad choice either.
Late 60’s Ford Mustang
There really isn’t much to be said about this car restoration project. The Ford Mustang was introduced in 1964 and immediately upset the market by creating an entirely new ‘Pony Car’ segment. The idea behind a pony car was to create a small and light vehicle with moderate power that handled and performed exceptionally well. Passengers optional.
This is easily one of the most recognizable cars on earth, and you really can’t go wrong restoring one. No matter what year or trim you choose (aside from the rarer Boss variants and Shelby offerings), you’re pretty much guaranteed a surplus of cheap and readily-available parts.
It’s also a great car to do custom-fab work on if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer like our buddy Beto, whose 1966 Resto-Mod Mustang we covered a while back. Of course, if the Mustang made this best project cars list, that surely must mean…
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T
Surprise surprise, another classic American muscle car. This time, though, we’re going with a specific year in mind. When the Challenger was released, it had just four years to figure itself before disappearing for a few years, coming back as a terrible import, then disappearing again until its 2008 revival. The subsequent editions of the Challenger R/T saw numerous redesigns and options dropped, but despite these changes, we feel that Dodge really got it right on the first try here.
Engine choices ranged from the 335 hp 6.28L Magnum V8 up to the fabled 7.0L, 425 bhp Hemi V8 for R/T models, and you can probably guess which one is the engine of choice here. There really is nothing like Hemi power.
The Challenger debuted with a body style akin to that of the Plymouth Baracuda (no surprise there) and was also similar to some of the other muscle monsters on the market. There’s something really unique about the Challenger though; there’s a sort of feral ruthlessness about it that makes it seem like a cornered, angry animal.
First Generation Chevrolet Camaro (1967-69)
No surprise here either, as we round out the classic muscle trifecta with the renowned Chevy Camaro. While the earlier iterations of the second generation weren’t bad at all (especially the Z/28), the first generation Camaro really solidified and conveyed exactly what the Camaro was meant to be: a heavy-hitting pony car to tackle the Mustang.
There were 8 engine options when the car was first released, and by the end of the first generation, that list of choices grew to 12 engines strong. With the massive engine bay and a little creativity, the car could easily handle damn-near any swap you could throw at it. There were also quite a few transmission options, including a 2 or 3 speed automatic and a 3 or 4-speed manual.
There’s plenty of literature out there not only for the classic Camaros, but for most classic muscle cars too; many people have gone down this path and taken notes along the way to help future car restoration projects go off with fewer hitches. With guides readily available and parts circulating the aftermarket, this should prove to be a fun and interesting project car.
Second Generation Chevrolet Bel Air (1955-57)
There really is no mistaking this car at first glance. There’s no other car that combines a rounded bubble top with long, radical tail fins like the Chevy Bel Air did in the mid-fifties. The Bel Air was actually sold from 1950-81, but its the second generation that everyone is interested in. These cars are only climbing in value, which means getting your hands on a body to restore, and parts to pump it full of, might prove to be a real challenge.
The second generation of the Chevy Bel Air is one of the most iconic cars in American history, and while subsequent generations tried to copy and build on the success of this model, none were successful. The car went on to die a quiet death in the 80’s and hasn’t been seen since, save for a rather unremarkable concept in 2002. It only took one generation for Chevy to figure out how to sell the Bel Air, and it only took one or two more for them to totally drop the ball. But really, how could anyone follow an act like this? They got it right and there’s no shame in trying to do better.
It’s strange to think that we’ll likely never see another car like it in our lifetimes, which is all the more reason to try and snatch one of these bad boys up at the next opportunity.
First Generation Ford Thunderbird (1955-57)
For a car that lasted 11 generations, there really isn’t much to say about it after the first. Ford hit the nail on the head on the very first try, and the first generation Thunderbird was essentially the first and last real Thunderbird. The iconic styling set the tone for what this car would be, while the generations that followed would slowly but surely disappoint consumers and wander further and further away from the car’s mission statement.
It may come as a surprise to you that the Thunderbird was actually introduced as a rival to the Chevy Corvette, though we all know how that worked out. Perhaps even more surprising is that it outsold the Corvette 23-to-1 in its first year. The second generation Thunderbird was also extremely successful thanks to the addition of a four-door model, though this version got away from the original idea of the Thunderbird and doesn’t necessarily represent what the car set out to do; it was just a really smart marketing move.
The Thunderbird saw many variants of its V8 engine throughout the years of the first generation and even featured a supercharged 300 hp mill towards the end of its life. Despite high sales numbers, these cars are still quite rare, as most examples are currently snatched up or sitting in museums. Still, it can, and very much should be done.
Porsches have long been revered as some of the best driving cars around. They can be sublimely balanced with both great handling and solid power, but owning a dated model can definitely prove to be a labor of love. Unfortunately, while the golden air-cooled Porsches of old used to be somewhat affordable, a recent boom in the market has resulted in prices skyrocketing. It may be highly unlikely that this is a realistic car restoration project to take on, but let’s entertain the thought for a minute anyway.
I’m not going to bother listing specs because there are just so so many variants to choose from here. To clear up one common misconception right off the bat, these cars are not necessarily fast. Speed does not always equal a better driving experience, and the driving experience is exactly what Porsche was focusing on when they created these cars in the first place.
Also worth noting is the fact that damn-near every one of these cars has either been abandoned, bastardized, or driven into the ground. There’s no such thing as an air-cooled Porsche that will cost you less than $30,000.
That being said, just about every owner with a restored or working example claims it’s the best car in all of existence and palm leaves should be laid at its tires as it strolls through town on a Sunday afternoon. If you’ve got the cash and that sounds appealing, by all means: go for it.
J40 Toyota Land Cruiser (1960-84)
Let’s start this off by saying just one thing: this vehicle is absolutely bulletproof. Toyota knew exactly what it was doing when it created this wonderful truck which has proven to be one of the most reliable off-road vehicles on the planet, even 30 years later. It comes from a time when cars were still made of metal, which incidentally is also a time when sound-proofing wasn’t terribly effective…or really present, for that matter.
This is not a road car by any means, but the 4×4 drivetrain is just as effective today as it was when it was released. You can go just about anywhere in this truck and since it’s a Toyota, you can also be sure that you’ll make it back, too. Japanese brands generally make for better car restoration projects because of cheap and available parts, and even though these J40s are somewhat rare, they’re actually surprisingly affordable for the most part.
1983 was the last year this vehicle was imported to the US (and in record low numbers), and it’s worth noting that the late 1980-82 models are the most mechanically advanced. There’s still plenty of love for ’74-79 models too, though, so don’t get hung up on the model year when looking for one of these off-road warriors.
Datsun 510 Wagon (1968-73)
The Datsun Bluebird 510 was available as a two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and two-door coupe, but the model we’re most interested in here is the five-door wagon variant. It is an adorable little car that is absolutely charming and a genuine joy to putz around town in. It’s powered by a rinky-dink little 4-banger which was rated around 97 hp, which brings us to the next point of order: this is not a fast car. At all.
It’s a joy to drive but that joy most definitely does not come from power. Though, you probably could fit an I6 under the hood if you want something with a little more zip to it. Then again, the two-door coupe apparently makes 109 hp which, while still not a lot at all, could actually adequately address those speed concerns.
This car stands out in this list because it’s not a big, strong, badass classic muscle car, nor is it a capable 4×4 off-roader. It is simply cute as shit and fun to be around and if that doesn’t make you happy, I question your taste in cars. As far as car restoration projects go, this one is simple, easy, and surprisingly rewarding.
Did I mention it can be made pretty damn clean, too?
E30 BMW M3
This car is somewhat widely regarded as the chariot of the Gods and is allegedly one of the most incredibly smooth and rewarding cars to drive in all of existence. Never having been behind the wheel of one outside of a Forza game, I couldn’t really say for sure that this reputation is deserved, but knowing BMW, it probably is.
As far as affordability goes, you can bet that this is going to be in a similar realm as the air-cooled Porsches we discussed earlier. Even further, the likelihood of you finding a rusted out example in need of restoration is probably pretty low. Assuming you can find one on the cheap that is rusty and in need of some TLC, consider yourself lucky, because you now have the wonderful problem of needing to rebuild a fantastic car from the ground up.
You should know, though, that the engine the M3 came with, while matched well to the car it’s in, is not as powerful as the V8 editions we enjoy in modern times. You might consider swapping in a straight-6 for better times to be had, but it isn’t wholly necessary.
Second Generation Volkswagen Type 2 (1968-79)
It’s been called many things: the microbus, the hippie van, the transporter, and more, but it was originally known as the Volkswagen Type 2. While the first generation, which spanned from 1950 to 1967, is the first thing that pops into most people’s heads when thinking about the VW bus, those models are much more expensive and generally difficult to find.
The second generation of this fabulous people mover is much more affordable and approachable, and there are tons of different layouts to choose from. It’s more modern as well, though you still get the classic microbus look that people love so very much.
Parts are generally cheap and plentiful for these models, though you may want to look into securing a more powerful engine for your restoration; many owners report that the engine struggles sometimes to power the large van around the countryside – especially when its loaded up with Biofuel, surfboards, and vegan hot wings. At the end of this car restoration project, you’re sure to have a liveable and driveable piece of automotive history that’ll draw many an onlooker with hopes of traveling the countryside themselves.
Nissan Skyline “Hakosuka” GT-R
Here it is, folks, possibly the most unrealistic yet badass car on the list. The GT-R variant of the C10 Skyline was introduced in 1969 and featured a 160 hp 2.0L I6 engine. The base model was stripped of unnecessary weight, which in 1971 even saw the car being offered in a two-door version, which really is the best-looking in our opinion.
This will undoubtedly be one of, if not the most difficult car on this list to actually track down, which may mean settling for a four-door base model and doing a GT-R swap yourself. Or maybe you don’t; this car is special in its own right and shouldn’t really be in need of any further assistance.
Just like the Datsun Bluebird, its a fun, cute little car with tons of heart and soul. This car restoration project isn’t one to take on lightly, but if you can manage to pull it off, you’ll most certainly be turning heads and breaking necks on the daily.
10 Classic Trucks That Simply Must be Restored at All Costs
Classic Truck Restoration: These Old School Pickup Trucks Are Worth The Effort!
Every gearhead trying to embark on a classic vehicle restoration has his work cut out in front of him. However, classic trucks are a different matter entirely. Their restoration is often on entirely new level, simply due to their purpose and nature. Having served as workhorses, often for decades at a time, most of classic pickups have at one point crossed the threshold of being worth saving. At least financially speaking. But since we gearheads are sensitive beings when it comes to classic vehicles, we often don’t care about financial aspects of a full blown restoration.
If, by any chance, pickup truck in question is one of the following 10 – restoration should be undertaken as soon as possible. Every classic pickup truck owner has a moral obligation towards the auto world society. After all, classic trucks aren’t growing on trees. There ain’t gonna be any more of them, and all of us have to do everything within our power in order to save as many of them as possible. Of course, all in accordance with means that are at our disposal. Here are 10 vintage classic trucks that are well worth saving.
The Old Truck Restoration Game: The Worthiest Candidates For Your Time!
1955-1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier
As vintage as vehicle can get – the Chevrolet Cameo Carrier should be high on any truck aficionado’s list. But Cameos aren’t your average vintage pickups. They’re revolutionary vintage trucks. If you wonder which truck had reduced the stylistic gap between old school workhorse pickups and passenger cars, and when – look no further. It was the Chevy Cameo Carrier which had revolutionized the pickup in general, and instilled the idea of a more car-friendly workhorse, more than 60 years ago. And it was all done in one, rather simple move: the introduction of the then new fleetside bed.
But the fleetside bed with chrome-edged gap (between bed and cab) wasn’t alone in terms of more car-like updates. Full chrome front and rear bumpers were also uncommon in a workhorse beforehand, and so were optional features like radio and power steering. In addition, Cameo Carrier was the first Chevy pickup with V8 under its hood. In 1955, it was the 265ci overhead-valve small-block, while 283ci V8 came in 1957. Standard choice, however, was still 235.5ci straight-six mated to 3 or 4-speed manual transmission. Consider yourself lucky if you find the base setup, however, as most people decided to go with optional V8 and 4-speed Hydra-Matic auto.
Atop of that, Cameos were already rare. ’55 models were limited to Bombay Ivory exterior, and Commercial Red interior and bed. 5,220 of these had found their new owners that year. ’56 and ’57 year models added new color schemes, but their numbers dwindled regardless. Only 1,452 and 2,244 were sold respectively. Finally, by 1958 Cameo was playing its swan song. 1,405 of them were sold, and Chevy decided to discontinue the nameplate. Cameo did what it was supposed to do. It introduced the new, revolutionary car-friendly styling to the pickup truck world and it was time for C/K series to rise and shine. Task Force design went into well deserved retirement, and so did the stepside bed design.
1978-1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express
The austere and performance-sterile late seventies were more charitable than you think. They opened up the window of opportunity for numerous nameplates that couldn’t even dream of being in the mix for the fastest American vehicle beforehand. But still, who would have thought that a pickup truck would take the laurels?!
That’s exactly that happened in 1978, when Dodge morphed their “Adult Toys” Warlock truck into muscle-oriented Li’l Red Express. Someone at Mopar figured out that catalytic converter rule doesn’t apply to pickup trucks. That loophole practically put professional athlete that was Li’l Red Express into paralympic group consisting of every other car in the market. Unfair or not, Mopar’s performance-oriented half-ton D150 pickup packed 225 horses thanks to modified version of police (E58) V8 engine. 360ci four-barrel small-block (EH1) mill featured upgraded police cam, SuperFlow heads, dual-snorkel air intake, heavy duty valve springs, and modified A-727 TorqueFlite 3-speed auto transmission.
1979 models were slightly revised. They featured new flat hood and dual square headlights. Yet, their most important identity piece remained as dual semi-inspired chrome exhausts carried over unchanged. Of course, fastest American 0 to 100 mph vehicle for ’78 quickly caught EPA’s attention. That leads us to another change. ’79 year models also got the dreaded catalytic converter. Although detuned, they were still potent enough to tackle almost any car out there. Even the Corvette.
Dodge sold 2,188 units in 1978 and 5,118 models in 1979. As you can see, apart from being extremely potent, Li’l Red Express’ were also quite rare. Their price tag had a major role in that. Base D150 started at $5,168, and Li’l Red Express package added another $1,131. That wasn’t all, however. Li’l Red Express required additional upgrades beforehand, raising the total to at least $7,422 with more available options to follow.
1973-1987 Chevy and GMC Pickups
Not the they were the best or the most famous of all C/K trucks, but they certainly did have that special something. The X factor of sorts. And I’m not only talking about around two dozen flamboyant special editions which we’ve covered earlier. Third generation C/K pickups were some of the most durable and often abused classic trucks ever to have come out of almost dozen American and Canadian GM assembly lines.
“Square body” generation were unlike anything else seen on the roads back in the day. And they were in development for five full years before they finally debuted in mid-1972. Although GM gave them somewhat misleading “Rounded line” moniker, both Chevy and GMC full-size twins actually started a boxy revolution that would reach its peak years later.
Long production cycle, naturally, meant numerous changes. Total of nine different powertrains were used including straight and vee-angled 6s, V8s and two diesels. One of which was dreaded Olds 350ci V8. At the same time, 73-87 Chevy and GMC trucks offered no less than six different transmissions. Countless numbers of different equipment codes, stylistic changes and millions of sold trucks were another part of this truck’s proud history. If you get the chance to prolong the life of one such illustrious pickup – don’t hesitate to do so.
1946-1956 Dodge Power Wagon
Ask anyone in the United Arab Emirates who built their country, aside from their humongous oil reserves? The answer will unmistakably be the Power Wagon. And if we’ve been taught something about UAE, it’s that they love nice cars over there. It’s not exactly an epiphany – the fact that classic Dodge Power Wagon is one fine vehicle – but it’s nice to know someone on the other side of the world shares that sentiment.
Although we can now bask in the light of new Power Wagon, classic models strutted their stuff between 1946 and 1978. Vintage specimens, however, have to be the first two series’ which ran from 1946 to 1950 and from 1951 to 1956 respectively. These are the essential workhorse, no nonsense vintage Power Wagons. Being built for military during WWII, it comes as no surprise they were also practically indestructible and highly reliable. Another reason why Dodge Power Wagons deserve to be restored, wherever they may be.
What’s more, Dodge Power Wagon became the first mass produced 4×4 pickup. Although, Willys 4T would become the world’s first light-duty truck with similar credentials, the following year. Civilian one-ton Power Wagons were very slow in promoting changes. There were precious few of them, but second series’ initial year seems to have brought the most. In 1952, bed was completely restyled, but it kept the same 8-foot length. Engine got the new starter for increased power output, and fresh rubber mountings, but 230ci Flathead six itself remained. Both axle capacities increased, but yet again, Power Wagon remained almost unchanged.
They were so helpful on all fronts that Dodge kept producing them for export until 1978, even though US production ceased a decade earlier. They likely made them until tooling drew its last breath. One example of Power Wagon’s helpful nature were New York State Telephone Company’s specially equipped models. They came with a boom and winch powered by 6-hp auxiliary motor. Thanks to these, crew of two men were able to drill a 12-inch wide and 5.5 feet deep posthole in matter of minutes. Restore one and you might be able to do the same too.
1960-1984 Toyota FJ45 Pickup
The Toyota FJ40 Series alone is one of the most epic off-road vehicles ever made. FJ40 Series trucks (dubbed FJ45), on the other hand, are as good as classic trucks can get. Although they were available worldwide and produced in seamlessly limitless numbers, they’re highly deserving of a makeover. Plus, pickups were still rather rare compared to SUV’s.
Land Cruisers came to pass as Japanese answer to the first Jeeps and Land Rovers. In fact, they also started their career as military vehicles during the Korean war. US military needed their Willys MB’s in the far east, but it was easier to assemble them closer by. Toyota was seen as the best candidate and US military gave them 100 Willys specimens from which they would build on. By 1953, Toyota started full production by themselves. By 1955, J20 Series became the first civilian Land Cruiser generation, and by 1960, they switched to J40 Series which most people consider the ultimate classics these days.
FJ45 pickup trucks debuted at the same time as their shorter FJ40 counterparts. F stood for engine type (petrol), J stood for Jeep, and numerals depicted configurations. For instance, 40 stood for short wheelbase, two-door, four-wheel drive, while 45 stood for long-wheelbase, 2, 3 or 4-door, and all-wheel drive. BJ Land Cruisers came with diesel B-type engines.
FJ45 pickup trucks benefited from the same praise-worthy 3.8L inline-six F-type petrol engine as most other Land Cruisers. This engine was so good that it could have pushed for 500,000 miles and more without a single problem. Not only was their engine durable, but so were transmission and leaf suspension. In fact, only rust and force were able to destroy the good old FJ40. As of 1975, F-type engine was replaced with larger displacement 4.2L 2F-type mill. It was more powerful and efficient, but otherwise similarly reliable as its predecessor.
There were some differences between the years and options. Some FJ45 pickups came with optional removable hardtop, while some came with extremely short beds very difficult to find today. They may be commanding premium price these days, but FJ45 pickups can also easily return on investment in the future. Around 300 imported 1983 models command extra premium these days. These were the last American market FJ40’s, while Canada was supplied for additional year. In contrast, Brazilian market FJ40’s started in 1968 and continued well into 2001.
1948-1956 Ford F-Series
First and second generation Ford F-Series are true classic trucks that simply must be restored. If they weren’t already restored, that is. I’m aware that I’m not surprising anyone with their inclusion to the list, but that’s exactly the point. Most popular American vehicle of all times hides some mysteries, but that’s natural for a vehicle that’s been in the market for nearly 70 years and sold millions of units along the way.
First generation F-Series was also Blue Oval’s first post-war truck design. Bonus-Built line, as they called it, spanned across all sizes from half-ton to three-ton extra heavy-duty models. Power came from base Flathead inline-six (215ci, 226,ci and 254ci), Flathead V8 (239ci and 337ci) and Y-Block V8 engines (279ci and 317ci). Designations started from F1 (half-ton) and went all the way to already mentioned three-ton F8’s with 20,000–22,000 pound GVWR. All of them, however, were no-nonsense workhorses with very little in terms of more refined optional features. Marmon-Herrington all-wheel drive was one of these, and so were foot-operated “See-Clear” windshield washer, sun visor and chrome trim. First generation went through couple of revisions in 1951 and 1952 which brought new styling, two levels of cab trim (first time since late thirties) and new hood respectively.
From 1953, second series dubbed “Economy Truck Line” received new numeral designation starting from F100 and ending with F700. Engines also switched generations. New inline-six “Mileage Maker” 215ci and 223ci made their debut. On the other hand, Flathead 239ci V8 was retired after 1953. Rest of the lineup consisted of Ford 239ci and 256ci Y-Block V8’s and Lincoln 279ci and 317ci Y-Blocks. Styling changes occurred more often this time. Grille was changed for all four model years, and addition of new tires and optional power brakes for ’55 rounded up the changes. First F-Series are true classic trucks that offer many restoration options due to availability of parts and equipment.
1981-1986 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
Although it represented everything a pickup truck enthusiast desired, the CJ-8 Scrambler went under the radar like very few Jeeps had back in the day. Basically a long-wheelbase CJ-7, the Jeep CJ-8 was introduced five years into its sibling’s production cycle. What made it unique, apart from 10 extra inches, was removable half-cab which effectively converted it into a pickup truck. It also came with optional Scrambler appearance package adding tape graphics, Scrambler lettering and special wheels. Since many people ordered their CJ-8 with this feature, name Scrambler stuck forever.
Final production figures stopped at 27,792 which was much less than Jeep expected. With around 5,500 models per year average, for 5 years (plus 128 leftover trucks sold in ’86), Scrambler is now one rare and increasingly expensive find. All-wheel drive was standard across the board while small pickup went on without too much motivational force. Only 2.5L 4-cylinder and 4.2L AMC in-line six were offered and they didn’t really make too much power. Former pushed 82 horses while latter made 110 ponies. 4-speed manual was the most popular transmission option that came with the Scrambler. Other options consisted of a 5-speed manual and the 3-speed Borg-Warner auto. Bonus powerplant was offered in European exports which featured 60-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder diesel.
What makes Scrambler a fine restoration candidate is he fact that it shares most of its panels with the CJ-7. On the other hand, they’ve already become recognizable classic trucks in high demand, which makes them rather expensive. Furthermore, many of them have been modded to some extent so finding fully stock originals is even harder. Then again, it would be a shame if too many of them ended up in a scrap yard. There certainly ain’t gonna be any more of them.
1974-1977 Mazda Rotary Pickup (REPU)
As the world’s only ever Wankel rotary-engined pickup truck, the Mazda B-Series qualifies as one of the rarest classic pickups ever made. What’s more, they were exclusively limited to American and Canadian markets. Compact in size with even smaller 1.3L engine and low payload of 1,350 pounds, Mazda Rotary pickup is definitely one of the most outrageous attempts at marketing a truck.
However petite, that 13B Wankel buzzer and four-barrel Hitachi Carb generated 110 horsepower and redlined at 7,000 rpm. Moreover, base versions went for less than $4,000 back in the day. Although styling and affordability were its main advantages, REPU also boasted one of the most incredible engine sounds ever heard in a truck. That’s what rotary engine was best at – squeezing as much power as possible with laughably small displacements and producing great exhaust notes along the way. Although not very practical as a workhorse and less than efficient considering its engine size, REPU is much sought after these days. The fact that it only ran for three years and around 14,364 of them were assembled, makes it somewhat expensive.
On the other hand, considering more and more people are buying classic trucks (and pickups in general) for styling and not for practicality these days, REPU is actually one fine choice for pickup restoration. It won’t be helping you move away and switch apartments, but it will certainly turn some heads while you’re driving it. And driving one is supposed to be rather fun.
1964-1967 Dodge Custom Sport Special
The first and second generation Dodge D Series trucks can’t exactly boast with good looks. Incidentally, it’s exactly then, that Dodge had marketed the CSS package with D and W 100, 200, Sweptline, Utiline, and Chassis cab trucks. CSS stood for Custom Sport Special and it really packed some kick when coupled with HPP (high performance package). In a sense, it was a predecessor of all future performance-oriented trucks.
CSS trim was only offered from ’64 to ’66, but some CSS trucks were marketed in 1967 as well (though without the HPP). What’s interesting is that CSS package actually consisted of various parts taken from other Dodge cars. Bucket seats, for instance, came from Dart, while center console migrated from Polara. Floor and gas tank carpet, chrome bumpers, and racing hood stripes were the rest of $235 worth of options.
HPP, which often came with CSS, consisted of power steering, dual exhausts, torque rods taken from Chrysler Imperial and heavy duty instruments. Most important part, however, was the 365-horsepower 426ci wedge-head V8 with 727 pushbutton 3-speed auto transmission. Here comes the tricky part. CSS was available with most Dodge trucks at the time, and could have been ordered with smaller 225ci slant six and 318ci V8. HPP which cost additional $1,200 or more, was only available with D100 and D200 long bed pickups.
Apparently, less than 30 trucks were ordered with both of these packages which makes them sort of a holy grail of pickups. Any Custom Sport Special Dodge, however, is a fine restoration candidate, regardless of what’s sleeping under its hood. And engine swaps aren’t that uncommon these days as well.
1939-1942 and 1945-1947 Hudson Big Boy C28
Some time prior to Nash/Hudson merger which resulted in creation of AMC, both companies were struggling to compete with the big three. Given the fact they couldn’t offer affordable workhorse, Hudson brass opted for different approach. They took their Commodore sedan and converted it into a pickup truck. This became one of the more refined classic trucks of its era with interior designed by one of America’s first female car designers Betty Thatcher Oros.
Produced between ’39 and ’42, and between ’45 and ’47 after the war, Hudson C28 pickup trucks got the “Big Boys” moniker. At least three-quarter ton versions did. The same name wasn’t intended for half-ton models, but years passed and the name stuck with all C28’s.
Big Boy Hudson classic trucks were powered by 102-horsepower 3.5L straight-six dubbed “Super Six.” They also featured column-mounted 3-speed manual transmission which was a step forward at the time when others were still using floor-mounted shifters. With 3,500 pounds of weight, 128-inch wheelbase and 8-foot bed, “Big Boys” clearly earned their moniker. Don’t miss on an opportunity to work on one if you get the chance. They’re rare and expensive, but they’re also some of the most beautiful vintage trucks ever made.
Car Restoration: The Need to Knows
Restoring a classic car is not something that should be taken lightly, nor on a tight budget. You can expect to be shelling out tens of thousands of dollars through most car restoration projects, so make sure you’re truly financially equipped to properly flip the car.
Free time is another important factor, and you can consider your project a failure from the start if you never even have time to put in work on the car when you manage to wrangle some parts together. Time has already taken its toll on your dream vehicle’s body, so make sure it doesn’t also take its toll on you.
Finding the perfect car to restore can also be a grueling process, and you’ll want to see the car in person before making the final decision. Rust could be far worse than advertised with online listings, so check locally in classifieds and talk to people at car meets to see what is already waiting around in your area. To make life easier for you, we’ve got a handy list of important things to watch out for to make your classic car restoration (or truck restoration) goes smoothly:
Not Enough Money
Many people will begin the process of restoring a classic car thinking they can do it cheaply. If this is your current mindset, you should probably know now just how wrong you are because the truth is that (like all good quality auto repair) restoration costs are very expensive. Obviously, prices will depend on the level of restoration you are doing. If a car only needs a new paint job and a few upgrades, it will cost you less than restoring a rusty old classic you found in a barn, which had been rear ended, that needs a full restoration. It depends what skills you have and what you need to outsource to professional restoration shops, and how much of the original car you have and what auto parts you’ll need to buy or what sheet metal body work needs to fabricated. It seldom takes more than an oil change to restore your classic dream car.
Let’s take a quick look at an example of what most classic car restoration project cost guides suggest you look at:
Project Car Acquisition Costs – This could be your smallest expense or largest depending what kind of car you choose. You could go to the junkyard and pay as little as $100 for a bare chassis or you could pay brand new car prices buying something mostly done from a private party. Some people forget that purchasing a salvage car from a junkyard also means having to deal with the expense of having a salvage title.
Restoration Preparation Costs – If you are planning to create a show car, there is a lot of restoration to do that you might not be thinking of. From stripping the frame to be blasted and re-plated to cleaning every nut and bolt, you are looking at a big expense.
Parts and Labor – Many people don’t keep track of how much each part is going to cost and they also don’t factor in the cost of labor which, at a specialty shop, can be a good chunk of change. Auto parts supplies can range in quality from cheap and nasty to expensive and reliable. You’re going to want the latter, and fine engineering comes at an appropriate cost. Skilled labor isn’t cheap either. Auto collision center staff know a thing or two about collision repair, and quality fabrication will be reflected on the invoices. A good job will cost money.
Finishing – Don’t forget to factor in the painting and body repairs which can tack on another couple thousand easily. Auto body paint isn’t cheap, and custom paint body specialists don’t work for free. If you want to see great work, you’ve got to be prepared to pay ultra high-end prices. And after the paint, you’ve also got to consider the auto detailing side of things, like the wax and paint care jobs too.
Bottom line – Be prepared to spend a lot more than you budget for. I’ve never met an enthusiast that didn’t overspend when restoring a classic. Make a cost guide and try and stick to your budget as close as humanly possible.
Not Enough Time
Ask anyone who is planning to restore a car how long it will take them and you will most likely hear a ridiculous number. That’s because they commonly think there are going to be no issues regarding the job. Even when you think it will only take 50 hours, it is always best to figure on double or even triple that time. If it gets done sooner, you’ll have something to brag about!
Remember, restoring a classic involves a good amount of technology, tools, and expertise; it isn’t just about elbow grease. You could spend hundreds of hours on your classic car only to find that it still isn’t done right. How discouraging would that be?
Before you start your project, make sure you are going to have the time to commit to it; no matter how long it takes. Be honest with yourself. If you are going to be distracted by work, family, or other life commitments, maybe now isn’t the best time to take on a new classic car restoration.
It Stopped Being Fun
I know you are thinking that the restoration couldn’t possibly become less fun than you are planning on it being, but it will. There are going to be times throughout the process that you just become downright overwhelmed. Other times, you’ll battle being miserable and frustrated. At the end of a day, you might even find that it just isn’t satisfying you the way you thought it would.
That’s the reality behind any restoration job. Ask anyone that’s done it. For all the success stories, there are thousands more abandoned projects out there.
So aside from the fact that your project is going to be a money pit that consumes all your time, what will you do when you don’t see progress? What are you planning to do when the results aren’t what you expected? This is the point where many people give up on their classic car project and simply walk away from it.
If you can find it in you to have some enjoyable moments throughout the work, consider yourself lucky. That’s not the norm for most enthusiasts who have gone before you. Don’t let that discourage you from starting. If you can go into it knowing that it isn’t about fun and that it will be exceptionally difficult, you just might make it through.
Having No Plan
The plan is the most important part of the process. First, you need to plan on what car you’ll buy. Will you have access to the parts supplies you need? Are they affordable? Once you get the car, you’ll have to decide which parts are being replaced and which can remain original. This also requires a plan.
Then, you need to ensure you have the equipment, tools, and space needed to complete the job. Unless you are outsourcing the work, you are going to need a lot of tools. Plus, you need a space big enough to hold all your gear until the work is complete.
Here are just some of the tools you’ll need to get started:
– Wrenches and sockets
– Drill and bits
– Sheet metal scissors
– Floor jack
– Electric tools such as a voltmeter and air compressor
– Wire brushes
– Engine stand and crane
– Jack stands
– and more!
If you don’t have the tool you need in the middle of a project, you’ll either need to buy or rent one. This isn’t one of those auto jobs that you can grab some duct tape and WD-40 to fix – have you ever seen a taped up Rolls Royce?! You need real expertise, skills, and equipment to make it happen. Without the skills and tooling, you’re going to need to seek help of specialist auto repair body shops – which is not a cheap option at all.
Even if you can afford to do it that way, you need to know which paint shops, auto repair specialists, hot rod tuners, and auto body engineers you’re going to spend your money at. Even outsourcing requires careful consideration.
Do yourself a favor and write out a plan ahead of time. Then, prepare for many detours along the way.
This goes hand in hand with your plan. If your environment is disorganized, you will have a hell of a time building a car. Clutter can make anyone crazy, especially when you can’t find what you need. Throwing parts around on the shelves in piles might seem like a good idea at the time, but it only leads to trouble.
Consider getting your work area organized before starting any classic car restoration project. You can purchase some disposable food containers varying in sizes. Then, load them up and mark what’s in them. From here, they will be easy to stack and find what you need when the time is right.
It’s also important that you remember to keep all the old parts you take off the car. You won’t want to get rid of these until the restoration is complete. They are going to come in handy for reference reasons and could save you a bunch of time.
Not Doing Enough Research
Sure, watch how-to car videos, classic car restoration videos, and read tech articles for tips, techniques and advice, but you need to do more research than that. This isn’t just about the car or the parts you buy, but more importantly, the shops you use. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve seen burned by using less than reputable people to work on their vehicles. This includes engine builders, plating shops, body shops and upholstery facilities.
Before you agree to let anyone work on your restoration or any auto customization at all, you must validate their reputation. Read forums or talk with others in your community. Visit the shop and ask to see some examples of previous work. Find out if they really are the highest rated custom car body shop around. Then, be sure to ask them some questions, such as:
– How long does it take to get the work accomplished?
– What quality of material do you use for the jobs?
– How experienced are your techs with working on my type of car?
Your best bet is to find a shop that is familiar with working on your specific car. Then, they’ll already know all the ins and outs so there should be no surprises. If you don’t feel confident then find another auto repair/ auto customization shop! YDon’t wait for irreparable damage to be done first. There are a lot of cowboy business owners out there. You need a pro who knows car chassis work, can handle the engine, transmission, tires, brakes, glass windows, seals, upholstery, carpet, seats, and has the skills, equipment, and know-how to meet all your auto restoration needs.
Failing to Get an Estimate
It’s important to remember that performing a restoration job is completely different than maintaining your daily vehicle. That’s why it is so important you know up front what you’ll be able to accomplish yourself and what you’ll need professional help to do. If you expect to need a professional for any circumstance, you are going to want to find a reputable shop up front. This isn’t a job you can take to the local lube.
It isn’t abnormal to take your car out of town to find what you need. After all, there aren’t that many people skilled in the art of vehicle restoration. It still amazes me at how many people will turn over their car without a signed agreement or written estimate. It’s those same people that end up burned time after time.
I don’t care how well you know someone or how good their reputation is; a humble handshake means nothing. This isn’t the time to show how much you trust someone. It isn’t abnormal for a shop to suddenly have selective memory once they have your car and your money. At that point, it’s simply their word against yours, and you are at their mercy. If they aren’t willing to give you a written agreement, it’s time to look for another shop.
Using an Unsafe Support System
I’ve seen people do some pretty stupid things when it comes to supporting their muscle car chassis during a restoration. People think any object will work; from the milk crate to blocks of wood. Safety is king when it comes to working on a heavy object like a car. After all, your life is valuable.
I understand that not everyone can afford to purchase a rotisserie, but even a quality set of jack stands is attainable by most. Stay away from hydraulic jacks or sheet metal jack stands. They are dangerous and I have no desire in knowing you got maimed.
Once you find the right support, follow these simple tips.
– Take your time to place a stand at each corner of your vehicle.
– Get your body as high as you can.
– Check the stability before you get underneath.
Purchasing an Unknown Engine
This is one of the top 10 best classic car restoration mistakes: not checking the engine! The engine is the main component of your restoration, but many people don’t take the time they should on research. Many people purchase a used engine without ever knowing what’s inside. Then, they knock it apart and find cracked cylinders or castings and the block isn’t salvageable.
If you are purchasing a used engine, you must know its integrity. It is always wise to ask for a purchasing clause prior to shelling out the cash. This gives you the chance to inspect the engine and confirm its condition first. If you don’t know what you are looking at, take someone with you who does.
Not Protecting the Paint
As you are putting your project back together, it’s very likely that there could be some damage done to the painted body. Thankfully, there doesn’t have to be. When you receive the painted body back from the body shop, your number one priority should now be paint protection. Otherwise, you could have to do the entire paint job over again – at your expense.
– Keep the vehicle covered when you aren’t working.
– Put a heavy layer of padding under your cover.
– Move anything that could fall on it and do damage. (bikes, trash cans, lawn equipment, etc.)
– When working on the car, keep the painted surfaces covered up.
– Don’t work on the car when you are frustrated or in a hurry because mistakes can easily be made.
– Act as if you were a neurosurgeon at all times – take that level of care in everything you do regarding the car.
Other Classic Car Restoration Tips
Now that we’ve given you lots of warning as to why your project could go wrong, we’d like to share some tips on how to keep it on track.
– Be prepared for things not to go your way.
– Have a plan together for dealing with setbacks.
– Be ready to enlist the help of professional restoration services.
– Take your time and be patient. This process won’t happen quickly.
– Set aside triple the amount of money you think you’ll need.
– Set aside triple the amount of time you think you’ll need.
– Research and interview all the shops you will use for the process.
– Try to have fun!
Before getting started, ask yourself these questions:
– What is my budget?
– Do I have the space I need to complete this project?
– Where will I store the car?
– What is my timeframe?
– Do I have all the tools and skills I need to complete this task?
– Should I take some training courses before I begin?
When you are looking to start a restoration, it helps to get involved with some other people that have already been through the process. They can help you avoid common pitfalls and give you tips for success. Search around your surrounding area for other enthusiasts who can point you in the right direction about things. There’s no shortage of restorers in the United States! You can start by watching this video first. The guys from the Classic Car Restoration Club discuss how to pick your ideal project vehicle. Enjoy!
Other than that, have fun with it, and enjoy the process. These cars are meant to be loved and enjoyed, and if you find that it’s causing you more heartache than it does bring you joy, it’s probably time to take a step back or can the project entirely. You’ll get frustrated along the way but if your heart is truly in it, the final result will make you glad you took on a car restoration project in the first place.