How Much Does It Take To Restore A Classic Car?
A full-blown restoration costs between $40,000 and $60,000 for a professional to do the work. If you decide to do some work, you can whittle that down that number. Many car owners have spent hours in their garages working alongside a mechanic friend who can help them learn and grow. Some have backgrounds in the automotive industry that give them a knowledge of engines or other components that make the restorations smoother and cheaper. Some factors will contribute to the restoration cost, and it is best to have a good understanding of them before beginning any project.
Initial Acquisition of the Car
Unless you stumble on a barn find, you will likely have to pay something to acquire the car you want to restore. Most owners have undertaken half-finished projects and sat in their shops or garages, collecting dust. Depending on how anxious the individual is to sell, they may ask you for more than the car is worth just to try and recoup some of their parts expenses. You should target a price you will pay for the vehicle, offer less, and don’t exceed your budget. If you get the sense that a seller is trying to make you pay for their mistakes, walk away.
Condition of the Car
If you plan to restore a classic vehicle, look for a relatively intact car so you won’t have to spend your kid's college education fund. Does the car run, or will the engine need to be rebuilt? Is there a lot of rust on the body, or will the car need minimal repair? Is the interior shot to hades, or are the dash and the seats intact? If the car has been rotting in a field and looks like a mangled heap of rust, you can bet your cost number is going to go through the roof, but if the car has most of its guts intact, you might be able to restore fewer components by replacing a few parts and giving it a new paint job.
Who Is Doing The Work
As you might already know, a professional restorer will cost big bucks. Be prepared to do some of the work yourself, and you will save money if you know what you are doing. Any professional service you use (bodywork, paint, interior, engine repair) will cost up to $75 - $100 an hour for work, so plan accordingly.
If you do some work to save money, be sure you have confidence about what you can do. If you know your limitations from the start, you can better plan expenses. Maybe you plan to restore the engine and let a professional do the paint and bodywork. If that is the case, you’ve got a plan and a way to begin budgeting expenses.
Availability of Parts
If you plan on doing a full-blown restoration, the most significant expense will be the parts you must replace on the vehicle. Some cars still have a wide assortment of original parts, but others are scarce, and you will have to pay a pretty penny to secure them. You should plan on a 25% markup on most parts, Don’t forget that if you order online, you will be responsible for shipping fees.
In addition, if the previous owner wasn’t as careful about putting original parts on the car, and you want to restore the car to OEM, you may have to yank off some perfectly good parts and replace them. That effort will also drive up the cost, so be sure you know exactly what you’re looking at before you begin.
Where You Plan To Show
If you are restoring a car and planning on winning many trophies, you need to be more detailed and meticulous. The cost for the restoration is likely to move higher. Many judges look at the slightest details, so be prepared to do the same thing. For a listing of car shows by state, see carshowsnow.com.
However, obsessing about details is probably unnecessary if you just want to restore a classic car to take an occasional drive on a Sunday afternoon. This more casual approach can also save money.
While finishing costs can be outrageous, depending on the quality of paint work you want to be done will determine the cost involved. (A good paint job can cost a couple of thousand to ten thousand or more). You need to decide how far you want to go with the project. If you are planning on just letting the car sit in your garage and only driving it occasionally, you might be able to get away with saving a few dollars on the paint job.
What are the Best Cars to Restore?
If you are looking for an easy rebuild, consider some of the following cars on the list below.
(For a list of the easiest (and cheapest) cars to restore and ones to avoid, see hotcars.com.
1969 Dodge Charger
(This is one of the most popular cars to restore, mainly in the South. Parts are readily available, and the market is robust. Try to find a Charger Daytona or 500 trim. Both engines roar and are simple enough that you won’t need years of ASE training to rebuild them)
1963 - 74 Chevrolet Nova -
(A friend from high school drove a 72 Nova, so I am pretty partial to this car. Its big block V8 had tremendous torque, and this beast will get up and go. Simple under the hood with a very plain jane interior).
1967 - 69 Chevrolet Camaro
(Everyone likes a Camaro, and there are massive owners forums, so you are never alone during the rebuild. You will save money restoring a base model rather than the more expensive Z28).
1968 -76 Ford Gran Torino
(The V8 is nothing to quibble at - any Clint Eastwood fan knows what a great car this is)
1964 - 71 Pontiac GTO
(Let’s just say that there is a reason this car is considered the G.O.A.T.- it started the muscle car era).
1966 - 82 Olds Cutlass
(Plenty of parts - easy engine - simple interior, what more could you want? By far the easiest car to restore to spec)
1970-74 Plymouth Cuda
(If you remember Nash Bridges, you know why I like this car. You will look incredible riding down the street in it. Enough said).
1964 - 72 Chevrolet Malibu/Chevelle.
(another Classic with lots of parts availability and an engine that was the same as the iconic El Camino - Pretty good market for these cars, too.)
1967 - 72 Chevy C-10
(A pickup truck that is easy to restore and runs forever. This truck will be the truck that is still here, long after the rest of us are gone).
Have a Plan, Have Some Patience, but mostly Have Fun
A realistic assessment before you begin any project is always a good idea. Even though a restoration can cost big bucks, there is much to be said about the love of cars and the dreams of car collectors. Don’t be quick to abandon a project just because you don’t have the funds to finish it - if you are patient, the likelihood is that you will have some extra funds to toss at the car now and then. So, welcome to the world of car restoration. We can’t wait to see what comes out of your garage!
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane