Professional Restoration Tips
Simple steps for your restoration project
Executing a complete restoration of a classic car involves several major stages. Most of these—paint and bodywork, major mechanical and the like—can be left to the professionals, but with simple handtools and a weekend afternoon, you can accomplish a lot on your own. The restoration parts aftermarket can supply almost any part for most popular makes, models and years of classic cars. Your best bet is to start with a catalog of parts devoted to your particular car or truck. Most of the items shown here pertain to 1964-72 GM A-bodies: GTOs, Chevelles, 442 Cutlasses and Buick GSs. We'll pass along some tips and products that will make your car a detailed showpiece and save you a few bucks in the process. Plus, you'll enjoy the satisfaction of restoring it yourself.
Battery & Cables
The engine compartment is a very important area for any restored classic or muscle car. Many items must look factory-new, particularly if you plan on entering your car in judged competition. Every marque has a manufacturer or supplier of correct vintage batteries for most applications.
Original vintage carburetors usually came from the factory with a greenish-gold coating called dichromate for protection. After rebuilding or years of service, most of this coating has been removed. Aerosol spray paint is available that restores this patina. After the carb is disassembled and painted, new gaskets are in place, and the linkage is detailed out, the single or multiple carbs are a knockout and ready for any show judge.
Many chrome-plated exterior emblems have survived the years unscathed with the exception of the painted areas. Clean off the old paint, then use model paint and brush. Keep the paint wet by adding it in drops and letting the paint flow through the area to avoid brush marks. If your emblems are trashed, reproductions are usually available from resto parts suppliers.
After years of cleaning, clear or colored plastic lenses often become dulled with scratches. Unless they are suffering from deep scratches or cracks, these units can usually be saved with fine metal polish. Some lenses will require more work than others, but the results are usually well worth the effort.
Hoses & Belts
While replacement heater and radiator hoses are available at most auto parts stores, correct restorations require the original manufacturer's logo or identification stripes stamped on the hoses. Reproduction parts suppliers offer correct replacements for most popular American-made classics. The cost difference between a generic replacement and the factory-correct part is minimal.
Reusing the original hardware from your car is the best guarantee of originality. Over the years, most bolts rust, get covered in grime, or suffer a combination of both. To bring them back to life, remove the bolts and clean them chemically. Then use a wire wheel to remove remaining rust and crunk. Clear-coat spray paint will help preserve the metal and make the bolt look like new. The process can be tedious if you have a lot of bolts, but it's the little things that make the big difference.
Underhood wiring is subjected to extremes of heat, grease and grime. All electrical wiring is color-coded from the factory. Use a solvent such as lacquer thinner to clean off visible dirt. (Hand and paint-protection provisions must be implemented when using lacquer thinner.) While cleaning the wiring, inspect it for cracking or other deterioration, and also clean the plastic connectors. If your wiring harness has been butchered up, replace it from a supplier for your vehicle type.
In the '50s and '60s many manufacturers used tower-style or crimp hose clamps for heater and radiator hoses. The crimp-type can always be cleaned and reused, and the tower versions can often be salvaged if they're removed carefully. If replacement is necessary, most of the resto suppliers stock both styles. Usually two different sizes were used on the heater hoses and the radiator hoses. Inquire what's correct for your application or check the size on the tower clamp itself—it's marked on the band.
GM used two different styles of headlight bulbs in the '60s. These bulbs can usually be found in junkyards or from used-parts restoration suppliers. Make sure you check the bulb marking to make sure it's correct for your car. In stiff competition, you can gain points by having the correct headlight bulbs for your particular year and model. Again, attention to detail is everything.
Several companies supply rebuilt master cylinders and replated power boosters for collector cars. Over-the-counter replacements are often different styles from the original. Bare metal originals are normally rusted and need cleaning and painting. While master cylinders can be repainted to resemble the factory look, OE-appearance boosters must be purchased from brake parts suppliers to get a fresh gold-cadmium finish. A new booster really is a great finishing touch in your engine compartment.
Engine bays are usually populated by several electrical ground straps. These provide a good ground from engine to firewall, engine to frame or anywhere a ground is needed. These straps are normally copper and covered in grime. Clean them with chemicals and elbow grease, being sure to use hand protection. The clean copper wire looks super.
Paint is a great starting point for any restoration. Many paint suppliers carry correct-color high-heat engine paints, the correct underhood semi-gloss black or almost any other finish treatment you might need. Also, clear coat is the restorers' friend—it protects the bare metal while allowing the original finish to show through. The Eastwood Company sells a wide variety of restoration products and tools.
The Eastwood Company, PO Box 296, Malvern, PA 19355-0296, (610) 640-1460, www.eastwoodco.com
Carbs can be returned to OE luster with dichromate-look spray paint. After disassembly and a thorough cleaning, the carb is painted. When reassembled, it looks just like new.
For emblems that have good chrome but bad colors, clean off all the old paint with either stripper or 0000-gauge steel wool. Then use a quality model paint and brush to flow new color into the specific areas.
Unless light lenses are deeply scratched, they can often be brought back to life. Thoroughly clean the surface, then use a fine metal polish to remove the surface scratches.
GM heater hoses have three raised ribs running the length of them, and radiator hoses have a white "GM" with the part number printed on the top surface. Mopar, AMC, and Ford also have specific logo hoses.
Grimy hardware can be cleaned with solvent or carb cleaner. Then use a fine wire wheel on an electric grinder to take the piece down to bare metal before shooting it with clear enamel for protection.
Grime often conceals the color-coding on wires. Use a solvent on a rag to clean visible wire. Lacquer thinner works well but is harmful to skin and paint.
Cars from the '50s and '60s typically use either tower-style or crimp hose clamps for heater and radiator hoses. The tower versions are usually stainless steel or galvanized aluminum and can be reused if removed carefully. The crimp or pressure-fit type can always be reused.
1964-'67 GM light bulbs have a triangle outline with a T3 in the middle. The later '68-up style had the triangle outline with the T3 surrounded by vertical lines.
Cast gray paint looks like the original finish for the master cylinder, but replating is necessary to get the OE gold-cadmium look on the booster.
De-gunk ground straps with carb cleaner and a wire brush or 0000-gauge steel wool. Then wire-brush the end connectors to bring out the shine and apply a light coat of clear enamel on the copper wire for future protection.
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