Sign in to follow this  
bridge67

Tips for buying a project car/ barn find/ junker...

Recommended Posts

Hi Everyone,

I am finally at the stage in my life where I would like to start a restoration project and I was wondering if anyone has any tips / resources they know of for buying a project car. Basically I am looking for a checklist that people go through or methods that are used when evaluating cars that no longer run or are missing vital parts, such as fuel tanks, fuel pumps etc. Feel free to add more to the list, but things I can think of that would be important to know are:

-- How to determine if an engine turns over.

-- How to test electrical if there are missing headlights or instruments.

-- Testing if it rolls.

-- Checking the Transmission.

-- Determining if the rust is surface or structure.

-- Determining if body puddy was used in repair.

Thank you for any help you can give.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

a) any rust is too much

B) in general it takes the price of the car to go from a 4 to a 3 and a small fortune to go from a 3 to a 2. Improving one class is fairly easy, two is hard, three it is easier to build a new car from parts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hi Everyone,

I am finally at the stage in my life where I would like to start a restoration project and I was wondering if anyone has any tips / resources they know of for buying a project car. Basically I am looking for a checklist that people go through or methods that are used when evaluating cars that no longer run or are missing vital parts, such as fuel tanks, fuel pumps etc. Feel free to add more to the list, but things I can think of that would be important to know are:

-- How to determine if an engine turns over.

Try turning it over

-- How to test electrical if there are missing headlights or instruments.

Look at the front of the car. If there are holes where the lights are supposed to be, they're missing. Ditto for the instruments

-- Testing if it rolls.

Try rolling it

-- Checking the Transmission.

If it's an auto, pull the dipstick and look at the fluid. Smell it. If it looks or smells burnt, it's bad. For a stick, try to engage each gear, see if it shifts smoothly, pull the cover off, if possible, and check for damage

-- Determining if the rust is surface or structure.

Poke at it with a sharp object

-- Determining if body puddy was used in repair.

Puddy was Elaine's BF on Seinfeld. To check for putty or excess filler, use a magnet

Thank you for any help you can give.

Hope this helps;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1 - put a socket onto the crank pully and try to turn

2 - you want to re-wire everything anyway so, what is the point?

3 - have friends available and push

4 - if a stick, crank engine with one rear wheel off ground and see if you can shift thru all - an automatic is going to need rebuilding if it's been sitting any time.

5 - ice-pick method works best, but is usually not appreciated by sellers

6 - tap and listen - you should know

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This will not answer your specific questions but the best way to get around them is to start with a car that runs and drives. While there are many brave people who have turned total derelict rustbuckets into show cars that requires a massive outlay of time, money, and dedication. IMO, better to pay more up front for the best condition car you can afford and be able to test drive it to determine condition. This way you can also drive and enjoy it while you improve it which will keep your interest level high. Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm thinking if you have to put a check list together you may not know what you are getting into. 95% of the restoration projects you can buy will not be worth the money you put into the restoration. That does not include the cost of acquisition either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Always walk before you run.

Start with a car that runs, if it doesn't run there are many many reasons and big bucks.

Finding missing parts for most old cars can take a very long time and cost big bucks.

Just finding missing bumpers and getting them chromed will create a major sticker shock.

The more exotic the vehicle, the higher the car & parts will cost.

An excellent option is start with a Ford Model T or a Model A.

There are many cars available that have been started & not finished.

Parts are easily found as there are many parts shops specializing in T's & A's not to mention catalog companies.

There are also an abundance of books and manuals to assist you.

There are an abundance of experts to tap and there will be a local club to tour with.

If you want to do a Model A, join the local club and they will help you find a good car for a reasonable price.

I can't speak for all clubs but the Dayton, OH Model A club people are as good as any club anywhere.

For the record, I do not own a Model A but I purchased my 1931 car restored.

The previous owner took a real discount to sell his.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

All good advice above. But I would first ask myself (maybe you already have) what is it you want to do - restore a car as a way to get into a collector car on a budget, or restore a car for the pleasure of the restoration.

If your reasoning is that you cannot or do not want to pay for a car that is in nice condition - then I would totally agree with Alsancle and suggest you find a nice, running car to enjoy - you will be $$ ahead.

If you truly want to work on the car, and the restoration work itself is driving this, and you do not care about being "in a bit over your head" upon completion, there are some cars that still lend themselves to the at home restorer. Here are two, IMO that you may want to consider:

If you like Prewar cars, find a solid, complete Model A Ford. These are simple enough and while you will likely spend a bit more than the car is worth upon completion, virtually every part, process and hint relating to these cars is very readily available, and while not overly rare or valuable, they do have quite a following and market should you ever sell. It was not at all rare, in the 60s - 70s to find several home restorations of Model A Fords going on by regular joes in just about any decent sized area. While that is less prevalent today, this is a car that you can dissasemble and rebuild largely by yourself. A much less frustrating experience will be had with a rust free project to start. Look for an older restoration needing to be redone, not a field car and you will be way ahead of the game.

If that is too old, go for a first generation Mustang, ideally a rust free plain jane. They are a great design and example of the ponycar movement. Parts, simplicity and a strong following are also points these cars have going for them.

Not that their is anything wrong with finding a more unusual car but if it is rough, it could be a more frustrating and expensive experience first time out. And do not be discouraged anyone responding here is just trying to save you from the pitfalls that do come with the territory.

Do you attend events at the Larz Anderson in Brookline?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Nuther quick thought, one way to finish ahead with an "A" is if you are lucky enough to find one that needs a good cleaning and mechanical freshening rather than a full on restoration. Do that, and you may just end up ahead of the game. Plus, who does not love those old "AHOOOGA" horns... :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

-- How to determine if an engine turns over.

Turn the crank pulley by hand with a socket. Just remember that just because it turns, doesn't mean you're out of the woods. Be careful doing this, too. You can bend vales and do all kinds of terrible things to a locked up motor when you try to force things.

-- How to test electrical if there are missing headlights or instruments.

Electrical is almost always shot, especially is field cars, barn finds, and real "project" cars. Not worth testing unless the rest of the car is pretty much in "driver" condition or better. On almost anything else you're going to have to replace it all anyway.

-- Testing if it rolls.

Get some friends and get pushing. You'll quickly determine if the car is stuck in gear or if the brakes are locked up, etc.

-- Checking the Transmission.

There's only so much checking you can do unless you've got a running, driving car. It's almost always safe to assume that the transmission will need some attention.

-- Determining if the rust is surface or structure.

Finding a non-destructive way to check for this is hard. Car owners typically don't want you to poke and scratch at their cars, so you kind of just have to know what you're looking at to know the difference between very minor surface rust and something more serious. Keep in mind that there is almost always more rust than you think and it's almost always worse than you think.

-- Determining if body puddy was used in repair.

You don't really ever know what's under the paint until it's been stripped clean. Once stripped you'll be able to see how "honest" the car really is and what sort of condition it is really in. Collision damage is almost impossible to hide completely, so if it's there, you'll probably find it. Check for filler especially on all 4 corners, door sills, rocker panels and other areas that typically rust. Don't be surprised if you find it...it's pretty common. You can do some checking with a magnet (on a steel car) to see if it sticks. Magnets will not, obviously, stick to significantly thick areas of filler. Unless the paint job and repair is truly superb, you can often tell what has been repaired just by looking at it.

My advice to you is this:

The #1 thing is to TAKE YOUR TIME and DO YOUR HOMEWORK before you buy anything. Shop around, look at a lot of cars before you buy and think carefully about parts availability and/or your ability to service the vehicle (or get someone else to). Consider how patient you are and what sort of financial constraints you might have. Are you willing to run want ads or attend swap meets and auctions for years in hopes of locating the one piece of "unobtanium" you need for your car or will you lose interest if you cannot drive it right away? Do you have shop space or storage space?

I also encourage you to buy what you like and buy the very best example of what ever that may be that you can find and afford UNLESS you really want to go through the restoration process with something rough (however, I'd still tell you to buy the best project you can locate). As others have hinted at, it can be extremely time consuming and expensive to do so and almost always results in a vehicle you've invested more $$$$ into than you could ever expect to see if and when you sell it.

It should also be said that there is rough and there is rough. If you don't have the time, tools, equipment AND copious amounts of $$$$ on hand, the rough cars are probably best left to someone else.

Good luck and keep us posted on whatever you decide to do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with the folks who have suggested a tired restoration that needs a little help would be a good way to get started. Barn find are generally as you find them and you would probably be better to pass them up at this point and put them off until you have a little experience under your belt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

These guys are all right on with their comments. Look long before you leap. Know your limitations. Lean heavily toward a running/nearly tired older restoration that needs some love. Join a local charter/club for leads on suitable projects and to meet folks who are happy to help you look for — and at — potential buys.

What sort of era/decade do you want, body style, usage (regular use, show, local, longer trips, etc.)?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some good tips up above, and I'd add a few more but most of it simply involves common sense. Here's an article I wrote a few years ago that may offer some general tips that are helpful: Buying A Collector Vehicle. This is the summary:

Rust is bad (very bad)

Some trim is irreplaceable

Engines can be easily rebuilt

Most cars are worth less than the cost of restoration, even if your labor is free

Now, beyond that, I'm firmly of the opinion that you should always start with the best car you can afford. Whatever the price, if you can afford to buy a nicer car, do it. Don't assume that you can save a few bucks, buy an inferior car, put in some sweat equity, and come out ahead on the other side. You can't. EVERYONE has tried and everyone has failed at that game. If you simply want a nice car to enjoy, keep saving up for one and buy someone else's completed project--it's cheaper than a restoration, guaranteed. However, if you're doing a restoration project because you will enjoy the journey as much as or more than the destination (because the car will be worth less than you have in it), then by all means, go with something that you find challenging. But the rules above still apply.

From your questions, I gather that you're new, and I applaud you for jumping in with both feet. The work is frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, and the only difference between you and a pro is experience. If you take your time, you can get great results but you have to be prepared to suffer for your craft. And again, even if you're doing a bulk of the work yourself, you're going to be upside-down before the paint dries on just about any project this side of an open Full Classic. Think carefully about what you want, make a plan, and decide your route before you even buy a car.

It's been my experience that any guy who starts a restoration thinking "I just want a driver," is inevitably disappointed and/or ends up spending way more than he expects because "just a driver" isn't good enough once you've put blood, sweat and tears into a project. "Just a driver" that has been restored will be worth far less than a quality car, and you'll be bitterly disappointed when you see your fresh "restoration" next to truly nice cars. Tell me: where are you willing to have inferior work on your car? A lousy paint job? Bad chrome? A cheap interior? None of the above? Then plan on spending the long dollar on the good stuff in the first place, or plan on doing it twice.

My point is, do it for love and ignore the financial side. Enjoy the journey and the pride that comes from doing it yourself and if you enjoy turning a wrench or sanding a quarter panel as much as driving your car, then a project is a great choice. But if you're looking for a project because you think you can [eventually] get a great car on the cheap, you're going to be very disappointed.

Good luck and happy motoring!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I purchased my car in 1988 and video-taped my walk around with my daughter, who was 4 years old at the time. I suspect that my love affair with owning an antique car was similar to bridge67's desire to get involved with a restoration. I was on a limited budget and brought home a rusted 1954 Ford convertible. It required new rear-quarters, floor-pans, etc. It became a wonderful experience of visiting Carlisle and Hershey each Spring, Summer and Fall with my daughter. Yes, the car needed everything, and while I could have bought a nice "driver", the experience of restoring the car myself and with my daughter meant more to me that driving an old car down the street.

It took 20+ years to get my car to where I want it, and it will continue to be upgraded each year. The highlight of all of this was receiving a First Junior this past week at Carlisle.

Thus, I might make some recommendations to bridge67. First of all, do you want to actually restore a car from the ground up and get totally involved in knowing what electrical connections go where? Do you want to remove and clean/replace window regulators, starters, generators/alternators, fuel pumps, carbs, etc.? Do you want to replace ball joints, brake lines, etc? Are you prepared to spend big bucks on rechroming bumpers, hood ornaments, bezels, etc.? Note: you don't have to do this all at once, but eventually you'll want to if you really get involved with your car and want to make it a "show-car". It is expensive, but in my case I am on the "plus side" financially with my investment. (not that it's going anywhere - it will always stay with my daughter as time goes on).

On the other hand, I have a good friend who drives a 50's Ford with some true originality. He registers it in our AACA HPOF class, where by definition much of the car must remain original - ie: you can perhaps paint the car, but you must then leave the interior and engine compartment original (or visa-versa). He loves his car and is proud of the fact that it hasn't been touched. He drives it to Hershey every year, goes on tours, and just has a ball with his car!

Think it through as to what you really want out of an antique car. You can learn values of these cars in many publications. Perhaps you might fit into the catagory of my friend, where you would buy a nice running car that is original and you can enjoy driving it today. As time goes on, you could make improvements as your budget allows. Or, maybe you're like me and many of those in the AACA where we spend our time in the shop rather than on the golf course. Perhaps you'd love to get in deep and dig your way out. Most of us have, and found we enjoyed the hole!

Let us know what your thoughts are.

Edited by AJFord54 (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One item that I don't beleive has been mentioned so far on this thread: Make sure there is valid paperwork with the car. Getting a title with no previous documentation can be a project in itself (with no guarantee of success, depending on your state).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
One item that I don't believe has been mentioned so far on this thread: Make sure there is valid paperwork with the car. Getting a title with no previous documentation can be a project in itself (with no guarantee of success, depending on your state).

This is an excellent point and not something to take lightly.

If the car you just must have doesn't have any paperwork, I'd highly recommend doing whatever it takes to get the car legal before you invest any other time and money in the project. If the car pops up stolen or simply cannot be made roadworthy (in the legal sense), you want to know that sooner rather than later. The best way to avoid that potential pitfall is to buy a car with a good title to begin with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the best things to do is to take an experienced set of eyes to help you find a project that is at your level of ability and budget.

Many times the best deals are stalled projects from guys that are over whelmed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
All good advice above. But I would first ask myself (maybe you already have) what is it you want to do - restore a car as a way to get into a collector car on a budget, or restore a car for the pleasure of the restoration.

If your reasoning is that you cannot or do not want to pay for a car that is in nice condition - then I would totally agree with Alsancle and suggest you find a nice, running car to enjoy - you will be $$ ahead.

If you truly want to work on the car, and the restoration work itself is driving this, and you do not care about being "in a bit over your head" upon completion, there are some cars that still lend themselves to the at home restorer. Here are two, IMO that you may want to consider:

If you like Prewar cars, find a solid, complete Model A Ford. These are simple enough and while you will likely spend a bit more than the car is worth upon completion, virtually every part, process and hint relating to these cars is very readily available, and while not overly rare or valuable, they do have quite a following and market should you ever sell. It was not at all rare, in the 60s - 70s to find several home restorations of Model A Fords going on by regular joes in just about any decent sized area. While that is less prevalent today, this is a car that you can dissasemble and rebuild largely by yourself. A much less frustrating experience will be had with a rust free project to start. Look for an older restoration needing to be redone, not a field car and you will be way ahead of the game.

If that is too old, go for a first generation Mustang, ideally a rust free plain jane. They are a great design and example of the ponycar movement. Parts, simplicity and a strong following are also points these cars have going for them.

Not that their is anything wrong with finding a more unusual car but if it is rough, it could be a more frustrating and expensive experience first time out. And do not be discouraged anyone responding here is just trying to save you from the pitfalls that do come with the territory.

Do you attend events at the Larz Anderson in Brookline?

Thank you for all of the great replies so far. Yes Steve I do attend some of the events at Larz Anderson, I also just bought a house right around the corner from the Endicott Estate in Dedham so I will be going to that show in July.

When I was 16 I restored a 67 mustang with my father for my first car, and I have helped him maintain his model T's, so this time on my own I am looking for something different. I am a big fan of '54-'60 Willys trucks and am looking for a project that I can work on for a good amount of time...searching for parts at swap meets...driving in parades...and taking to rallys.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yea Def. a great thought on the paperwork, I have heard Mass. is difficult with this.

AJFord54 -- I think you nailed it on what I am looking for. I grew up in a car family, driving in parades, going to AACA meetings, and slopping around in the mud at Hershey to find a better Model T fender than the one we had, and I've loved every minute of it. I am looking for a car that I can get to know inside and out and develop piece by piece but one that I can drive while I work on it, if that makes sense.

I have learned a number of the techniques for restoring cars over the years, but I am struggling with the initial evaluation and what to look for.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Each state is a bit different and in Florida having a clean straight title is a must. If coming from out of state expect some hefty import^H^H^H^H new registration fees. The one to watch out for is a SALVAGE-COD (certificate of destruction) that means the vehicle cannot be registered only dismantled. Many insurance companies do this because a COD title only costs $7 while a SALVAGE-REBUILDABLE is more and neither is as good as a "clean" title.

Incidently if you have a VIN you can check the title, lien, and registration status at https://services.flhsmv.gov/MVCheckWeb/

ps rodents often are found in barns and love to turn upholstery into nests and chew on rubber wires

Edited by padgett (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bear in mind that mechanical problems are much easier and less expensive to fix than bodywork and paint. Given a choice between a rusty car that runs and stops like new or a rust free car with a locked up engine, no brakes and a bad transmission ALWAYS go for the rust free example.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

See post #2. Even if you need to travel 1,000 miles for a rust free example it is worth it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Evidently I am way out there. My first project car is a 42 Ford Fordor, surface rust over the whole car but only surface rust, and didn't run and I didn't have the chance to test it. Interior is going to have to be completey redone, and the side windows all are spider webbed. I paid $2700 for, but only after a very thorough inspection. The car is 99% complete, very straight body and undercarrige, and after 45 minutes of tinkering after I got it home, it runs and drives. My limit is 300$ a month to spend and the first thing I did was a lot a lot of internet looking for parts suppliers. My point is I think you have to take each find with it's own merits, have a budget in mind before you start looking based on what you know you can afford and go from there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am a new kid on the block. I bought my first Buick yesterday. 1963, Riviera, runs and drives, 76,xxx miles. looks all original. Been reading some of the threads on here and begin to wonder if I should run like a rabbit. It has some pretty heavy rust, driver floor pan, trunk lid and rain track, around rear tail lights. Body is very straight and interior is mostly intact and in good shape. If someone will tell me how to post pics, I would like to get you experts opinion on my barn find.

Edited by Pearville (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this