Monday, January 4, 2016

Zen for the Classic Car Restorer

My restoration project of 15 years and still far from being done.

Zen for the Classic Car Restorer
Part 1
-Alan Arnell

So, you are thinking about or have bought a car to restore. Well, my friend you have stepped into the world of the very fun hobby of restoration, repair and modification of classic cars.  Many people have joined the ranks of restoration in the past and many more people will in the future take up the hobby.  Back in the day; we called it Hot Rodding, because you were customizing or enhancing the performance of a car readily available. I believe the hobby has evolved into restoration because of the age and conditions of the cars we crave to work on and own.

Many people still hot rod cars of this century.  Import tuners are one example.  However, from my observance of the hobby not as many young people today are hot rodding their cars.  I have a not so scientific method to determine my opinion.  I am still in the education game.  When I go to high schools, I see few if any Hot Rod cars in the student parking lot.  When I went to high school in the 1970’s, I
Back in the day High School parking lot.
would say a third of the guys with cars hot rodded their cars.  There are many reason for this change.  My favorite is that cars today are just too expensive and complex to make them conducive to hot rodding.  Also with today’s car the automakers basically are making Hot Rods for us.  In the middle of the last century that was not the case.  If you wanted a fast car and or wanted to impress with said car you had to hot rod it to make it that way.  

I like the old cars better for a hobby because I can work on them.  I can use a wrench, bailing wire and elbow grease and fix a car from the ‘50’s to the late ‘70’s.  Systems were mechanical and not electronic or  computerized.  For me anyway that is easier to understand and fix myself.

As I have said in a previous post LINK I believe one reason why so many hobbiest like the old cars is because the relationship you create when you have to maintain, work on and fiddle with a car to keep
I research and learned how to set up a rear differential.
it running.  Today’s cars are are far better for the common person to drive and own.  But on the other side of that equation is we have lost that reverence for our cars that we once had in times past.

Whether you choose to delve into the Classic Car Hobby because you have a hot rodding bucket list that you made for yourself as a young person, like me; or you have a stressful office job and like to have an excuse to relax by working with you hands, again like me and many more reasons classic car restoration can be a self made heaven or a hell.  I will address some thought and words of wisdom to help the young and old alike to best enjoy the hobby.

Why would anyone want to restore a classic car themselves when you can take it to a restoration shop?  My reasons is cost and the pride of that I did it myself.  If you want a 1000 point car to win the big shows with, you will most likely need a professional to complete that type of work.  Many backyard restores do good work but generally not what a professional can.  Here is the rub, those great resto shops are far and few between.  Also, from what I have seen it must be hard to make a profit having
Adding a front sway bar.
a resto shop, since so many close after only a few years.  That is sad, I wish it was not so hard for those fine people.  Those of you that can make a living with a resto shop and produce a honest quality product for a profit, I applaud you, for you are truly great people.

One of my sayings is, “Half the fun of having an old car is driving it and the other half is getting to work on it.”  I’ll just make it simple.  I enjoy working on my 1957 model 150 2-door sedan.  I will tell everyone my projects can be frustrating but mostly fun as well.  I certainly enjoy looking at my completed work.  One reason I think it is fun is because there is relatively little pressure to finish your project on someone else's timeline.  I have worked on a car all weekend long, so I could drive to work on Monday.  Now, that is pressure.

When you begin your search of course you will be looking for a suitable car that fits your dream and desires.  Just remember buying the car to restore is only the start of the financial responsibility you have undertaken.  Most old salts will tell you that when estimating the cost or time required of a
restoration project you should double maybe triple the actual cost and time that you initially estimate.  The project car itself will determine the cost and the time involved in the completion of the restoration.
Replacing front wheel ball bearings. 
Let me take the Tri-Five as an example.  If you want to restore a 1957 Chevy you can buy any part you want from many differents sources.  And, supply and demand makes those parts somewhat less expensive than less popular cars.  You can also save time because you can buy parts already fabricated.  Looking at some of the rare cars that Jay Leno restores, he has to research and construct from raw materials many of the parts he needs.  Don’t let that stop you from doing what you want with with the car you want to restore, just something to think about and be prepared for that necessary part.  I know a guy that restores old Dodges.  For him the hunt for parts and finding them is where he obtains enjoyment.  Others like me, not so much.

I favor being a part time restorer.  I like and am the average home car builder that can only manage part time work while balancing a family, jobs, football season, dog, cat, wife, husband. etc., etc.  That is
New radiator retro bit.
why I call it a hobby.  It is a fun way to kill time.  Is that not what life is, killing time in fun and interesting ways?  

The non professional car restorer may or may not have better that novice ability when starting a project.  However, you will be amazed how much you will learn during a project and how much better your mechanical skills will become after each project.  To become an expert, you should rely on the
Dynamat covering a new floor pan project. 
experience of others for needed insight when your are unsure of your next move.  When I was in high school my dad’s best friend was a master mechanic and stock car builder.  He was my source of information. As I moved away he was not available to me anymore and that hampered me from working on my cars.  But the invention of the internet solve that problem for me.  Thanks Al Gore!

My first try removing
rear axle bearings.
I have found just about everything I wanted to know about fixing and restoring cars with tech articles that car enthusiasts have posted on the internet.   For the suttle but improtant little unknown hacks that must be done to complet a list of steps in a tech article, chat boards like Chevy Talk, and can be more than benificial.  You can also find a load of crap there as well, but if you read between the lines you have a vast amount of experience at your fingertips.

For example:  I could not find seals for my leaking Borg-Warner 4-speed transmission.  I post this fact on Chevy Talk and was give a supplier that I may have not found otherwise.  And, I was changing the axle seals and wheel bearings on the rear end differential of my ‘57.  
After the first failure, I upgraded to this contraption.

I simply could not get the bearings removed.  I asked for help on Chevy Talk.  I guy who wrote to me said, “Beat out the bearing with a chisel leaving the races in place.  With your MIG welder lay a thin bead around the inside of the bearing races/holders.  The heat from doing so will warp the remain bearing part and you will be able to pull it out.”  You know what?  It worked!  I would have never thought of that fix or hack.  I talked to many local people and none knew of that work around.  

I finally got the bearings out.  See where I used the welder?
In restoration work you will become a Jack-of-all-trades.  As I said before, back in the day you had to fabricate your own or scrounge around wasting many hours hunting for parts.  The hobbiest could not just log onto e-Bay or Danchuck for example to find that part that the local autoparts stores no longer stocks.  Time as well as money will stop you from completing your project.  Why waste hours upon hours hammering out a quarter pannel for your car when you can buy one shaped and ready to go.  Remember sometimes buying prefabricated parts will help you to finish a project.  Again, weigh the pros and cons of buying pre made or making your own parts is something you should consider for what is best for you and your project.

Here is some advice I have learned.  There may be some things you will not be comfortable  with, at first.  Do not let that stop you.  Give it a try.  You have nothing to fear but fear itself.  Learning is a great
deal of the fun of car restoration.  The greatest failure is not to try, because you have talked yourself

out of trying for fear of failing.  When in doubt practice first on something expendable. For example: an old hood for paint and body, or brake line double flares connections on old removed lines.  When you have created a skill set and knowledge base, then work on that classic car.

While you may not have all the tools or a facility as you see on TV, really all you need is place to work. We may never know how many land speed records were broken by cars made in a one stall detached
garage.  But, I bet there were 100’s.  There is a reason they call them shade tree mechanics.  What you will need however is a proper storage area.  Finding a good-large enough  place to put a disassembled car is alway a challenge.

Time management is the key to a successful restoration.  Take it one step at a time.  Do not fall into the depths of despair after going into a restoration project with an unrealistic idea of the time it will take or the costs involved.  Unlike reality TV where they are making entertainment for people to stick around to watch commercials for product sales, you do not want to set unrealistic objectives or deadlines if you ever want the keep the motivation to finish your quest.

One important thing I like to say about working a restoration of your own is to drive your car as soon as possible.  Way too many times people get involved in something and they pour out their hard earned money, heart and soul into, that sooner or later drags on too long making the hobbyist lose motivation
Lining up to enter the drag races at Lone Star 24.
or interest.  Having classic car experiences other than working alone in a garage will keep up your motivation.  You have to get some fun out of your car for you and your family.  If you do not get that reward, the human condition craves, you may soon despise your car.  Stroke your ego and finish something, then go out and enjoy.

In Texas as well as most parts in the world there is limited amounts of cruising weather.  Plan around this.  Work on the car during the off-cruising times.  When the weather is nice and everyone else is out with their classic car you need to be out there as well.  Who cares what the car looks like?  Just make the car safe and operable then drive it to enjoy what you have completed.  Trust me that is the greatest motivator for that next step to total restoration.

LINK to page 2-

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.