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Restoration Guide

CLASSICS WORTH SAVING Published: 14th Jan 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
Restoration Guide
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BEFORE you even contemplate restoring a classic, go to as many shows as practicable and speak to owners who have previous experience – it will save you a lot of time, effort and, above all else, money.

HAVE a good think about what you are going to embark upon and realise your limitations in time, money and skill set. While you can restore a car on a strict budget, penny-to-a-pound that – like HS2 – the costs are bound to spiral! So dial in some leeway. Think long term as well; it’s better to spend £100 now than £400 later…

DON’T buy the first basket case you see – there’s bound to be better ones around. And always view the project, no matter what state it’s in – as you would any second-hand vehicle and ask whether it’s worth the asking price. A basket case doesn’t instantly mean a total wreck either!

CONSIDER a part-restoration. There’s plenty of these around where an enthusiast – someone like you, in other words – has embarked on a ground up rebuild with all the best intentions but can’t see it through due to a variety of reasons and usually after a great deal of effort and money has been spent on it. A canny buyer can pick up a classic that may be half finished, with all the hard work done, at an unbeatable price…

DOES the vehicle come with a V5 and identification plates or is it really a box of bits? If it’s the latter you may well have trouble registering it and – horror of horrors – perhaps end up with a Q registration number.

SIMILARLY, if you intend to resell the vehicle, you need to be careful that it doesn’t lose all its originality (by extensive mods) and, again, end up with a Q plate (which incidentally you can’t disguise with a personalised registration number).

BEFORE you bring the project home – make the car feel welcome by sorting out the garage before it arrives! A thorough tidy up and clear out is essential to make working on the project pleasant and safe. And have a decent tool collection ready!

DON’T just stand there, strip! Well don’t actually… Instead form a plan of action on what area you are going to tackle first. Unnecessary dismantling means items can become lost or damage. Or you may become over-awed by the size of the job.

BREAK the restoration down into bite-sized stages to make it manageable. Psychologically it helps because it gives the impression that you are actually getting somewhere. And if you fancy a break – then take it because restoring a classic is supposed to be fun and not a punishment…

ONCE you’ve finished the car, rightly admire it and show it off with pride! It’s surprising how many enthusiasts sell the car once it is completed because it has drained them (and their wallets). Classics are made to be enjoyed – so drive it!



BEST BUY: Round arch Midgets
WORST BUY: Most basket cases
BUDGET BUY: 1500 range

First was the Frogeye which is in a different price range and most will be restored. Mk1 MG Midget and Mk2 Sprite has more conventional look. Better engines, hood while later models boast wind-up windows. Mk2 Midget/Mk3 Sprites gain 1275cc power; Healey name dropped in 1971. 1500 version featured, raised suspension rubber bumpers and Triumph’s Spitfire engine.

Spridgets are extremely easy to restore thanks to their simplicity and ease of sourcing parts – even new bodyshells are available, albeit at a price that will render restorations a labour of love rather than financially advisable. Always buy cars that have the bodies rot-free – the rest can be replaced or repaired.

You’ll have a real fun sports car that, if anything performs better than its bigger brother, the MGB – certainly the handling is more precise and very kart-like. Beware, Midgets are crude machines and live up to their name and if you’re tall you may not fit the cockpit comfortably…


  • Midgets rot in a big way and all but the best cars will have it or repairs to some degree.
  • Rot spots are bulkheads, floors, sills and where rear springs attach to the bodyshell. If bad, shell is scrap.
  • Mechanically it featured a fair bit of Minor/A35 parts so there’s always something that will fit.
  • 1500 used Spitfire engine and ‘box plus dials. Converting to chrome bumper means earlier wings etc.

    BEST BUY: Camper/‘Splittie’
    WORST BUY: Anything dodged
    BUDGET BUY: 1302 Beetle

    Essentially the Camper/Transporter was a Beetle with a commercial body and changes to the chassis but are worth the most. Beetle still made up to 2003, Camper recently dropped. Better steering, suspension and 12v electrics after 1966. 1302/1303 Beetle used new strut front suspension, 1600 engines and bloated look and not liked so much

    It’s not a hard design to restore and the Beetle’s body can be removed from its platform chassis easily. Parts supply is excellent and it’s an industry itself in the States. Add an enormous custom and tuning scene, especially for Campers.

    You either love or hate its character. Performance in standard guise isn’t great, nor the handling unless improved. Campers are a different animal and are liked for their lifestyle and social scene.


    • Rust is a worry naturally. Main areas are the outriggers, inner structures, floor, bulkheads (Campers mostly suspect here) and engine/transaxle and suspension mounts.
    • Chassis repairs rarely come cheap once the body is off – repairs are more involved on Campers.
    • Mechanically the car is robust. Take the opportunity to replace the expensive heat exchangers during the rebuild as dud ones allow exhaust fumes to enter car.
    • Purists go for the early cars but Campers and Beetle cabrios are worth the most. 1302/1303s are rarely restored due to lack of interest. 


    BEST BUY: Convertibles
    WORST BUY: Over priced projects
    BUDGET BUY: Herald saloons

    The Herald was launched first in 1959 with the Vitesse arriving in 1962 first as a 1600, then 2-litres after 1968. Heralds were initally 948cc then 1200cc (1961). 13/60 uses 1.3-litre (1967). Sporty 12/50 features ‘Spitfire tune’ overdrive and a sunroof.

    These Triumphs are some of the easiest classics to restore thanks to their separate chassis and simple make up. There’s no problem with spares or specialist help. Cabrio and commercial Couriers are worth the most but values for Herald and Vitesse saloons are broadly similar.

    Separate chassis leads to surprising number of squeaks and rattles but in general these are pleasing upmarket 60’s family cars. The added smoothness and speed of the six-cylinder Vitesse is best for today’s roads although the handling can be tetchy due to IRS design – really needs uprating while you are rebuilding the car.


    • These cars badly rust – main chassis rails, at either side of the differential, chassis outriggers behind the sills and bulkheads mainly, but the good news is that replacement chassis frames are available for around £800 or so.
    • Main foible with Triumph engines is excessive crankshaft end float. Check for movement at the crank pulley as an aid works the clutch pedal. If bad the engine block can be rendered scrap.
    • Front suspension trunnions must be kept greased, rear end needs uprating.


    BEST BUY: Convertible/LCVs
    WORST BUY: Sidevalve models
    BUDGET BUY: 1000 Saloon

    The Minor was launched 65 years ago and the Traveller and commercial ranges 60 years back. Sidevalve engine replaced by superior 948cc ohv unit in 1956, Minor 1000 of 1962 boasts 1098cc, LCV range also badged as very rare Austins. 

    As a project the Minor is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it is simple due to its orthodox design and superb spares availability but on the other its monocoque body is a rust haven and expensive to rebuild. Traveller’s wooden frame is structural and needs professional help that can cost £2000 alone to put right. Light commercials feature separate chassis frame. MMOC and owner are of a tremendous help and the social scene is excellent. You can buy ‘new’ Minors from many specialists and may make financial sense.

    These cars have character to spare and become part of the family. If certain mods are dialled in (better brakes, five-speed gearbox) they make cracking runabouts. You’ll always make friends with one and the club scene is second to none.


    • Structural areas are critical: front chassis legs, central cross-member, leaf spring hangers (especially rear), inner sills and A-post are worst areas.
    • Traveller woodwork needs scrutiny for past bodges and a pro re-frame will be needed at some point.
    • Watch for counterfeit convertibles which are converted saloons.
    • Front suspension trunnions seize and it’s worth thoroughly overhauling.


    BEST BUY: Coopers, commercials
    WORST BUY: Clubman
    BUDGET BUY: Later models

    Basic cars ran from 1959 to 2000 so there’s a massive choice; most interest lies in early versions and Cooper derivatives, especially if in original condition. Clubman (1969) has never been as well liked but 1275 GTs are commanding interest. Relaunched Coopers (1990) almost as good as original and significantly cheaper; vans and pick-ups are becoming highly collectable.

    In short, easy but not the easiest. Structural rot is rife and can scrap many shells although new ones are available from BMH. As car ran to 2000, part panels are easily available although surprisingly few parts are identical from the 1960s cars to the Mk7s. Genuine Cooper and Cooper S parts can be expensive and originality is important. Weight of numbers means you don’t need to buy a basket case and there are plenty of good honest cars around that just need a tidy up.

    Well, it’s a Mini and that says it all. Huge fun, naturally, and they make great runabouts for daily urban driving or a good kids’ college car.


    • If buying a Cooper and especially an S, ensure it’s not a fake – clarify with an owners’ club or specialist.
    • Rust is rampant; floors, subframes, scuttles and so on but replacement part panels available – may be worth buying a scrap car to scavenge parts.
    • Be careful your heart doesn’t rule your head as Minis were made up to 2000; same fun with modern kit and much cheaper than restoring a wreck.


    EST BUY: Mk3 models
    WORST BUY: Overpriced projects
    BUDGET BUY: Post 1974 Spitfire

    Spitfire was launched in 1962, using Herald base, GT6 is essentially a Vitesse in a coupé body, although always 2-litre powered. Later the models, the more refined and better handling they both became; GT6 died out in 1973, Spitfire by 1981.

    Spitfires and the GT6 are hardly any different to restore than a Herald and parts are if anything even more plentiful although GT6 bits are the hardest to find. It’s a Meccano set on wheels really. New chassis frames are available and GT6 bodies used to be marketed by specialists so there’s no excuse for not getting the bodies right.Only your enthusiasm and budgets limit how far you want to go.

    Spitfire is a more refined alternative to a Midget and roomier plus many came with overdrive for relaxed touring

    . GT6 is like a beginner’s E-type and a delightful GT. A ‘GT6 Spitfire’ can be made and it’s a popular conversion although not as straightforward as you’d first think.


    • First of all, with so many around it pays to weigh up the cost, hassle and sense of restoring one when there’s so many roadworthy cars on offer simply needing finishing.
    • Rust, perhaps worse than a Herald.Floors, bulkheads, seat belt points, chassis members, diff and suspension location points – the list is endless but a new chassis frame is available for around £8-900; Herald chassis is eight inches longer.
    • Mechanically these sports cars have same faults as the Herald.


    BEST BUY: Rot free cars
    WORST BUY: Rot ridden projects
    BUDGET BUY: Giulia saloons

    These Alfas surfaced in the early 1960’s, fi rst as the saloon then the Duetto (Spider) and GTV off-shoots which lasted until the mid 1970s (GTV) and 1990s for the Spider although many here were LHD cars.


    Alfas were pretty advanced in their day but are not really any more diffi cult than an MGB to restore.

    Kamm-tailed cars and Series 4 variants are best served for parts but S3s can be diffi cult. New shells aren’t available so their condition is critical; US cars (of which there remains plenty) is one answer but they will be LHD. Mechanically it’s much easier and it’s easy to modernise one with later Alfa engines.

    There’s a healthy spread of Alfa specialists who can source parts and give help, as do vibrant owners’ clubs.


    These Alfas are a cut above an MGB and TR; the closet Brit rival is the Lotus Elan and Jensen-Healey while the GTV is sweeter than a Capri although all aren’t as fast as you’d think. Boxy saloons are becoming more sought after and go as well as a GTV but are family-sized.


    • You guessed it – rampant rust! Check everywhere from the door handles down; floors and suspension pick up points are structural. As no new shells are made you need to buy well.
    • 2-litre engine’s heads are weak, all gearboxes ‘lose’ 2nd gear synchro, steering system wears, electrics worth re-wiring.
    • US cars have De-tox engines, ugly bumpers and are always worth less.


    BEST BUY: TR4 or TR6
    WORST BUY: US repats


    TR2 started TR strain, followedd by TR3, 3A and then the TR4 in 1962 with new look – new rear suspension for TR4A. TR5 is essentially TR4A but with a 2.5-litre ‘six’ and petrol injection. Replaced by TR6 with clever square cut facelift until 1975.

    150bhp engine de-rated to 125bhp for 1973.


    This is an old fashioned design that changed remarkably little from the TR2 and all use a stout chassis frame that can be repaired or replaced. It’s meccano-like but more heavy duty than a Spitfi re and dearer to restore. Wet-lined four-cylinder engine can be re-sleeved (saves on rebore costs) while the once prickly fuel injection set up on TR5/6, can be house trained. There’s no worries over parts or specialist back up.


    These cars when contemporary were cut-price Big Healeys and remain so. Handling is antiquated unless uprated (and there’s endless tuning options) – TR4 perhaps best balanced of them all, but the sheer lust of the ‘big six’ makes the TR6 the one most go for, if only for its civility. If restored well you can watch prices increase monthly.


    • Some 80 per cent of TRs were sold in the US so your resto may be converted. US TR5/6 also detuned.
    • If door gaps close when car is jacked up, the chassis is shot; new ones available, happily. Areas to watch include outriggers, front suspension attachment points, rear axle locating regions, inner sills and wings, bulkheads and floors.

    MGB, MGC, GTV8

    BEST BUY: Chrome bumper cars
    WORST BUY: Wrecks
    BUDGET BUY: Rubber bumper


    Replacement for the MGA, similar mechanical layout but now uses monocoque bodyshell, GT is fastback 2+2. MGC uses six-cylinder engine, MGBGT V8 utilises Rover V8. Rubber bumper models feature raised suspension.


    The beauty of restoring an MGB lies more in its abundance of parts and suppliers than anything else. Every part ever needed is available. The bodyshell can prove diffi cult to fi t panels – sill alignment is vital – but new shells are available. You can fi t a V8 but you can’t make an MGB into a C without a great deal of effort say the experts who have tried…


    Everybody loves an MGB because they’re so classy yet classless and with a wealth of tuning and upgrade parts, you can make it your car.

    Converting a rubber bumper car into a chrome one is possible but expensive and won’t really aid values as most want the earlier car’s character as well.


    • Before you jump, think! There’s no shortage of MGBs so don’t kid yourself you’ll be saving money restoring one because it’s a pricey job to do right and many are sold at a loss.
    • MGBs rot for England but all you need to fi x it are available, new or second-hand although post 1968 panels can differ from earlier cars.
    • Mechanically there’s little to worry about but ensure you overhaul the front trunnions and king pins.
    • MGC parts harder to fi nd. V8 home conversions need to be good.


    BEST BUY: Mustang I V8s
    WORST BUY: Later models
    BUDGET BUY: Six-cylinder cars

    The Mustang is 50 next year, would you believe, and its popularity is as strong as ever. Revised during the 1960s, becoming larger and less subtle but more powerful. V8s are most desired but don’t ignore a ’six’ in any guise if all you want is the chance to own this American icon.

    This muscle car is as simple as a Ford Anglia in make up and an entire industry is devoted to the Mustang in its native US with strong UK support, too. All that you need, including bodyshells, are available and in general spares are as reasonably priced as other classics, like an MGB or TR. If anything, this Ford is even simpler to work on and fi ts into average lock ups as well – unlike most other Yank Tanks!

    Sorry to disappoint, but the Mustang, in standard guise, can be very ordinary to drive due to its simple and aged design – a bit Mk3 Zodiaclike. But the feelgood factor is great and there’s lots you can do to make a Mussy more modern dynamically. V8s are stormers, but the sedate ‘six’ is really okay for simply crusin’.


    • While body panels are available, some, like front wings, cost a fortune and most will have been bodged at some point. Floors, inner wings front scuttle etc, all succumb.
    • Converting to a V8 is no real sweat but to make the car as valued it has to be done properly.
    • ‘As new’ Mustangs were being made in the far East. Is this a better option if you have limited time, skills?


    BEST BUY: Good sound projects
    WORST BUY: Box of bits…
    BUDGET BUY: Half restored cars

    The T Type and the MGA may look totally different, but underneath they are virtually the same car, the MGA being basically a re-bodied TF.

    Ultimate MGA is the Twin Cam but most of these have already been restored by now due to their perceived value and rarity.

    This design is pre-war and features a separate chassis making a full resto uncomplicated. There are dedicated T Type and MGA specialists for parts and service that can equal an MGB.

    XPAG engines can be extremely expensive (£4-5000) to rebuild properly but rest of the car is as orthodox as they come although don’t think that the simplistic make up makes for a low cost restoration; it rarely does with these MGs.

    Same design, different character. The T Type feels like the vintage car it is and if restored right will be a delight to drive as well as look at. The MGA, with its wider chassis, feels not only that bit more modern but many prefer it to the later, softer-feeling MGB. With welcome upgrade such as MGB brakes and a fi ve-speed gearbox both the T Type and the MGA are transformed.


    • Uncomplicated yes, cheap no! To do right takes money, especially to get the chassis and body A1.
    • Pre TD cars used different (sliding bush) rear axle which purist prefer but it costs more to overhaul.
    • T Type Wooden frame rots and repairs specialised and expensive.
    • XPAG engine £4000 to overhaul.


    BEST BUY: Manual with o/d
    WORST BUY: Converted cars
    BUDGET BUY: Average examples

    The Stag is a zero-to-hero-classic. Since its 1970 launch it was blighted with problems and so stayed in production for just seven years and gained the title ‘Triumph Snag’. But that’s all in the past and a good one makes a cultured GT.

    The great thing about the Stag is that with all its bugs ironed out it’s now the car it should have always been.

    Thanks to an excellent band of Stag specialists, you can make your car better than brand new. However, it’s not a straightforward or cheap car to restore (rear wings are around £800 alone) properly, usually because you have to make good all the past bodges applied and this includes badly executed (usually Rover V8) engine transplants…

    A well-sorted Stag with modern upgrades is a joy, especially with the proper Triumph engine fi tted (these cars will always be worth the most over time). Not fast or sharp handling in standard trim but great for touring.


    • Bodies rust badly and while panels are available patten ones hard to fi t right and very few saloon panels are interchangeable. It’s an expensive shell to make good say specialists.
    • V8 Triumph engine now demanded. £3000 to make the unit better than new and not overheat.
    • Transmissions may need rebuild, especially quill shaft and hubs. Most Stags are autos, it’s the time to convert as manuals are preferred.
    • Given cost of a good resto (£20k) there are plenty of top cars for less…



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