What’s the best way to build your project car?

Tackling a car restoration or customization project can be daunting. There’s no sugarcoating that it’s a big, expensive, and time consuming job. There are so many interconnected tasks that it can be hard to know where to start, let alone what steps to do in what order. Paint, powertrain, carpet… what’s the best way to line everything up for a successful build?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/03/19/best-way-to-build-your-project-car

I tell people to try and keep it running and driving while you do it. Change one quarter at a time, trunk, etc. When people take them completely apart, the likely hood of finishing is about 10%.

As an amateur, and after many years of restoring my '67 Impala SS, the following 2-major issues come to mind, 1) Develop a good “overall process” time-line and don’t start buying new parts or restoring major sub-assemblies before you can use them. Sometimes, as good as you plan, you make changes. I was going to go with the original gold on gold, and I ended up purchasing a gold interior kit. The kit sat on shelves for several years getting “shelf worn”, and I ended up changing to Marina blue on black. That change really cost me in the end I convinced myself that I had to do it, and 2) DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! You think you are going to remember where that ground wire attached to the firewall. You won’t. My restoration took so long, I had parts, fasteners, etc. all over the place, i.e., in different garages, my cellar, my bedroom, etc. Bag and mark everything, take as many photos as you can when disassembling, keep everything in a single location and segregated from everything else, and you will save so much time and frustration when it comes time to reassemble. I bet I spent over 100 hours looking for my stuff. In fact I bought many small items twice, and still haven’t found the ones I bought first. Good luck to anyone that is going to commit to a project like this, I don’t regret a minute of it!

You are right on. Document everything. I have a log book for every car I work on. I recently sold a car and gave the log book to the buyer. Now he knows what I did. Pictures are great. Last night I was looking for a picture of my car before I took it apart. I wanted the top of rad area. I had many pictures all around but it was like I deliberately avoided that spot! Can never have too many pictures. What did we do before digital photography!

Build it while you drive it.
I drove mine the entire time I built it, so the conversion to 4 bbl Holley was an effort to improve gas mileage (it did, big time, 9 mpg up to 12 mpg). I did the headers in a weekend, as with most every modification.
The motor I built when the front main started going bad, the transmission swap I did when the trans blew up, the rear end and paint when it was hit, the clutch and bellhousing after I scattered the old one at Fremont, so it was only down for the time it took me to build/install the new, better parts. Paint took six months, but other than that, I still drove it regularly.
At the end of the build, I had spent less than buying a new Camaro. The fancy racing 5 speed transmission was equal to three payments on a new Camaro, the stroker motor was two payments, the Currie rear end two payments, the clutch and blow proof bell housing was one and a half months payments, so the major breakdowns ended with a serious upgrade to the running gear for less than trading it in.
I did everything myself, except machining the block, porting the heads, paint (the second time, first time wasn’t all that nice) and interior.
If I couldn’t have driven it, I never would have finished it, I didn’t have any need for a dead car, nor anywhere to put it.
That’s how you get the disassembled second gen Camaro in the neighbor’s garage.

“Build it while you drive it” is a great idea – if you can. If you’re going to strip it down completely obviously you can’t “drive while you build”. My last car I stripped down to the bare body. That was the plan all along. I had been driving a project car and just about had it “finished” (are they ever???) when it was T-boned and totaled. Luckily I wasn’t hurt, and after a brief struggle with the insurance company got a fair compensation. I kept the wreck, which still had a good drivetrain (except for rear axle), interior, and new front suspension. Located another body that was in great shape, very little rust (1963 Rambler wagon), and stripped it for the “rebuild”. Didn’t take the door off because they lined up near perfect – as perfect as any 1963 assembled car at least. Let’s just say they were so close I wasn’t about to loosen those hinge bolts! I did strip the doors though – the window frames on that vintage Rambler bolt to the doors. Took me a year to rebuild, but having the dead parts car right beside it for half that time was an incentive to get it back on the road. I have a plan for my next one that involves lots of cutting and welding (sectioning). Not sure I really want to commit to that because of the time and work involved – could draw it out to the point I get tired of it. Can do it without the sectioning, just won’t be as cool in the end… And of course my sectioning work might not be good enough, and I trash the entire body. Not an expensive car, but I still hate to kill one over what amounts to an experiment…

Having a solid car to start with in #1. Then the plan, all major components and what the end result will be. Also will it be new or swap meet hunts. Its all part of the fun so enjoy it. Remember what made you love it and what you like. Avoid or ignore what others think, its your bucket list.

I only restore vintage 356 Porsches. Keeping to one body style has advantages for sure. The most important things are 1.) make a complete plan and keep to it, including what and who you are farming things out to, and what you will do yourself. 2.) Perform as many parallel tasks as possible, as soon as you can. I send the chrome out immediately, the trans, and any other items not done in house. Take seats, door panels to the upholstery shop as soon as they are out of the car. They are great fill in work for that shop.3.) the key is that everything comes together at the same time. Typically we can do a complete car in 9 months. ………………….Jim.