Are you looking for a cheap and easy weekend or rainy day project that's guaranteed to give you that feeling of satisfaction of a job done perfectly? Then you better stick with building plastic, scale models. You can find a '68 Mustang for $7.99 at your local hobby shop.
Or, with hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars and shouts from your shop that would make a sailor blush, you can restore a real classic car. The crux can be finding the parts. With the right parts, you're looking at a full-scale version of that plastic hobby model. Without the parts, you're looking at a pile of old junk.
If you want to fall into the first category, here are 10 places to search for the right parts for your classic car.
10: Swap Meets
These are the traveling circuses of classic car parts, where sellers pay for floor space and buyers browse hundreds of tents. If you're new to the restoration game, consider going here first -- as much for the information as for the parts. Unlike an online auction or single-owner parts store, a swap meet lets you chat with hundreds of sellers and maybe thousands of classic car enthusiasts about what you want, what you need and what you should avoid. Restoring a classic car is a word-of-mouth game, and specialty swap meets are the A-1 source for this kind of information.
Check OldRide.com for a list of upcoming classic car events in your state.
9: Brick and Mortar Stores
Believe it or not, places still exist where you can physically walk into a store, pull out your wallet and leave with a part. And like swap meets, one big advantage of these brick-and-mortar stores is being able to talk with experts about what you need and how to get it from the shelf into your ride. The disadvantage, of course, is that the store may not have it. Call ahead with your make, model and year to ensure you're in the ballpark.
One last word on shops: The unspoken rule is that if you use the expert, buy the part. No fair extracting advice and then going home to search for the part online.
8: Online Forums
You're not the first person to search for classic car parts, and you can learn from those who have been down this long and winding road before you. In addition to swap meets and clubs, a good place to find these people is in online forums. The more specific the forum, the better (if you're looking for parts for a 1929 Model A, there's no point in joining the conversation about '68 Mustangs). Start your search with your make and model and the word "forum." Within a forum, you might even search for threads specific to the type of restoration you're doing, or you might find people talking about the specific part you need.
Remember, no one likes a poser. Read first. Be helpful when you can. And be specific, direct and humble when asking where users found the parts you need.
7: Knock-off Manufacturers
It's a dilemma as old as time itself: Do you want an authentic, vintage part that may have quirks, or do you want a new, knock-off part that starts when you turn the key? Take into account your sense of authenticity, the specific part and the quality of the knock-off.
First, ask yourself what your goals are in restoring this car. If you cheat with a knock-off fender, will it make you value the car less when all is said and done? Or is looking classic good enough? If it's the second, new, imitation parts may be the best, cheapest and easiest way to go. (If it's the first, keep looking!)
Also, consider the difference between visual and functional parts. You can usually restore visual vintage to good condition if you find the right model/make/year it's guaranteed to fit, and it's not like a reclaimed fender is going to give you driving problems.
Finally, if you buy new pieces for classic cars, make sure you're not buying junk. Sometimes classic is better. If you can't tell the difference between quality classic parts and junky new parts, spend some time around friends' projects, swap meets, starter projects and rebuild shops before diving into your dream project.
6: Classic Car Magazines
These are a great place to go for ideas as well as parts. Need inspiration? Pick up a copy of "Hot Rod" magazine, and get your drool bucket ready. Like forums, swap meets, specialty shops and, well, any place you might find classic auto parts, the more specific the magazine is to your make/model/year, the better.
The mags are also a great place to go for how-to advice straight from experts. Most have online searchable databases, but if you're a classic car enthusiast, you probably know that there's nothing like holding the real thing in your hands.
The Yahoo! directory is a good place to start in your search for classic car magazines.
5: Wrecking Services and Auto Body Shops
Sometimes cars go straight from the side of the highway or your backyard to the junkyard. But often, cars go through a wrecking service or body shop first. And if these wrecking services are smart, they hold onto the good parts. Wrecking services range from a guy with a truck and a garage filled with perfect parts to wreckers with fleets of trucks, used car lots and their own 100-acre junkyards.
It's time to get on the phone. Look up your local towing or wrecking services, and ask around until you find the right wrecker for your project. People know people. And finding just the right part means that you might need to know people, too.
4: Salvage Yards
The cheapest way to get classic parts is to find them yourself. This means taking a road trip, putting on your work boots and tool belt, and wandering around the junkyard in search of that diamond in the rough.
The most important rule of junkyard salvage is to know what you're looking for. If you don't, skip it. Also, once you find the rusting frame of your dream car, you'll need the skills to evaluate what's classic and what's junk. The salvage yard is not the place for the inexperienced. That said, it might be the perfect place for the expert.
3: Clubs and Organizations
One sad fact of classic car restoration is that the only people who can truly appreciate the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars you put into your project are people who have done the same. Sure, it's a great feeling to see your project sitting there finished in the garage, sparkling with a new coat of paint, the chrome gleaming in the glow of your shop light. But it's also nice to kick the tires and look under the hood with guys (or gals!) who know the look of quality work when they see it.
Joining a club is the on-the-ground version of an Internet forum -- a perfect place to talk about the parts you have and ask about the parts you need.
2: Online Dealers
A quick Internet search returns hundreds of dealers with searchable databases of classic car parts. Type in your make/model/year and a description of the part you're looking for, and you can have it express shipped to you in a few short days. More often than not, it'll arrive looking shiny and new, ready to be installed.
On the downside, this can also be the most expensive way to find parts. If you're long on cash and short on time (and experience), this is a great way to go. If you've been playing the restoration game for a while and don't have deep pockets, keep looking.
1: Online Auctions
One word: eBay. Or is that two words? Anyway, it really does have everything. And because dealers have to compete with wreckers and individual sellers, prices are likely to be much less than at the sites of specialty dealers. Remember, though: You have to be a little more careful about what you get.
At a junkyard, you can whack parts with a pipe wrench. And you know the sound of a pipe wrench hitting solid metal. A solid hit is a good part. But on eBay or other peer-to-peer sellers, you have to depend on a seller's rating, pictures and descriptions of parts. You can't scrape for rust or smack it with a sledge.
That said, here's another one word: cheap. Eventually the trade-off of cheap versus easy is up to you.
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