Can all classic cars be salvaged?

If you're willing to put in the time, money and elbow grease, you may be able to restore your classic car to its original state. See more pictures of classic cars.

Reconstructing classic cars to their former glory is a popular hobby, and as such, there are many reasons why millions of passionate enthusiasts get involved. For some, it's a hobby handed down through generations. For others, it's interest in a particular model or manufacturer. Some just want to create a permanent collection or simply catch some looks when driving around town.

While all classic cars can be salvaged to some extent, it's important to have a clear idea of what you want. When you think about your classic car in its final state, what is it meant to do? If you just want to drive in parades every year, that means a different set of requirements than you might be looking for in a weekend car. Perhaps you're just looking for the hobby itself -- rebuilding the engine, or making the frame and outer panels beautiful -- and don't even care about the final product. Or, on the other extreme, perhaps you're looking to turn a buck by making the machine into something beautiful that you can sell to other collectors.

In any case, knowing what you want is essential to figuring out how you're going to get there. As with any hobby, a large portion of the passion with which you devote yourself comes from the effort and learning that go into the final project. You'll need a plan and a budget before you can begin learning how your particular model runs, where to find the best parts and tools, and how to get yourself to the finish line.

Once you're clear on what you want, it's just a matter of figuring out how much you want to spend, how much time you're willing to devote, and exactly what you'll do with the machine once you're finished. Each of these steps has the potential for both pleasure and disaster, so it's important to stick with the plan no matter what. Plenty of people are turned off by the "money pit" issue and end up abandoning a project or hobby that could have brought them great joy if they'd started with a plan and budget -- and stuck to them.

Read on to learn about some of the warning signs that a car might be difficult to save.


Warning Signs

Except on those rare occasions where the metalworking, soldering and other hardcore machinist activities are the main draw, the classic car hobbyist is more interested in working with the engine and the outer look of the vehicle. There's a reason you're drawn to a particular model, and it's the passion of seeing a beautiful machine with a purring engine that most of us have in mind when we begin.

That means that, for the layman, the only absolute requirements for a project car are that the frame and engine block be free enough from damage that success is possible. There's a reason it's called a total loss when the frame or undercarriage is bent beyond recognition, just like there's a reason your stomach bottoms out when you hear phrases like "cracked engine block." Cars are made of steel because steel is strong, not because it's easy to repair, and the kind of damage that can warp a frame or destroy an engine is the kind of damage most of us aren't interesting in fighting back from.

Likewise, panels on the outer frame of the car can be rusted to near-unrecognizable states that aren't always immediately apparent until you've really gotten inside the machine or taken it apart. Be on the lookout for these major losses, and remember that with automobiles, it's almost always worth looking a gift horse in the mouth. Sellers know a sucker when they see one, and it's up to you to protect your interests. After all, you're the only one who's going to be paying for repairs, insurance and more.

The other difficulty lies in discerning your natural, temporary frustrations from signs that the particular model or project is worth abandoning. Things will always look brighter in the morning, and, after all, you got into this project for the excitement of the hard work it's going to require. On the other hand, you can't let your dedication -- or just an inability to accept defeat -- lead you down the rabbit hole of misspent time and effort that might keep you working on a failed project long after you've lost your passion and your interest.

For more information, check out the links on the next page.

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  • Associated Press. "Automotive catalytic converter theft on the rise." USA Today. July 6, 2008. (June 8, 2011)
  • Classic Cars. "Give Your Pride and Joy the Ultimate Destination it Deserves." March 23, 2011. (June 8, 2011)
  • Kurutz, Steven. "That Car Is Only 20. Why Give Up Now?" The New York Times. Jan. 23, 2004. (June 8, 2011)
  • Wheel Scene. "Classic Car Repair." Tsavo Media. 2011. (June 8, 2011)