Those are five of the most critical considerations to make before you start, but what are some of the things to watch out for if you are down in the thick of it?
Talk to anyone who enjoys working on projects, and they will be happy to relate anecdotes of stupid mistakes they've made, and mystery problems which took months to solve. Next time you see an intriguing car at a show or race, be sure to ask the owner about the process involved in building it. These stories are seldom straightforward and often amusing and educational.
Here are some pitfalls we've been caught in or heard about from other enthusiasts.
- Hidden damage - We touched on this above, but it happens all the time. You buy a clean project car, only to find the floors are rusted from the inside out due to a clogged sunroof drain. Or, when you go to replace a body panel that is bent or rusted, you discover that the undamaged panel doesn't fit because the whole shell is sagging or twisted. There are a million variations to this story and a million ways to deal with them, but just remember there is no way to plan ahead for every problem.
- Unavailable parts - The car above is a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, and you can probably find used or reproduction replacements for any part of it. The obviously missing windshield can be had for less than $300, and you can order it from any auto glass shop, but don't try that with a similar vintage car from Plymouth or AMC. But even if you are working on a popular model, you can run into availability issues, for instance, the fuel tank on a Chevy wagon is totally different than the sedan or coupe, and totally unavailable.
- Big Ticket Item - When Manual Carrillo had his Project Stork 911 in our shop (for the better part of a year) he was stymied by the need to overhaul the motor, which can easily be a five-figure process on an air cooled Porsche. Looking down the barrel at that potential cost stopped the project cold. After months of deliberating, we pulled the motor, checked the compression, and replaced the valve seals to deal with the oil being pumped into the exhaust, and managed to make it run again. It turns out the motor was sound, the fuel injection is just gummed up, and the muffler plugged with oil.
- Ability Gap - Maybe you are good with mechanical, but lousy with bodywork. Maybe you can do bodywork but have no idea when it comes to interiors. Often the big ticket item that stops a project is having to pay for a professional to do one aspect of the job. This very stumbling block is what gave rise to people driving ratty cars left in primer paint and rust because the builder was saving up to have a good paint job done. Don't be afraid to ask friends, or other car enthusiasts online with different skill sets for help. Often in exchange for help on their car, they will gladly help with your project vehicle.
- Low Morale - As mentioned, projects can balloon with unforeseen issues and costs, and all of these will slow down the process until it seems like you will never finish. When this happens it can be hard to maintain enthusiasm for the car you had such big plan for. A good way to boost your morale, and get ideas for your project, is to go to car shows, races, or museums to talk to others and appreciate all the work they put into their finished vehicle. You never know, you may even learn of a shortcut to the problem that is holding your project up or find someone with just the parts you are missing.
- Tool Gap - This is probably the easiest obstacle to overcome because most major auto parts chains have very generous tool rental programs (some are even free). If you need a bigger tool, like an engine hoist or tow dolly, they are typically less than $50 a day from your local equipment rental company. And if you need a bay with a lift, or a shop with an air compressor and paint booth, you can usually find a shop willing to rent space and facilities for a reasonable daily or hourly rate. Garage Time recently started an online site that makes these places easy to find and even lets you rent out your neighbor's garage for your wrenching needs.