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How to articles; classic car restoration

How to know when a classic car is restorable.

Page 3

...that there is a profitable classic car restoration market.

To summarize the last page, understanding your restoration capabilities is the key to knowing whether or not a classic car is restorable, to you. As the saying goes, "You don't want to bite off more than you can chew."

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The 64 Impala Project

Now, let's take a look at the 64 Impala that I am starting a restoration on. I consider myself a level 5 person, although I don't work in the automotive trade anymore. I still have a well equipped garage and I'm not afraid of a rusty classic car. I do however have a good understanding of when a badly rusted potential restoration piece might not be considered restorable. Not because it is beyond my capabilites, but because I don't need to resurrect a car from the dead. There are plenty of 64 Impalas out there that are in fair condition.

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We are going to run through an inspection of the car as if we were buying it. Let's break the inspection down into a few categories.

  1. Body and sheet metal
  2. Mechanical
  3. Drive train
  4. Accessories
  5. Trim
  6. Interior

The classic car body

Starting with the outer shell of the body sheet metal, I'll show you a few of the commonly rusted out areas on a 64 Impala which are fairly typical of most early 60's classic cars. Some of these areas on this car are in good shape and others are not. The difference in the areas of a classic car that will rust out tends to be based on where the car was driven for most of it's life. City cars rust out differently from country cars, and I will note that for you as we move along.

Front fenders

The front fender skirt. 64 Impala front fender skirtLet's not get too confused here. The shop manual calls the panel in front of the front tire but behind the bumper a fender skirt. Most people are used to calling the fender portion immediately in front of the door a, fender skirt. Both are correct. This front fender skirt is spot welded to the fender flange from the factory leaving a seam that is prone to rust. This part is available both as new or used. Most of the time though it can only be bought with the entire fender. Fixing this is not a big deal for a lever 4 or 5 person or any other body man. If you find a car without the seam that you see in the picture here, you better look at the rest of the car very carefully. The body man who would have done this was either being innovative or was prone to taking shortcuts.

Moving towards the rear of the car we see that the rear fender skirt on this one is rusted. This rust is not severe, I have seen worse. Picture of a 64 Impala rear fender skirt Repairing this won't be such a big deal. I can patch this with some new sheet metal or some scraps I cut out of an old door or fender. The biggest challenge with this will be getting the rusty bolt out of the bracing behind the fender. Best case would be that it comes out using a wrench, worst case will be the bolt breaks off or the welded nut twists off of the bracing. New fender skirts or an entire new fender can be purchased for this car if the front fender is too far gone. A level 4 or 5 person would likely replace the fender skirt, while a level 3 would probably just buy a new fender. Levels 1 and 2 probably would not have bought this car.


The door can be one of the least restorable parts of a classic car if it is too rusty. The obvious rust is what you see coming through the sheet metal on the exterior shell of the door. What you don't see is what might scare you. There are a few areas of the door (as in the previous picture) that needs to be considered in order to know if it is restorable. The reason is the rust in the seams around the perimeter. The door bottoms tend to be the worst because of failing window weather stripping allowing rain to come in and the factory rust proofing becomes dry rotted and falls to the bottom of the door. It generally disintegrates into dirt and becomes a moisture trap. For this reason we need to inspect the underside of the door.

Picture of a 64 Impala door seam The doors on most old cars were made with an inner door shell and an outer door skin that was folded over at the edges of the inner door shell. The (GM anyway) manufacturers used a fiber board spacer between them right behind the seam. This fiber board is terrible for retaining moisture and causing rust.

In dryer climates like the southwest U.S., rust is not so prevalent, but in the midwest and north eastern U.S., classic car doors have a rather short lifespan due to humidity.

Picture of a 64 Impala door seam Be sure to check the seam along the underside of the door. Passenger side doors tend to be worse since the passenger side of North American cars ride on the curb side of the street where rain runoff and general road grime can collect. If you find rust flaking and swelling the metal of the door at the seam on the underside or verticle edges, then you have reason to believe that the door skin should be removed. The inner door shell should be sandblasted, and sealed, and the door skin replaced.

New doors can be had for some classic cars such as the 64 Impala or you can find replacement rust free doors out of the southwest for about the same price as new. You can expect to pay about $350 on average for a replacement classic car door. New door skins can be bought for most classic cars as well as the lower portion of the door skins and the bottom portion of the inner door shell. After buying the parts, and putting in the time and effort to fix the door, you would find it is generally cheaper and less trouble to buy a replacement door out of a southwestern junk yard and refinish it, or to buy a new one.

Be sure to inspect the door frame or door opening on any classic car restoration you are planning. In more advanced cases of rust, the door frame will be rusted through in front of the "dogs leg". Picture of a 64 Impala door frame This generally occurs at the seam where the rocker panel meets the dogs leg on 4 door models. On 2 door models this seam is not so likely to be a problem. If this area is rusted out on a 4 door, you are guaranteed the inner wheel well is rusted out immediately behind the dogsleg. Picture of a 64 Impala floor pan at the backseat If you suspect the rust is extensive, you may need to remove the rear seat to inspect the seam between the floor pan and the inner rocker panel at the back corner near the rear wheel well. If you are looking at a car that has already been restored you need to examine this area well.

If the rust is extensive enough to require replacing body panel parts behind this area, only an experienced person of level 4 or 5 would tackle this job. There are plenty of parts for this area of the 64 Impala, but mostly for the 2 door models. Too often the sheet metal in this area was replaced but only on the exterior surface. The structural sheet metal such as the wheel well, inner rocker panel and floor pan support behind the dogs leg could still be full of holes or rusted beyond recognition. For a level 1 or 2 person this is likely not a restorable classic car since the labor charges to replace these body panels would be costly. Next page

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