Best Ways to Restore a Classic Muscle Car on a Budget

One of the biggest barriers for many who want to get into classic muscle car restoration is cost. Any restoration is a big undertaking, but it doesn’t have to eat up your bank account. If you play it smart and plan ahead, you can restore the car of your dreams without winding up in the red.

Set Aside Space

Restoration can mean taking an entire car apart and putting it back together, so make sure you have enough space to do so. Don’t rent from someone else; this will drain your budget before you even start. Instead, clean out your garage or spruce up the shed you never use. The area can serve as storage once the restoration is complete.

Have a Complete Plan

Knowing what you have to do for each step of the restoration before beginning will save you from surprise expenses. While it’s not possible to foresee every potential expenditure, a plan helps you work within your budget by allowing you to project costs. You’ll also have a clear list of all the parts and tools you need so you won’t wind up having to spend extra money and time fixing unintended mistakes.

Do the Work Yourself

Sending parts of your muscle car out to be restored by professionals is too expensive when operating on a budget. Be prepared to do as much of the work as you can on your own and ask knowledgeable friends for help if you get stuck. As long as you have the necessary skills or know someone who does, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the restoration done.

Always Shop Around

Over the course of the restoration job, you’ll need to invest in different parts and tools. For example, finishing the bodywork will require paint and something to apply it with. Refer back to the plan you made when starting the restoration and use it to compare prices on everything. Be meticulous about authenticity, but don’t spend yourself into debt trying to get every detail perfect. Know where you can make compromises while still staying true to the muscle car spirit.

Don’t Expect a Profit

Never go into a classic car restoration with the idea that it’s going to give you a big payback. Even when working on a budget, you’ll put in a lot of money as well as a great deal of time. Don’t expect to get back what you spend buying the car and investing in what you need to return it to its original condition. Choose a car you love and do the restoration because you want to return it to its former glory. If you do decide to sell it, set aside any preconceived ideas about what the model should sell for and simply enjoy the enthusiasm that others show for your hard work.

Are “Basket Case” Cars Worth Restoring?

In the field of automobile restoration, the term “basket case” means different things to different people. In general, it refers to a car that, no matter how amazing it once was, may be past the point of saving. If you truly love muscle cars, you may be able to see the promise in a basket case. However, it’s important to know when to walk away.

Recognizing a Basket Case

A basket case car needs more restoration and repair work than any other. It could be damaged, rusted through, broken or even in pieces. Some parts may be missing entirely, and chances are it won’t run. If you have enough restoration experience to deal with these issues and you come across a basket case muscle car you can’t resist, be careful as you consider whether or not to buy.

Understanding the Cost

There’s no getting around the fact that restoring one of these vehicles requires a large budget. The car itself is likely to be the cheapest muscle car you’ve ever bought, but the total cost depends on how many parts it needs, how hard those parts are to find, the amount of bodywork necessary and the condition of the mechanical components. Know beforehand if you have the time and money to invest in the complete restoration.

Asking Questions

Purchasing a basket case to restore can be tricky. Look over the car and discuss your concerns with the seller. Find out if any parts are missing, if the existing parts are original and if there has been any extensive work done on the vehicle in the past. Do your research to make sure you’re getting a good deal and that the seller isn’t trying to pass off what they have as more than it really is.

Being Safe

In many instances, basket case cars are past the point of being drivable. However, if you do find one that has all the parts it needs to run, make sure to test it in a safe place. Pay attention and get an idea of how the engine and brakes work to determine how much restoration they will need.

Following a Plan

If your basket case muscle car isn’t already in pieces, you’re probably going to have to take it apart. Getting it back together is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. You need to keep track of everything and have a clear picture of how you want the restoration to turn out. Divide the job into manageable sections and work through one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

If at any point the restoration becomes more than you can handle on a personal or financial level, it’s time to call it quits. Though bringing a basket case muscle car back to life is rewarding, you have to know when to disengage and move on.

Want to Restore a Muscle Car? Make Sure You Do This First

You’ve always dreamed of owning and restoring a classic muscle car. And you think you’re ready to make the plunge. Are you sure you know what you’re getting into? Save yourself some time, money and heartache by taking a long hard look at this checklist.

Reason for Restoration

Ask yourself why you want to get into muscle car restoration. Is it something you enjoyed in the past and want to start doing again? Do you have extensive experience and talent in the field of restoration and want to bring a piece of history back to its former glory? Perhaps you see restoration as an investment and want to sell the car once you’ve finished with it. Knowing your purpose will serve as a guide when purchasing a vehicle.

Make and Model

The type of car you restore is entirely up to your personal preference and should be the first thing you decide on. Check local used car listings, talk with junkyards or look in directories such as those offered by Hemmings to find your chosen make and model.

Total Cost

As you shop around for a vehicle to restore, keep in mind that you need enough money both to cover the initial purchase and to afford the materials necessary for the restoration. This includes budgeting for unforeseen expenses. If you plan to sell the car, you want to be able to make a profit while still charging a price that buyers will find reasonable.

Extent of Restoration

Never purchase a car for restoration without going to inspect it. You have to see the vehicle in person to determine how much work it needs to be returned to its original condition. Some may be so rusted out that they’re not worth the investment. Others could turn into money pits if parts aren’t easy to find. As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid vehicles that have rusted or rotted through anywhere on the body and those that can’t readily be test driven.

Parts and Tools

Availability of parts and tools influence both the total cost of a restoration and how much time it takes to complete. The extent of your knowledge when it comes to restoration is also a factor. If you have to send certain parts out to an expert to be fixed up, that will add on to the cost of the process.


Proper storage is essential to preserve a car once you’ve restored it. Do you have a garage, shed, storage unit or other reliable area for the vehicle? Storage for classic muscle cars should be temperature controlled and free of humidity. A concrete floor keeps dampness to a minimum. Also be sure that your intended storage area is sealed well to deter pests and ensure security.