7 Ways to Cheaply Restore and Maintain a Classic Car
It may not look like it, but the 1991 Honda Accord seen here is up for historical license plates next year. This is pretty wild to think about, especially since many of us remember when these cars first hit the market back in the day, offering drivers revolutionary features like standard halogen headlamps, a clever rear suspension set-up, and those oh-so high-tech automatic seatbelts.
But time flies, and these cars are becoming harder and harder to find, as the majority of this generation of Accord has sadly been crashed, parted out, or is just rusting away in someone’s backyard. Are they considered collector cars by any means? Absolutely not. But I just so happen to have my father-in-law’s old Accord, which was the SE model, so it has a special black leather interior, bigger speakers, a more powerful engine and computer, and disc brakes all around. So while it may not look like much to most people, but this little car means the world to me.
Unfortunately, having an older vehicle comes with a slew of issues that most people don’t consider until they actually take ownership of the car and try to restore or customize it. Problems with rust, failing suspension components, poor engine compression, and ripped interiors often accompany that retro purchase, but hey, isn’t that what restoring a car is all about?
So do away with the old and bring forth the new, and recognize that if you want to restore that beauty to her former glory you are going to need a little bit of guidance. A few years ago I did a piece on a 1985 Honda CRX for Honda Tuning Magazine, and one of the first things the vehicle’s owner told me was that I should start stockpiling as many parts for my Accord as possible because they are only going to get rarer as time marches on. I heeded his advice and much to my wife’s displeasure our basement is now filled with car parts. But it is now time to pass the torch and offer a cheat sheet on what I have learned over the years to the guys who really want to make that classic more than just a beater.
1. Buy now, save later
Don’t you hate it when you miss a good deal? There have been numerous times in my life where there was a killer deal on a particular part for my Accord, and I shrugged it off thinking another one would come along in a month’s time. Well almost a decade later I still have yet to see those Japanese domestic market power-folding mirrors pop up for a $100 on eBay, and to this day I still kick myself for not picking them up when I had the chance. So if you come across a killer deal on a needed component, or a super rare part is available to you at a reasonable price be sure to snag it! Authentic OEM parts get tougher to source every year, and the rarer they are the more expensive they become.
2. Junkyard diving is your new favorite pastime
What was once deemed a lowly chore for scrappers and shade tree mechanics is now the reason why you get out of bed on Saturdays. Salvage yards typically have month long specials on various parts, so follow them on Facebook or check their website for updates if you want to get the best bang for your buck. And if you happen to have a strong back be sure to participate in something like Bessler’s Pull-A-Thon, where pickers can get anything they want for $80 if they can carry it more than 15 feet.
3. Befriend a trusty specialist who knows the chassis
When the going gets tough, the browbeaten turn to a pro. I cannot count the times I have phoned a friend who specializes in older Hondas to help walk me through a project when I am stumped. Specialists will also typically have access to rare parts or know people who can get them for a fair price, like Matt over at Gallery Automotive here in Cincinnati. If all goes well, and you befriend said specialist you might have someone who is willing to come over on weekends to drink beer and turn wrenches on the car with you.
4. Craigslist and eBay are your friend
Sure, there is a lot of cheap, crappy aftermarket stuff on eBay, but there also are a lot of sellers out there who can offer genuine OEM parts for a bargain if you buy more than one thing and combine shipping. Plus, a lot of items have a “make offer” button, so low-balling and haggling are a feasible option on thousands of parts. Craigslist is also a great resource, as many local mechanics will part out a car and offer key components for a steal, which keeps you out of the junkyard and in the garage where you belong.
5. Go ahead and be a hoarder, you’ll thank us later
To this day that 1985 CRX owner’s words still ring in my head, and while it may look like I am a nut for having all these parts in my basement, there is piece of mind that comes with knowing that I already have back-up fenders and headlights at the ready if an accident occurs. Local CRX specialist and old-school Honda nerd Robby Biron is a perfect example of someone who knows the value of collecting replacement parts. His CRX Garage is always filled with increasingly rare car parts, and his armada of cars shall forever have a spare part waiting for them if something were to go awry.
6. Play surgeon and find a donor car
If you have the space, and don’t mind spending a fat chunk of change all at once, it is advisable to purchase a donor car in order to get all the used OEM parts you need in one fell swoop. Just focus on the key components you need most and shop accordingly. If all you need is a transmission, some taillights, and a clean interior, who cares what the body looks like? And if for some reason you are fortunate enough to stumble upon a car that is cleaner than yours for a steal, turn the tables and make your car the donor!
7. Create a build sheet
Our last cheat for the day may sound tedious, but putting everything down into writing is often one of the best ways to map-out a restoration or a build. Having a written plan of attack, with part supplier info and/or leads written next to them has kept me on track more times than I care to count, and as my build progresses so does my documentation. This way, decades from now, when someones asks me what grade of polyurethane motor mount I used was I can supply them with an accurate answer. Plus, there is just something rewarding about physically checking things off of a list as you work toward completing that massive project.
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