Easy, Cheap Restoration Ideas

I am thinking of restoring a car for the first time but I would like a fun easy restoration that is also not to expensive.
What would be a good vehicle to restore for something like this?

One that you’re going to love driving when you finish.

Restoring an old car properly, any old car, is not inexpensive. It’s an expensive and time consuming proposition. If you enjoy discovery, and you enjoy adventure, and you have a generous budget, it can be a great way to end up with a car that you’ll love owning, but those reasons are really the only valid ones for restoring a classic.

For me, a British Leyland ragtop 2r something from the '20s or 30s would be perfect. I like the bare-bones basic nature of them. I also realize that a modern Civic can drive circles around any one of them and that is far, far safer. I don’t expect them to be similar to modern cars. But for smiles-per-mile, you couldn’t get more from me than a restoration from the categories I’ve identified.

For some, something from the '50s or '60s is ideal. It’s all a matter of taste. But don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars and the coming years restoring something you won’t love driving afterwards.

What’s your budget? What’s your skill level? What kinds of cars do you like?

I am an amateur with a $15,000 ish but cheaper is better. And classic muscle cars and 30’s sedans are some of favorite looking classics.

The main thing you’re going to have to do, and it won’t be that easy, if find a car with no or very minimal rust.

Mechanical issues can be sorted out over time. Major rust can be a very time consuming and expensive proposition to repair and in some cases if done right may require a rotisserie after completely disassembling the car. Takes up a bunch of space also.

Try to find one with as much exterior trim and interior as complete and clean as possible. When you start nickle and diming those seat covers, carpets, door panels, stainless or chrome trim, and so on the expense ledger can go through the roof.

I remember a few years back pricing a couple of plastic kick panels for an early 80s Camaro.
A 145 bucks a pop…
Rubber seals for the Hurst T-Tops at 980 bucks a pair. Not the tops, just the rubber…
A few years ago on eBay a late 60s Camaro steering wheel went for 2500 bucks…

If at all possible you should try to find a clean, running car that does not really need a restoration.

About 5 years ago, for example, a car dealer here had an always garaged '65 Dodge Polara 2 Door HT which he was asking 15k for. The car looked new, only had 50k actual miles, factory air, automatic on a console, and even an 8-track tape player in it. Not a door ding in it anywhere.
Something like that you could enjoy, have fun with at car shows, and not spend years of frustration and a depleted bank account. I assure you that restoration is one of those “WTH next” type of things…

After looking around for myself, muscle cars and 30’s sedans in decent shape for restoration will eat a big chunk of that $15,0000. But, to do it cheap just to have fun with, you don’t really need true restoration parts. For a steering wheel, an inexpensive after-market wheel, like a Grant, will serve those needs. Lokar makes a bunch of stainless steel aftermarket parts to dress-up hot rods and solve a lot of fitment issues. To keep it cheap, it won’t be a true restoration, but it would be fun and give you miles of smiles when it’s ready.

If you’re not a stickler for authentic restoration then I’d stick with vehicles with readily available aftermarket parts. 60’s and 70’s muscle cars have a slew of parts and parts suppliers.

But as @TSMB said it’s going to be expensive. One restoration shows a few years ago went to a junk yard to buy a Camaro carcass. No engine, no tranny, no interior. It had a lot of rust issues and cost them $6k. They spent another $60k restoring it.

As @ok4450 said…rust is going to be your biggest enemy and will eat up most of your budget.

I think $15k is unrealistic…but good luck.

I think a '30’s classic or '60’s muscle car will blow out your budget. There were a few interesting cars in the '70’s and '80’s, not many but a few. VW had a sport car called the Scirraco that was quick and really handled well. The mid '70’s Olds Cutlass with a 350ci 4 barrel could be fun. I had '77 Cutlass S that I’d ordered with heavy duty suspension that was fast and handled well for an American car of the era.

There is no car that you can restore for $15000 dollars unless you can do ALL of the work yourself and that includes body work and painting as well as mechanical repairs. There are people spending $50000 dollars restoring Model T Fords and all their parts are readily available.
A recent topic of discussion on a Model T forum was "could you spend 100000 restoring a Model T ? "
The best advice I can give you if you have a desire for a particular old car is buy one in as nice a condition as you can find, it is always cheaper that restoring it yourself.

If you just like the looks of an old car but are not a purist, buy a decent body, don’t worry about chrome, just paint it, drop in , a modern engine and tranny , some junkyard bucket seats and a custom interior. A lot of people are going that route, but it is not a restoration.

If the budget is $15,000 to start, and then, say, $5,000 a year from then on, then I’d say there would be some interesting ‘classic’ cars (meaning pre-'73) that one could buy in decent running condition, as long as you stay away from the high-$$ cars. If a 4-door sedan interests you, you have it made, they often sell for 1/2 or less the price of a 2-door.

I was in your shoes about 20 years ago. I had a limited budget and wanted a 1930’s car to restore but they were almost impossible to find…even back then. I went to a few car shows to get some ideas and ran into a guy with an almost perfect solution. He advised me to stop looking at Fords and Chevy’s because they had high price tags.

I followed his advice and found a beautiful, unrestored 1937 Plymouth Fastback sedan for $3000. I whittled the price down to $2200 and towed it home. I found that a late 80’s Pontiac Grand Am seats fit the car like a glove. I had a local upholstery shop make a headliner and door panels for around $350 that matched the color (dove gray) of the $150 seats that were in "like new’ condition. A $200 carpet job followed that and the car began to take shape. I actually got the car running and drove it like that for a couple of months.

I had plans to get the car painted “Ruby red” and to put on a new set of tires and wheels along with an upgraded set of brakes. My plans fell through when a man and his son stopped by the house with a ridiculous offer for the car. It seems that the “Fastback” sedan was hard to find and they had been looking for one. They wanted to restore it and show it in car shows all over the U.S. when it was completed. You can do the project on a limited budget but you have to do the work yourself which has already been pointed out. The secret is to find a rust free, complete car and go from there. Good luck…and think outside the box at all times.

Easy, Cheap, and Restoration do not belong in the same sentence. An actual restoration consists of returning a vehicle to “as new” original condition. Regardless of the vehicle this is going to cost $40,000 on up. Any desirable vehicle from early 1970s back is going to be expensive in rough condition. It is still possible to find something with $40,000 invested selling for $20,000 because the owner is desperate for cash. The main thing is to be very patient. Don’t throw your cash away on unsalvageable garbage. Good luck.

I just finished a “budget” restoration on a 1977 Camaro and the advice everyone is giving you is spot onl. Doing everything myself (including painting, engine rebuild, upholstery) I still spent $10,000. As a rule of thumb double your estimate. Whatever you think it’s going to cost, double it. Whatever amount of time you think it’s going to take, double it. Whatever problems you are aware exist with a vehicle, double them.

All that being said, I still love doing it and am already on my next project. It’s a great hobby. Just don’t expect it to be “easy” and “cheap”.

I guess I’d be looking for one in decent condition already and maybe partially restored and running that the guy doesn’t want to sink any money into anymore. Then you can either just enjoy it, or improve it as you want.

What about something like this? These cars are fun to drive, get looks every time you do drive them, and seem to be appreciating in value due to more and more scarcity. Plus, you can drive and have fun instead of aging quickly on a restoration.

Seven or eight years ago you could find a straight running one for under a grand. Now they’ve gone up considerably and I expect them to go even higher.

Some guy a few years back had one of these at a road race track near here and he was cleaning up on the 427 Vettes, 428 Mustangs, and so on. I think he had done some cam work and bumped the turbo boost up to 21 or something like that.

LOTS of great advice here! If you are just getting into the hobby, I’d suggest a few things to focus on; “Restore” is expensive if done properly. Refresh and repair can give you lots of fun with far less cash. Try to find the best, most complete, rust free machine you can. Look for unique and strange. If you find an odd car in decent shape or an unwanted model. Say a 4 door 59 Pontiac with a 6 cylinder engine or a Hillman Imp stored in a barn for decades. Complete but in need of some elbow grease.

If you start with a frame-off restoration, you will run out of money, time and motivation pretty quickly. Find something you can get started and drive with a little attention to the engine, brakes and steering so you can enjoy it as it is. Take it to some shows. Then pick small projects to complete to bring the car to a better state. You’ll learn a lot, make new friends and isn’t that what the hobby is about?

+1 to @Mustangman - and deciding what kind of car to get is a big key. The good news is that it’s easy to check out LOTS of cars at car shows, every area has them. If a particular make or model interests the OP, then see if there’s a local car club for it, or for classic cars in general. Probably is, heck, Anchorage had 2 Mustang clubs.