The cost of restoring a classic car can run the gamut and will depend on the level of restoration, who does the work, and the parts and labor you use. We include a breakdown of the most common restoration labor costs at the end of the article, but let’s start by discussing how to keep expenses down and how to finance a classic car restoration.
Maybe you found an abandoned classic Corvette collecting dust in your great uncle’s shed. Or maybe a Chevy Nova you bought on Craigslist needs a paint job and a tune-up to make it look new again.
One thing is certain: it’s important to have a plan, so you don’t spend more than you need to.
Factors that will affect the cost of restoration
Associate Editor of ClassicCars.com, Bob Golfen, says the costs of restoration and the approach you take will depend on a wide range of possibilities:
- The vehicle you are restoring. “Is it a Ford, Ferrari, VW, Cadillac, Packard, Stutz, Duesenberg, or street rod? Parts and labor costs vary so widely.”
- The current condition of the vehicle. “Is the car a nicely preserved original car? Is the prior restoration history still in good condition? Are there missing components or are you dealing with a rusted out hunk of junk?” asks Golfen.
- The kind of shop you select. Golfen says to ask these questions: “Do you plan to use a full-on concours-quality restoration shop, or a local body shop and mechanic — or some guy with a welding torch?” Concours quality means restoring a car to a higher standard that when it was new as close to the way the original creator intended as possible.
- The desired outcome. Do you want to be able to drive the car? Do you want a concours-quality restoration or a nicely refurbished vehicle for local shows?
Golfen says, if you are doing a restoration entirely yourself, then you would need to price out the costs of all the parts and supplies needed. “Often, a restoration is a combination of DIY and outside labor,” he adds.
A price breakdown: 6 common costs to consider
There are several costs to consider when restoring a classic vehicle. Depending on how much you choose to spend, you may need to consider a loan to finance the restoration.
Here are six potential costs you should know about before restoring a classic car.
1 – Cost of buying the car
This category can have a huge price range. If you decide on something like a classic Camaro or Mustang that is in driving condition but still requires restoration, you might spend up to $5,000.
On the other hand, if you purchase your project car from a junkyard, then you may pay as little as $100 for a bare chassis or up to $2,500 for a whole drivable car.
If you want a car that’s already in pretty good condition, you could go with a private party or a dealer where prices will start around $15,000.
2 – Registration/safety costs
If you plan on driving the vehicle, don’t forget about the cost to register your car. You may need to get a complete inspection if you got the car at a junkyard with a salvage title, and this could be a couple of hundred dollars.
3 – Cost of preparing the car for restoration
Simply prepping the car for restoration could cost you up to $15,000, particularly if your goal is a show car. You’ll need to strip the frame and chassis of everything that can be removed, then get the body and frame media-blasted and re-plated.
Every nut and bolt should be cleaned in an acid bath and then re-plated. Any parts with rusty chrome will need to be stripped and have clean chrome applied.
4 – Cost of parts
If you’re doing a complete restoration, parts will likely be the biggest cost of the project. Of course, the level of restoration will affect the cost of parts.
If you are doing an all-original restoration on an older car, you may need to replace the parts simply because they aren’t originals, even if they work well. If you plan on getting your car to show-quality, parts could end up costing as high as $10,000 for a Camaro or Mustang, as an example.
Finding parts on your own will save you some money. Any parts ordered by a shop will likely be marked up 25% or more.
5 – Cost of labor
If you do the labor yourself, it will cost you time (and give you headaches!). But labor at most shops is usually $75.00 per hour, at least, and specialty shops that do custom paintwork or upholstery often charge even more.
6 – Finishing costs
The cost of finishing will depend on whether or not you want to enter the car in shows. If you do, painting and body repairs may add several thousand dollars to your overall car restoration costs. If you don’t, you can decrease costs by using body fillers instead of sheet metal repairs, which are labor intensive and therefore expensive.
Rust that can’t be treated will require replacement panels to be cut, shaped, and welded in. And the paint job can cost anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars up to several thousand dollars depending on the type of paint used, and the number of coats applied.
Golfen says, “If you are having a shop do all the work, budget three times whatever you think it should cost, and at least double the shop estimate. Plus, there are always costly surprises lurking under the surface of any project.”
He adds, “If you are having a shop perform any or all of the work, deal only with businesses with whom you have had personal positive dealings or who come highly recommended by a knowledgeable source. Tales of ripoffs and misdealing by restoration shops run rampant. Keep a close watch on and periodic examination of every restoration project.”
Paying for your restoration
If you need a loan to buy a classic car, compare rates and reviews on SuperMoney’s auto loan review page.
However, not all auto lenders offer loans for classic cars. Here are a few companies that do:
LightStream: This online lender specifically offers classic car loans and approval is not limited by make, model, year, mileage, or loan-to-value. It’s easy to apply online to find out what rates you qualify for and can have the money in your account quickly.
Woodside Credit: This lender got its start with the primary goal of financing classic cars. The company offers low monthly payments and long-term periods. Check and see if you qualify online or by calling in.
J.J. Best Banc & Co.: This lender has been financing cars for several decades and will approve most models made from 1900 forward. It’s easy to apply for a loan online, or via email, snail mail, or phone.
However, if you already have the car but need some cash to restore it, you may need a personal loan to cover the costs. Find out the best rate you qualify for using SuperMoney’s free loan offer engine. A classic car restoration can be expensive, but if cars are your passion, it’s worth financing.
Once you are able to drive your restored car, here are some ideas for classic car auto insurance.