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RANDOM THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE RESTORATION OF MY 1948 PONTIAC

By Bill Flitcraft

Summer 2018

 

When I finished restoring my 1948 Pontiac Streamliner I thought it would be a good thing to record some of my impressions of my experience with auto restoration. If anyone is contemplating doing a restoration for the first time, some of this may be helpful. I am by no means a professional car restorer. I had zero experience with such things. I am also not claiming that the way I did it was the best way, but it was my way.

 

The Pontiac was the first car I ever bought. I bought it from the original owner in 1969 when I was sixteen years old.  As you may guess, the car holds a lot of sentimental value for me. That fact weighed heavily on many of the decisions I made when I decided to restore the car.

 

These are the general areas that became important immediately:

DOCUMENTATION;

-Gather all the literature/information that you can about the car you are restoring.

ORGANIZATION;

-You must be organized. Don't remove parts from the car and then place them in a haphazard way. Label everything. I don't care if you have a great memory you will forget where something goes and how it was put together. A large loose leaf notebook to write notes in is a must.

FINANCES;

-Everything will cost more than you expect.

GENERAL APPROACH;

-Most people restore cars as a hobby. If that is your approach then know going in it will take a long time.

-If your approach is to flip the car for a profit then you need to come at it with a business perspective. You will accelerate the pace and perhaps rush through things.

-If your approach is to have a perfect car that will be judged to the highest marks then the time and money you will spend will go up significantly.

Following are some random things I learned from the experience of restoring my car. They are in no particular order. 

 

  1. Some decisions you make at the beginning of the resto will change as you progress. Originally my intension was to make a nice "driver" car without getting too crazy. I just wanted a reliable, safe car for driving to local shows or to the custard stand to get ice cream. At the start, there were times when I could have let details slide and no one would have ever known. But after a short while I realized if I was going to spend a lot of money, a lot of time and tremendous effort on restoring my car I might as well do it right. I soon found myself doing things a little better, i.e. many of the nuts and bolts were cleaned, painted and reused if they were not too rusty. I changed from just wanting a nice car to wanting one that was as close to original as possible.

  2. It took longer than I expected… much longer. Don’t be in a rush. (Technically, I started restoring my car in 1984. I took the hood off and removed the interior. That was before I was married, before I had kids, before a lot of things. The car sat without the hood and interior for 34 years. My point is, life happens. But I would not have given up any of these things to finish my car sooner.) Even if you are retired and can devote all your time to the project you won’t (nor should you). You will need to just get away sometimes. Many times when I ran into a brick wall trying to make things fit back together I would walk away for a few days and then when I returned things went much smoother.

  3. Pay for the expensive sandpaper. I did all the body work and preparation for final paint. The amount of time spent sanding was enormous. Premium sandpaper makes the job easier. Don't be surprised when you apply 4 coats of filler primer and then sand most of it off. The payoff at the end is a "straight" car.

  4. There were some skills, such as body work and painting that I had zero experience in, but I was able to master them. That did give me a great sense of accomplishment. Reading books and looking at tons of You Tube videos helped.

  5. There are some skills I would never be able to become proficient at, i.e. upholstery, polishing stainless steel parts. I left them to a professional. Know your limits.

  6. Being a member of a car club was truly worth it. I belong to four. Information gleaned from fellow members was extremely valuable.

  7. You will need A LOT of room to store parts if you do a body off restoration. This was one of my biggest surprises. Especially when you begin to get refurbished parts back from vendors and you are not quite ready to put the parts on the car. The worse thing you can do is stack things on top of things. Guaranteed the thing you need next will be on the bottom of a pile.

  8. You cannot take too many pictures. I took a ton of them and when I started to put the car back together I wish I had taken more. There was always one view/angle that could have been better. Catalogue the photos. If you do it on a computer make sure you have a backup copy. Separate pictures according to areas of car, i.e. interior/dash, interior/front seat, interior/doors, interior/back seat, windows, engine, engine bay, doors, etc. This is where you need to be VERY organized. Having 10,000 photos is useless if you can't locate the ones you need to look at quickly.

  9. Cross reference all “bagged and tagged” items. Again, divide the car into areas and note the bag number under that area. When it comes time to put the windows back in the car you can quickly look at that list and gather all the parts you need for the windows. And keep the bags in order (ORGANIZATION).

  10. If possible when disassembling the car work in one area at a time. Although you will not be able to get every single part off at the same time by working on one area your photos and notes will make more sense.

  11. Take good notes with detailed descriptions and sketches. Photos cannot reveal everything.

  12. Have common sense. It is quickly becoming a thing of the past, like our cars, but is needed on restorations. Try to imagine how the car was put together "back in the day" as you are trying to figure out how to take it apart. Most automobile manufacturers were using manufacturing and assembly processes of that time. Screws, clips and tangs were used to hold things together. Most parts can be carefully taken apart to be cleaned/repaired and then put back together.

  13. Gather as much literature as you can about your car. The shop manuals hold a wealth of important info. Gather literature even if you are not going to tackle fixing a certain part, i.e. I got a Hydramatic transmission book because the transmission was leaking and I thought I could replace the seals. Once I started reading the book on what was involved I abandoned that idea real quick (again, know your limits). I took the trans to a local old timer who has worked on them for ages and he had it leak-free and running perfectly in three days. I would have still been trying to figure out how to drain the oil in that time.

  14. Try to deal with local vendors. Of course there are some things that must be sent out to be restored but I was willing to travel a couple hours to deliver and pick up parts. A face to face meeting can tell you a lot about someone. There were a few times when I did not feel comfortable leaving parts with someone. I simply told the vendor I was still thinking about what to do and walked away with my parts and kept searching for another vendor.

  15. Online forums are helpful. The more time you can spend looking at different forums the better. You will quickly be able to decide which ones are worthwhile.

  16. Everything you buy or have refurbished is expensive. I don’t ever remember thinking that a part was cheaper than I expected. Don’t fool yourself. Unless you own an oil well the restoration project is going to sap your financial resources. Many decisions you make will be about how much money to spend. Do your homework. Don’t think the first price you get will be the best. I had four different prices for refurbishing my steering wheel. They ranged from $185 to $1500, all supposedly to do the exact same thing.

  17. Speaking of money, on a personal note I saved every single receipt from every single purchase. However, I did not keep a running total of how much the project cost. I was afraid to know how much it was costing me. I was afraid I would reach a point where the cost would scare me and stop or curtail my forward progress. I am not rich. There were many times when purchases had to wait until I had the funds. 

  18. By the way, I have NEVER and WILL NEVER add up the cost to restore my car. In the end it doesn’t really matter to me. The car was the first car I ever owned. It has sentimental value. I decided to do the best job I could and cost was not a huge factor. If I were to sell the car today at a fair market price I know it would not come anywhere close to what I spent on it.

  19. Don't throw anything away until long after you are done.

  20. Don't throw any documentation or photos away EVER! Once people found out I had restored a car they sought me out and asked me all kinds of questions. Many times my notes and photos answered their queries.

  21. The bottom line is I enjoyed doing the restoration. The satisfaction and pride I feel when someone compliments me on my car or when I'm driving it down a back country road on a warm autumn afternoon is pure joy to me. There's nothing like it.

JAN24

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