How to bring a vintage Chevy back to life

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Gorgeous Chevy classic on a sunny day
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Bring a vintage Chevy back to life by restoring its classic glory

Classic car collectors dream of it Ė finding an original low-mile car, with great documentation and owned by the original purchaser. Sometimes the dream comes true. Finding a classic car tucked in an abandoned barn or long-forgotten garage does happen.

But, usually there are a few details that need help. The cars have been neglected for years, engines havenít been maintained and every surface is covered with a thick layer of cobwebs and dust. Sometimes the mileage is high, damage needs repair or the restoration project has been started and abandoned.

If you are lucky enough to find your vintage Chevy dream car, it deserves to be restored to its former glory with the details preserved for future admirers. With the right Chevy parts, proper planning and execution, your classic ride will be back on the road and the highlight of any car show.


The car will need to be thoroughly examined. Since originality often drives the value of the car, ask the owner how original the car is, if he or she is the original owner, and if they have documentation they could share with you.

Next, compare the VIN and data plate with details found on the car. Books and websites can help you decode exactly what should be found Ė such as engine, transmission, color, interior, and other key options. Itís an important step in any classic car purchase.

Look for obvious signs of rust, especially around wheel wells, floor pans and door sills. Any place water could collect is where youíre likely to find the most rust. Seeing lots of rust found now could mean there is plenty more hiding in areas that are harder to get to. 

Next, verify the condition of the engine. Check the oil for color, consistency and smell. The more it looks like regular oil, the better for you. If it seems okay, try and turn the crankshaft a bit. A socket wrench or pry bar can help with this and make sure the transmission is in neutral. If the crankshaft turns, the engine isnít seized.

Now itís time to decide how much of a restoration the car needs. If youíre lucky, you might only need a few parts and a tune-up for the engine. For the ultimate restoration, many collectors like to take the car apart down to the frame and put it back together to make it perfect. Others prefer untouched originality with patina that forms with time. Itís your car so itís your call.


Get rid of the dirt and debris on the car. For stubborn grease, use a penetrating cleaner that should sit for a while to work on the grime. Then, rinse it away, either with a garden hose or pressure washer. Vacuum out the interior, including the trunk. Since the car sat for a while, this is especially important if there are rodent or insect nests in the vehicle. It also lets you have a better look at the condition of the floors and upholstery. If you are going for the ultimate restoration, consider media blasting, which takes off the paint and reveals the metal underneath.


Remove the pieces you know will need replacement, such as hoods, fenders or bumpers that are too damaged to fix. Broken glass needs to be removed and noted for future replacement. If youíve decided to do a frame up restoration, youíll need to take the car completely apart, right down to the frame. This option is a huge commitment of time, money, space and other resources.

The key is to know how far you want to go with the project. To help with reassembly, bag and tag every part and take pictures as you proceed.


Every project needs a plan. Chances are good that you have multiple lists going for your project. They could be what needs replacing, what needs fixing or what can be reused as it is. Coordinate these lists into a master timeline.

For instance, if youíre sending the frame out to be powder coated, you wonít be able to install the suspension at the same time. Computer spread sheets can help with this kind of coordination, as can project management books. They will also help you keep track of costs and ideas.


Follow the plan you laid out earlier. Larger projects require more assembly. For instance, the frame has to be finished before you can install the suspension. Alternatively, a bumper that has been replaced or re-chromed, is simpler. Test fit it, get it lined up correctly, check the tolerances and then install.

Take your time at this phase, paying close attention to details. A good fit and finish will show how much you care about your work. 


Yes, more cleaning. Only now, youíre polishing paint, glass and chrome. Microfiber towels help reduce lint left behind by paper or terry cloth towels. Use the right tool for the job, too.

Dish soap is for doing dishes and car wash is for washing cars. Why? Because dish soap isnít formulated for car paint and could strip off the wax you spend hours applying. It could even accelerate paint oxidation and give the car a dull look. 

Any restoration project, from the simplest to the very complex, is a labor of love for many automotive enthusiasts. Set aside the time to do it right and take pride in your accomplishment. By bringing your vintage Chevy back to life, you can share it with a new generation of car lovers. 

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