A Beginner’s Guide: How to Classic Muscle Car Restoration

Before restoring a classic muscle car it’s important to do some research first. Keep reading for a beginner’s guide: how to classic muscle car restoration.

It’s hard to picture a car chase in a movie from the 70s and 80s that didn’t involve a classic muscle car. The signature moment of so many serial TV shows was when they ramped over uneven streets.
Muscle cars look cool, sound powerful, and scream Big Three engineering. They represent an age when power was everything and ideas of efficiency and economy didn’t matter.

Even though muscle cars stopped being manufactured in the late 70s, their spirit continues through model lines to this day. It’s no wonder they are the most popular classic car type.

If you are ready to seize the power this guide will get you started on the time-honored tradition of restoration.

Classic Muscle Car Restoration

Restoring a car takes a couple of different skills, depending on your approach. This guide will talk about these different approaches. We’ll also cover an overview of things to consider in planning and budgeting a build.

As a beginners guide, expect a lot of lay terminologies. Hit up an advanced guide when you decide on a specific make and model.

classic muscle car restoration
Image credit: pixabay

Starter Car

Typically, you either restore your dream car or the car you happen to find. Dream cars get more difficult to acquire because your dream car might also be another gear heads dream car.

Don’t expect to get a hold of a 1969 Charger without a serious investment of time and cash. The 67 and 69 Mustangs are also in short supply.

After these heavily sought gems, your options open up a bit.

The more popular Mustangs and Chargers offer an advantage in finding suitable parts, though.
Which takes us to an important point: look into what parts are available. Some parts are easy to replace or retrofit and some are almost impossible to find.

This gives you a better timeline for finishing a project. It hurts to not work on your dream car, but it hurts more to have your car half-finished and rusting away because you can’t find a necessary part.

Restoration Level

Next, ask yourself what level of restoration you can commit to. You can drive around in a Frankensteined classic easier than creating a museum quality piece.

The four levels, in order of difficulty:

  • Drivable – everything runs, it’s not pretty and it’s likely not full of original parts.
  • Street Show – It looks good and everything runs, internals a mix of originals and rebuilds.
  • Show Car – You drive this car only to load it onto a trailer to take to a show, lots of original parts and professional level aesthetics.
  • Concourse – When people see this, they will swear you have a bunker or a time machine. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.

The amount of time needed goes up with each level, sure, but so does the level of expertise. Even dedicated restoration shops outsource some of the most difficult pieces, so expect to put in a lot of money to reach the highest tier.


For a Concourse level restoration, you can aim for putting original parts in and making it look as pristine as possible. To drive a restored muscle car, you are going to need updates.

Most of the updates you install will be to bring the vehicle up to code. Muscle cars went out of style partially because of restrictions on the engine and exhaust systems that gave them their signature power.

Even if you go for an authentic cosmetic finish, to drive it, you will need a catalytic converter, airbags, seatbelts, and other improvements.

The electronics are a place that even die-hards find difficult not to change. The radios of the 70s have nothing on 21st century Bluetooth voice control and digital speakers.

When to Outsource

Part of the joy of classic car restoration is the DIY work. You built the thing with your own hands and a pile of greasy tools. You put your literal sweat (and often some blood) into the beast.

One of the first places you will want to look into for professional work is the chassis. Being proficient at shaping metal and fitting panels together to get it into shape is only one step. It’s unlikely you will be allowed to put on a proper paint job in a residential neighborhood.

Look to get your chassis in Concourse shape by reaching out to a business. They have the certifications to get the bumps smooth and the paint color matched.

When you can’t find original parts, you need to get replacements. Replacement parts may take the form of custom fabrications or retrofits that let a mix of original and new parts work together.
Plan your restoration project and be ready to change it up when you hit a wall with finicky parts.

Don’t Do It for the Money

Set out on the journey to restore an old car because of passion, not cash. Many restored cars are worth less than the capital spent to restore them.

This is only a problem if you want to get into restorations as a way of flipping cars for big bucks. One of the reasons you haven’t heard of a cottage industry of car flippers is because it doesn’t exist.

Auto body shops that help restore cars, source and rebuild parts, and supply upgrades make money. They should make money. But they make money as a day-to-day business, not a rare diamond seller.


Don’t plan for failure, but know it happens. Restoration projects can get sidetracked and slowed down for a thousand reasons.

If you plan for a few major setbacks, you will be more likely to weather them and finish than thinking it will all go well.

Even a carefully researched build can run into a snag. A part that you were assuming would be easy to find might suddenly disappear. A deal for some original pieces might go sour over a misunderstanding.

Rev It Up

Whatever your end goal is when setting out to build a classic muscle car, remember to enjoy the process. The montage sequence in a film may skip the boring bits to get us to the action, but in real life, the boring bits are where the pride in the work comes out.

Get started on planning your build with research. And while you’re at it, browse around for what’s hot, what you love, and what might be unearthed in the future.

Jasper has been an enthusiast of the automotive and IT industries since the age of 16. He independently writes on the auto industry's recent happenings.