A Layman's Guide to Restoration Part 1
by David Grainger
President, The Guild of Automotive Restorers
So you bought the old wreck, your wife hasn't spoken to you since the tow truck dropped it off in the drive way and every time it rains more of the car falls off and stains the new asphalt red. You're ready to start your new project. Now what?
We'll assume you have tools adequate to the task, and just to keep the neighbors from complaining you have arranged suitable shelter.
Resist temptation. The first step of the actual restoration is not to gleefully tear the car down to its smallest molecular elements. Tearing the car to shards whilst dreaming of how wonderful you're going to look cruising down the boulevard is generally the first serious mistake any amateur restorer makes. Taking the car apart is easy and quite a bit of fun so it is really easy to dive in thinking that you are making incredibly good progress. What is occurring in fact is that you are rapidly losing all of the information you are going to so desperately need two years down the road when you are trying to put the car back together.
Your first task is to document your car. Don't think because you have all kinds of glossy pictures in car magazines that you don't need to exhaustively photograph yours. It is amazing how much you can't see in the average picture of a car and if the picture isn't of your car it might not be relevant. There is nothing worse than compounding someone else's mistakes.
The kinds of pictures you are going to need are just about the most boring thing in the world to take. A picture of the neighbors lined up in front of the car giving the thumbs up might be fun, but it won't help you when you need to know which side of the trim piece, the flat or the half round, faces up.
You should cover just about every part of the car with good, crisp, clear, overlapping pictures. Complete side, front and rear shots of the car should be complemented with close up shots of details like how pieces of trim come together, where the clips for the fender skirts mount and which way around they go, how the fuzzies mount in between the windows and the doors etc. These detail shots can save your bacon later when you're trying to figure out how you got two bags full of parts you don't recall ever seeing before. They can also be very handy when you have the feeling maybe some parts are misplaced but you can't remember what they looked like.
Don't shy away from taking pictures that you don't think you will ever have a use for. Maybe you won't but it is much better to have a bunch of useless pictures than to have a whole bunch of pictures you wish you had taken.
Taking photographs is important through the entire dismantling process. For instance, when you remove your brake drums, take a detailed picture of the entire backing plate with the shoes and all the springs and clips in place. I have seen wonderful pictures taken of all of the bits laying on a piece of newspaper after removal but pictures like these will have little value when you want to put all of those bits back on the car.
Lighting and clarity are very important in the photographs that you will be taking. You will need to do more than point and shoot when you are taking pictures. It is critically important that you learn which pictures will work and which won't. Getting in too close will result in wonderfully fuzzy abstract art shots which you may be able to sell at a cutting edge art gallery, but which will have no value to your restoration.
Before you take wrench to nut, take a bunch of pictures of everything from the outside of the car to the dim greasy grottoes under the hood. See which pictures are useful and re-take pictures that are not. Make sure that the picture that you take will show you how a particular brake line runs or where the throttle linkage fixes to the manifold and firewall. Taking pictures with flash is usually not the solution either. Although when used properly a flash can be very helpful in low light, it can also wash out some details with too much light while losing others in deep black shadow.
Once you know how pictures are going to come out you can feel comfortable about taking them as you go, but make sure that you have good clear pictures in hand at the beginning before you start stripping the car in earnest.
One solution to having to wait for film to get back from the developer is to use a digital camera to document the car. I use both a digital and a thirty five but that is because I need 35MM pictures available for staff who may not have access to the computers when they need the information. For my own purposes however I find the digital camera one of the handiest tools to come along in some time. You can see immediately how the picture you just took looks and if it isn't any good you can erase it and take another. Another advantage is you can lighten or darken the image and if you become familiar with the computer program you can also enhance the pictures and enlarge them when you are viewing them on the computer. Hard copy is a simple as printing the picture out on a printer but if you don't need that shot, you never have to print it, which saves you money.
Another great advantage to a digital camera is that when you are trying to describe a part to a supplier or have a question you can e-mail the exact image that will illustrate the problem. This saves all kinds of foul ups. There is nothing worse than waiting two months for a part only to find that the supplier misunderstood your request and sent you something you don't need. A picture is literally worth not only a thousand words but also a considerable saving in shipping costs and most of all high blood pressure.
So you have taken all the pictures that you are going to need, but your car is perhaps a little less complete than it was when it left the factory. What do you do about getting information on all the bits you never had? Once again a digital camera is a wonderful device.
Finding a similar car at a cruise or car show will be an opportunity which you can take advantage of with a digital camera because once again, you can see the pictures as you take them. This is nice when you have a limited opportunity to get information that you really need.
Lastly, other people's digital cameras can also prove a godsend. If you network with other owners or club members on the Internet, they can often run outside, take a quick picture and have it on your computer screen in ten minutes. Of course that is a favor that you can also return for others.
Next column we'll start tearing her down. Drat, more details, no fun. You got to bag and tag.