Ragged Ragtop

Unless it’s from the Atacama Desert, any convertible project with a top that looks like this has been accumulating water over the years. Floorpans and seat frames are, of course, the most obvious thing to check for rust, but don’t forget to also check the condition of the dash since the instruments, controls, and wiring have been exposed to the elements as well. Also, the condition of the top frame itself should be inspected since restoring them can be pricey and the joints rust solid easily.

Some Assembly Required

On the extreme end of the scenario are cars like this ’64 Impala. While the body was decent, especially for a roofless ragtop, it was a case of “what you see is what you get.” And what you got wasn’t much— especially for $14K. If you’re going full custom, this may not be an issue, but any type of restoration requiring stock-style parts would be a major undertaking and would knock this Imp off the list of candidates in our book. If you do decide to go this route, success will depend on you already being an expert in restoring the model of car in question.


The number-one overlooked aspect of any restoration is the interior. That’s a shame too because it’s also one of the most time consuming—especially if you happen to fall in love with an off-the-radar car with little reproduction support like this ’67 Barracuda S. There’s nothing left in this interior that’s usable and until recently, almost nothing for these A-Bodies was reproduced. Always make a list of what a potential project is going to need and check it against new or used parts availability.

Ex Race Cars

Here’s the thing about old race cars: They were only meant to be race cars. While your mind sees an incredible $1,500 price tag for a ’57 Chevy and gets really excited, this is one to approach with extreme caution. Race cars are not meant to be nice cars and the work that was put into them will lean heavily toward function over form. That’s a nice way of saying most of them are going to be hacked up and tacked together.

Gaps Askew

Vintage cars were never perfectly gapped from the factory like modern cars, but panel fitment like this with widely varying gaps is a sure sign that the front clip has not only been off the car, but there may be hidden damage preventing proper alignment. At a minimum, the panels have probably been swapped out. That doesn’t sound so bad, but even original sheetmetal doesn’t always work well from one car to another and getting the gaps in check may be difficult or impossible. Best-case scenario, a few hours of gapping could cure everything.


It’s hard to find a classic car that hasn’t had some sort of damage over the decades, but it’s the area affected that can make the difference. This early Mustang had fresh sheetmetal hung over a badly damaged core support and inner apron, but the shock towers, framerails, and suspension appeared untouched. While it will require some parts sourcing, this type of damage can be completely repaired with little effort and no lasting effects. In general, low-speed type of damage such as this and damage to areas that can be unbolted and replaced are often safe—damage to the chassis or unibody is much more severe and will require a qualified frame shop to repair.

Old Repairs

Old repairs are the worst repairs; we’d almost rather just have the rust or damage. The thing to remember here is that for a very long time muscle cars were just cheap used cars considered just as disposable as a modern commuter. You can be sure that any repairs performed during that period of time were slapdash. This decades-old filler on a quarter-panel, for example, was applied right over the rust and damage. If you spot stuff like this popping up, you can count on many more hidden surprises.