When you acquire a classic truck for restoration, chances are good you won't have any trouble finding reams of reference material that will help you to find the right replacement dashboard or track down the year-appropriate instrumentation. Interestingly enough most restoration projects don't go awry from a want of technical know how. The problem areas, especially for those new to the restoration game, lie in the areas of planning, expectations and goals, and achievement.
From day one when your truck passes into your hands to be driven or towed home, your first priority is assessment. Let's face it, a rusted out Ford Model T is going to probably need more work and expertise than a 1953 Chevrolet. Ask yourself what needs to be done according to your make and model and its condition -- be brutally honest on the condition element. What are your goals for the project? Initially that may boil down to how much functionality you want to achieve in a given period of time:
- Do you want to be able to drive your truck before you tend to all the little aesthetic touches or do you refuse to let it leave the garage until it's perfect? Given the condition of the vehicle you've just bought, ask yourself if you'll be doing any further damage by getting the truck on the road. A full structural review is a high priority since having things fall off your classic opens you up to a world of hurt -- both in the razzing you'll take from your buds and in the bucks it may take to repair the issue.
- Are you a demon about original parts or are you okay with modern equivalents, replacements, and facsimiles? Once you know what you need, you can begin to comparison shop online or in parts stores. (If you can find someone in your area who has restored your make and model before or if there's a local club of enthusiasts, you can get an "in" on the best sources.) Depending on the truck, going the original parts route can either be cost prohibitive or just impossible. Allow for the fact that you may have to get some parts custom machined if you can't find them for purchase.
- Have you arrived at a definition of "do it yourself" you can handle? Chances are good that some of the work on your classic truck will have to be farmed out to professionals if, for no other reason, than that they have equipment and work space you don't. For instance, you may be able to do all the mechanical stuff but need to set aside part of your budget for a professional paint job including primer. (If there's one constant you're going to find in any vehicles with the word "classic" attached to its name, that constant is rust.)
Finally, figure out what steps you can take to get to where you want to be with the money you have to spend. Frankly one of the things that makes owning and driving a classic a wonderful experience is the sense that you can always make your truck better. There's nothing like the anticipation of bragging, "Yeah, she looks great now, but wait until you see the original hub caps." If you treat your truck as a loving work in progress, plan from day one, set realistic goals, and work through them at levels of function, appearance, and investment you can tolerate, your classic won't be a money pit and will be your pride and joy.