People on the lookout for the ideal Fifties or Sixties classic to restore are usually optimists. They live in hope that they will come across a vehicle with a body still in good shape.

Sadly, not many get that lucky, with such vehicles few and far between. Fifty or Sixty years travelling the roads of Britain and Europe will have taken their toll. If the vehicle has been taken off the road, chances are they will not have been stored in the most ideal of conditions after they were taken off the road.

That is the reason why, when examining a car before purchase, the restorer should make every effort to review it in natural sunlight, even if the vehicle is a non-runner. If that option does not arise, bright fluorescent light is the second choice.

In either scenario, close inspection should be made along the length of each side of the body.

If the sides are wavy or rumpled, a closer look should be taken, for signs of suspicious lumps and bulges.

These irregularities are usually indications of collision damage in the past, which have been repaired but to a substandard level. If so, the panels will need to be fixed.

Depending on the extent of the problem, a good panel beater may be able to repair the damage. However, the only way to make the car look right may be to unbolt or even cut off the faulty panels to replace them. Such work can get expensive.

The next stage in bodywork restoration is to ensure the doors, hood and trunk lid fit squarely and align them properly with the surrounding panels.

It is equally important to make sure the car's bumpers are not sagging or deformed, a possible indication of underbody damage or even a bent frame.

Experienced restorers have learned to take along a magnet when they go out to inspect a prospective purchase. Assuming the car has a steel body (a few sports cars are made of aluminium or fibreglass) a magnet should stick to it.

 

By running their magnet over areas that are likely to have either suffered an impact or to have rusted out. This information can either be used as a negotiation tool or ample warning to walk away from the deal.

Especially vulnerable to rust are front buffers and doors that get hit a lot, as well as kick panels, door sills and the aprons under the car's boot lids.

If the magnet does not stick to any of these potential problem areas, then the chances are that a thick patch of body filler is lurking there below the surface, requiring repair.

Poorly repaired dents or rusted area in themselves may not prevent the purchase of a car, providing these factors are taken into account in the price of the vehicle.

Saloon cars are usually found in better bodily shape than sports tourers, with the main reason given that saloon cars were adequately sealed against the typical winter climates of the United Kingdom on Western Europe, while sports cars were a lot less so.

Another explanation is that saloons were fitted with wheels and tires that larger in diameter than a typical UK or European sports car, making them less prone to underbody corrosion due to the copious amounts of highly corrosive salt applied during the winter months.

Most of the popular brands of the Fifties and some Sixties cars were fitted with steel wings which, apart from making them more vulnerable to bangs and splits were prone to rusting where they joined the chassis.

On the upside, most wings will respond to restoration, providing they are not too severely damaged.

Repairing and/or restoring a vehicle's wings can involve a fair amount of panel beating and welding, can be said to be a specialised job; it depends so much on the type of work, the facilities that the individual restorer has at their disposal matched to their abilities.

The fact is that cars of all ages will begin to rust, although to a greater or lesser extent.

In the case of bodywork rust, most of it can be stripped and sanded away, although holes and serious deterioration will have to be cut out, or the panel will have to be replaced with a new one.

If the vehicle is showing clear signs of accident damage, it does not mean that it cannot be repaired.

Particular attention has to be taken to ensure that the frame has not been damaged.

If there is reasonable doubt, then a careful check at the local Vehicle Licensing Authority is perfectly legitimate.

The first step in accurately assessing the extent of accident damage is to determine its scope and boundaries. If the seller is willing to wait ( or even if they are not), the best thing to do is mark the areas of distinct damage area with a permanent marker, and photograph them in as much detail as possible.

These images can then be taken along to a panel beater who should be able to provide a reasonable estimate of how much time and money it will take to repair the damaged areas.

In any event, if bodywork repairs have to be done unless the restorer is an expert welder in their own right, irrespective of how enthusiastic they are, the best way to deal with damaged panels is to replace them.

The good news is that replacement parts are still being made for these vehicles and are not overly expensive. What should be considered is that carrying out the actual repairs is very time consuming, especially if there is some metal fabrication involved.

That's the reason why a renovator on a limited budget might be inclined to settle for a classic with as little bodywork to be done as possible because farming out a full bodywork repair will be expensive, with the possibility of taking up a significant part of the overall restoration budget.

Restoring the bodywork of a classic car can be a gruelingly thankless job, demanding levels of perseverance, financial management and technical skills above and beyond the call of duty.

Yet nothing looks better than a classic restored to its original splendour, with its bodywork restored, looking just as good, if not better, as when it rolled off the production line more than sixty years ago.

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