Beginner tips and advice for a classic car restoration

woman standing in front of blue Morris Oxford

Jacinta Costanzo

Posted February 08, 2023

Fallen head over heels for a classic or vintage car that’s in need of some tender loving care? Here’s some important advice from passionate car restorers to help jumpstart your own restoration journey.  
Interest in classic and vintage cars is booming in Australia. With SUVs and utes dominating local roads, and electric vehicles set to revolutionise the automotive landscape with unique features and more technology, auto enthusiasts and savvy investors are increasingly turning to the cars of yesteryear for a fix of pure driving pleasure, nostalgia and the opportunity to own something unique - that might even appreciate in value.

Best classic and vintage cars to restore

Some of the most popular cars to restore today include the Porsche 911, Volkswagen Kombi (the poster vehicle of the trending ‘van life’ movement), Volkswagen Beetle, Australian-made models produced Holden and Ford such as the Monaro, European sedans and coupes from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo, and classic sports cars featuring a manual transmission such as the Aston Martin DBS.

These vehicles are typically characterised by distinctive styling and features (and sometimes sound), and seeing one on the road can instantly transport you back to a previous era. Over time, wear and tear has an impact, and the pool of eligible vehicles for restoration shrinks – so there’s nothing better than seeing these vehicles returned to their former glory.


woman in a workshop full of car tools

Victorian Kate Dawson restored a classic Morris Oxford with her father. Image: Matt Harvey


What’s involved in a classic car restoration?

A car restoration may involve replacing, repairing and repainting parts of the vehicle, while maintaining the overall identity of the car. The process of refurbishing may require laborious effort, learning, preparation, time and, of course, money. When the restoration is complete, usually with a few ups and downs along the way, the result delivers a great sense of accomplishment, which seasoned car restorers can vouch for. 

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to a car restoration. Each car restoration is different and may reflect the personal style and passion of the vehicle owner. To help you prepare for your own car restoration, here are some tips and advice from passionate car restorers.


woman child and man sitting in a restored VW Kombi

Josh Phillpot with his family in their restored 1969 Bay Window Volkswagen Kombi.


Meet the car restorers

Kate Dawson (and her father Andrew Dawson)

Twenty-year-old Kate Dawson started restoring a 1956 Morris Oxford Series II during Melbourne’s lockdown period, with the help of her father Andrew Dawson. Over two years, Kate fully restored the classic car with installation of new parts, refurbishment of its original features and a striking blue paintjob. Car restorations run in the family, with Dawson previously helping her father restore a 1964 EH Holden.

"The absolute serotonin boost from driving it – it's just so special,” Dawson says of her restored Morris Oxford Series II. 
Encouraged by her experience, Dawson has even started her own car community – Ladies Crusin’ Classics – and hopes to inspire others to take up classic car restorations.


1956 Morris Oxford Series II restoration

Josh Phillpot

Josh Phillpot and wife Rachel fell head over heels for a 1969 Bay Window Volkswagen Kombi in 2019 and soon after, began their car restoration journey. Indy, as the Kombi is affectionately named, was a real labour of love for the duo. 
“When we first saw her in the driveway, I thought ‘I think she’s going to be the one,’” says Josh. “We’ve definitely put a lot of work into the Kombi. But I knew she needed a fair bit of work done and some tender loving care before we even bought her.”


1969 Bay Window Volkswagen Kombi

Tips and advice for beginner car restorers

How do you go about finding the ‘right’ car to restore?

Kate and Andrew: Do your research! The most important things to remember is to think realistically about what you can achieve, how can you achieve it, how long it is going to take and most importantly, how to stick to your budget!

Josh: Make sure the car you are looking to restore is your passion and that parts are easily accessible.

Did you settle on a timeframe prior to the car restoration? What are some things you should factor into this timeframe?

Kate and Andrew: We believe that setting a timeframe can be a really good idea, but keep in mind that this should not be your main focus with restoring a car. If you feel like you’re rushing, you’re more likely to be less satisfied with the work. Take your time, it’s your pride and joy. As Phil Collins says, ‘You can’t hurry love.’

Josh: No, I didn’t have a timeframe. The things that you should factor into the timeframe is the unknown, for example, parts coming from overseas and stock availability.


rear shot of blue Morris Oxford

The Dawsons' restored Morris Oxford is a true beauty. Image: Matt Harvey


What’s a realistic budget for a car restoration? What are some hidden costs to consider?

Kate and Andrew: A realistic budget for a car should come down to three main factors: What condition is the car in? Does it suit your lifestyle? Where/who/how are doing your restoration?

These considerations are what helped us complete our restoration and set a realistic budget. There will always be hidden costs. Unfortunately, there is always something that doesn’t quite go to plan, whether it’s a big or small issue. You must prepare for things to go wrong.

Josh: It depends on the condition of the car. However, I would say at a minimum $10-$15,000. As you start to do work on the car, you may uncover other issues that you didn’t see in the initial purchase. Also, if you can’t purchase the components locally, you have to factor in the extra cost to purchase from overseas.

What are some tools, equipment and space considerations to factor into a car restoration? 

Kate and Andrew: It comes down to what your project needs and where will you be keeping the car or working on it. Car restorations are a great way to learn new skills and try new techniques. However, keep in mind not to push your limits. Set goals and boundaries on what you can achieve with your car and ask for help when you need it.

Josh: For me, it was quite a challenge as I don’t have my own garage and I store my car in my neighbour’s garage. My car just fits in there, so most of my work was done on the street. You need to have some basic tools to restore a car, however the more specific ones are quite readily available now to purchase.


Joshua in front of the engine of his restored Kombi van

Josh completely restored his beautiful Kombi van but says there is more to be done.


Are there any necessary skills to complete a car restoration? How did you learn these skills?

Kate: Having some basic car knowledge helps. Whether you’ve done a degree or read some books, or you’ve just had a fiddle and learnt as you go, knowledge makes a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I consider myself incredibly lucky and fortunate to have a father that’s a mechanic, who has taken the time to help me learn and show me how to do things. There are heaps of people out there - especially here in Victoria - who are also restoring cars or are car enthusiasts and have the same passion, and often the same problems. They are almost always happy to lend you a hand or share advice.

Josh: I learnt most of my skills from my father and watching YouTube videos. I am a carpenter by trade and familiar with tools and restoration. I think that you need to have the basic knowledge of a motor vehicle, however there are a lot of car clubs that you can ask for assistance. YouTube is a wonderful source of information.

interior shot of blue Morris Oxford

Restored cars need love inside and out. Image: Matt Harvey


If you could go back and change something about your car restoration journey, what would you do differently?

Kate and Andrew: Even though both of our car restoration projects took a couple of years, we would both say not rush it, take your time. Do it right the first time and remember your project is a learning curve.

Josh: Truthfully, there is nothing I would change. I have enjoyed every moment of restoring my car and there is more to be done to it as I believe a project is never finished. 

What’s the biggest piece advice you would give to aspiring car restorers?

Kate and Andrew: Do one thing a day. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, that one thing will make the biggest difference and it’s one step closer to completion of your restoration. As cliche as it sounds, don’t let anyone put you down or stop you, that negativity is just not worth it. You can put your mind to anything. As I always tell people: "A project always stays a project, and that’s what keeps the dream alive."

Josh: I would say make sure you have a passion for the car and treat it as a project not a chore. Understand there will be some challenges to overcome.

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