Transform Your Car Into a Show Car
Many car lovers, gear heads and weekend tinkerers spend their free evenings and weekends fixing, improving and tinkering with their cars. Whether you’re restoring a classic car or truck from the 1950s or dressing up your favorite contemporary vehicle, in order to bring it up to show-car level, you’ve got to have plenty of elbow grease and an eye for detail. Martin Sanchez, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book and classic car enthusiast and veteran of car shows, and Michael A. Pennington, director of training and consumer relations at Meguiar’s Car Care Products, share what it really takes to make your ride show-worthy.
Have a Plan
Once you have the car you want to work on, you’ll want to set up a workspace, preferably a two-car garage for plenty of restoration space, equipped with a sturdy work bench, automotive repair tools and an air compressor. From there, map out a rough monthly schedule with some short-term goals and costs. Without a calendar of plans and a budget, a project like this could take much longer than you might expect.
Pennington says the most important part of planning is understanding your specific goals. “What are your goals – what are you expecting from your project? For some people it can be a simple weekend detail, such as a wash and shine, while for others, it can be a complex, multi-step process to prepare their car for an upcoming show,” he says. “You need to identify how much time, expense and effort is required to meet your goals vs what you’re actually willing to invest.”
Gather Your Vehicle’s History
Try to locate any relevant memorabilia (like advertising, owner’s manuals, etc.) from the vehicle’s make, model and era or some interesting ownership history documentation, recommends Sanchez. This can add to your car’s appeal. To collect as much of your vehicle’s history as you can, start with an online vehicle history company. For a small fee, these sites can help you learn more about previous owners, accidents and service records, which can be valuable information when it comes to repairs and restoration.
Go for Top-Grade Bodywork
Professional-looking paint, chrome and bodywork are key to attracting car show visitors and judges to your ride, Sanchez says. Whether you do it on your own or invest in some reliable assistance, be sure to remove dents, repair dings, apply a fresh coat of paint (primer if necessary), and pay attention to the nitty-gritty details such as hardware and lighting.
Pennington advises taking a critical look at your car’s current state and needs before starting. “Evaluate what you’re starting with and need to do. Just because a vehicle is brand new, doesn’t mean it’s in perfect shape – and just because a vehicle is older, doesn’t mean it needs a complete overhaul. Evaluate your paint, your interiors and body to determine your starting point, and then layer your expectations and goals on top of that,” he says.
The Inside Counts
Regardless of whether the car’s interior is original stock (from the manufacturer) or newer and customized, be sure the interior is as clean and as pristine as it can look. “This says a lot about your passion for your ride,” Sanchez says.
Pennington adds that depending on your budget, you may also consider addressing material or upholstery fixes.
Take Note of the Transformation
When restoring your ride, be sure to keep a log of your steps—the before, after and entire process along the way. “It’s important to keep an accessible build diary, with restoration photos and timeline of what was done,” Sanchez says. This will not only help you remember the history, it can also be helpful when applying to car shows.
Open Up the Hood
Be sure to thoroughly clean and detail your engine bay, even if it is stock. “Everyone gathers around once the hood is open,” Sanchez says. Remember, just because the engine in your classic ride is old, it doesn’t mean it needs a full rebuild. But, if you find you have a long list of issues, such as poor mileage or high oil consumption, it may be time to think about rebuilding the engine. First, document what’s going on and assess if an engine rebuild makes sense for your vehicle.
Don’t Neglect the Caboose
Make sure you don’t overlook your vehicle’s trunk. Car lovers will be checking out your ride from hood to trunk, roof to tires. “Keeping the trunk in showroom condition with nice clean tires is a good eye catcher,” Sanchez says.
Restore with Integrity
When replacing or restoring worn parts, be sure to keep within the vintage or time period of your project, Sanchez recommends. “Make the vehicle appear as if you just removed it from a time capsule. For example, a 57 year-old car that looks like it just drove off the showroom floor really gets enthusiasts excited. And even if your vehicle isn’t a 20-year-old classic car, a nicely detailed vehicle that presents itself as showroom new will draw attention,” Sanchez says.
Finally, says Pennington, it’s the simplest details and first impressions that usually count the most. “The easiest place to start is by keeping your car looking good on a regular basis,” he says. “The paint will usually yield the biggest returns – it’s the easiest to see. Address any swirls, oxidation, and fine scratches.”
When restoring and preparing a car to show-worthy status, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Enjoy the time you spend with grease on your hands, decking out your ride.