How to Build a Muscle Car

by Axl J. Amistaadt

The biggest factors that personified the traditional muscle cars, built and put into production between the 1960s and 1970s, were speed, performance and power. These characteristics also figured critically into the use of muscle cars for racing. The legendary muscle cars are extremely valuable to modern collectors, due in part to the limited number of years that they were actually produced. They are also highly coveted by enthusiasts who love speed, performance and power, and whose hearts beat faster at the mere mention of words like "Challenger, Roadrunner, Nova, Chevelle, GTO" and so many others. The progression of time serves only to render these classics even more valuable. Completely restored muscle cars are astronomically expensive, so most enthusiasts opt to build their own treasure, and are often willing to spend a great deal of money over a number of years doing so, if necessary.

Develop Your Plan and Your Budget

Create a long-term plan on paper to guide you in building your muscle car. Start with a very basic outline that includes all of the expenses and aspects that you can think of that will be associated with the project. Be sure to note whatever parts and other items you may already have on hand. Be prepared to make what will probably equal hundreds of changes to your plan, because you can't accurately predict time frames, availability and current costs of things like services, deliveries, parts and competent consultation among many other factors.

Find some photos of vehicles that are the same year, make, model and body style as the muscle car that you have in mind. These should be pictures of the cars either when they were new, or they can be totally restored specimens. This will help you to visualize what your completed classic will look like. Don't worry too much at this point about things like wheels and tires, the color and paint or the interior.

Determine how much of the build you will need to turn over to professional and specialty shops once you've gotten a good concept of your dream car. Don't forget about body and paint, glass installation and whatever mechanical or electrical work that you are unable to do yourself. You'll need shop estimates from them, including parts and labor, for the work that you want for each of them to do. It doesn't hurt to add about 10 to 15 percent of their figures to the estimates to cover incidental costs. Begin setting your budget with these figures.

Decide how much of the restoration you will manage and perform on your own. You'll need to incorporate all estimated costs for parts and shipping into your budget. Again, giving yourself a 10 to 15 percent cushion and margin for error is advisable.

Get Your Car and Tear it Down

Purchase a muscle car that can be restored to your dream car once you've established your budget. Since you're going to be replacing the engine, transmission, and suspension when you rebuild, you may choose to purchase only a body. Or you may find an acceptable vehicle with a blown engine. These could be somewhat inexpensive because they lack functioning engines. For most people, the make, model, body style and year are crucially important elements. You can fudge and make changes because of either budget restrictions or personal preferences on things that don't show outwardly, such as engine, transmission, and suspension if originality doesn't mean that much to you. Look for a vehicle with a body in good shape, avoiding as much in the way of holes and warped metal, rust, filler and bondo as possible. The more body work that is required, the more it's going to cost you. Make sure that the frame has not been bent or warped, and that it is not rotted out.

Check the VIN (vehicle identification number) of your prospective choice to make sure that the car you're buying is the car that is really being sold to you. Many important identifying facts about the car are coded right into the factory-issued VIN. The place of manufacture, the original engine and color of the vehicle are all revealed by this number, as well as the car's year, make and model. Insist upon the transfer of the correct title work, registration and VIN verification, according to the laws in your state and of the state the car is being purchased in, if different from your own. If these are not available, then suspect possible fraud, especially if you are getting the gem "at a steal."

Begin a written parts log as you start tearing the car apart. Take the time to carefully store parts in sealed labeled plastic bags, and then record them in the running log. Labeling the bags will make it more efficient to find them when you need them later on. Do the same when you have new parts delivered. The more parts you are dealing with, the more important this step will become to you. Be sure to note in your log what parts are ordered when. This log will help you to keep from ordering duplicate parts.

Have the Body Stripped and Painted

Have necessary body work performed on the car. Then arrange to have the body stripped to remove old fillers and paint. This will properly prepare it for the new paint job after all repairs have been completed. The stripping methods used today include blasting with pressurized baking soda, dipping the body into an acid bath, and media blasting with plastic and walnut particles. The method that you choose will depend upon your budget, your personal preferences and which professional providers are available to you.

Move the body indoors. Stripping leaves the car highly susceptible to the effects of rust.

Choose a paint professional by obtaining estimates in your area from several different shops. Look for a painter who is willing to provide references and allow you to view their cars. A painter happy to provide you with samples and referrals may be more expensive, but also may deliver the best results. Arrange to deliver your car to the paint professional of your choice. Make sure that you both agree upon color scheme, and be open to any suggestions that he may have to offer you

Under it all

Purchase your engine and transmission while the car is being painted. Know which specimens you truly want and be prepared for the major outlay of expense for these items.

Order your brakes and suspension package while the painting is in progress, too. It's nice to have everything else ready for immediate installation upon the return of the car. Keep in mind the sizes and types of tires and wheels you'll be using when you choose your brakes so that you'll be ordering the correct rotors.

Purchase the wheels and tires. Traditionally, the wheels of muscle cars are just a little lower in the front than in the back. Too much difference in the height of the two will make your car look like an insect, which takes away significantly from the attractiveness of the vehicle. Wheel sizing with 18 inches in the back and 17 inches in the front is the most recognized combination for appearance as well as for function.

Assemble as much of the car as possible prior to the arrival of the body. When the body returns from the shop, you will be very excited and anxious to finish you car. It helps to have everything else ready when the body is done.

Mount the body to the car when it returns from the shop. Bolt on any remaining loose parts and choose a theme for the entire car that complements your paint. Opt for just a few choice brushed chrome exterior pieces to balance the paint, instead of overwhelming the eyes with the effects of too much bright, shiny chrome. Install the interior now, too. Neatly conceal wiring and interior hoses to add a great deal to the total appearance of the vehicle.

Tip

  • check Since very few individuals, if any, are complete experts in every aspect of the building or restoration of any car, employing the assistance of knowledgeable specialists to help in the restoration should be figured into your final cost of the vehicle. You should always shop around for and compare all parts and services, keeping in mind that the cheapest is not always the best. Take careful stock of the things that are the most important to you. Many people put heavy emphasis on the rarity of the particular vehicle, as well as how much originality is still intact.

About the Author

A full-time writer since 2007, Axl J. Amistaadt is a DMS 2013 Outstanding Contributor Award recipient. He publishes online articles with major focus on pets, wildlife, gardening and fitness. He also covers parenting, juvenile science experiments, cooking and alternative/home remedies. Amistaadt has written book reviews for Work At Home Truth.