Top 10 best classic cars to restore
It's all about parts availability, simplicity and size – but there's still a wide variety of classics in our list, from the 1920s to the 1990s
Which car to choose for restoration?
There’s a common thread here: parts availability. That is the number one practical consideration for your choice of restoration project, allied with the desirability of the finished vehicle.
From that point it’s about simplicity of construction, and the materials used too. Many of these lists place the MGB at number one, but if whoever wrote such a list had ever tried restoring the complicated sills, front wings or rear wings tops, for example, they might change their mind.
Sometimes, seemingly simple construction can prove tricker than expected too. Ever tried aligning the front and rear sections, plus one piece bonnet and front wings, on the chassis of a Triumph Spitfire (or GT6, Herald or Vitesse)? Yowch. For what it’s worth, we place the Spitfire at an invisible number 11. If you’re wondering, the Morris Minor and early Corvettes were close contenders too.
Size matters as well. It’s so much easier to manoeuvre a small, light car than a big one. All the same, there’s one muscle car in this list – it’s not huge by American standards, it’s of relatively simple construction and everything is available for it.
So take a look at this top ten. But remember that the most important consideration of all is whether or not you love the car in question. Because if you don’t love it, the toils of restoration will be harder to take.
Thanks to Barons auction house for the use of the picture above, from a previous sale.
10. Mazda MX-5/Miata Mk1
There aren’t many of the more modern classics that could get even into a top 30 of easiest classics to restore. And it’s a close thing with the Mazda, because there are electronics, high-pressure fuel system and complicated (compared with pre-1970s classics) interior fittings to consider.
But the Mazda is also of relatively simple construction, and though prone to rust it’s generally relatively easy to repair. The mechanical parts are robust and the likes of Moss have transformed the parts availability.
And, though it’s not everything, values are heading upwards. There’s more about MkIs here.
9. Ford Mustang MkI
The Mustang is America’s MGB in terms of parts availability and ease of restoration. OK, it’s not small, and it’s going to have six or eight cylinders, which can only add to cost. But it’s all extremely robust, and the interiors are simple but with a whole lotta 1960s style.
Construction is simple, the body sitting on a basic ladder frame, though there’s far more complexity to the body pressings than with the majority of the cars here. Fortunately all the panels are available, as are complete bodyshells and chassis.
There’s a bit more work here but the result is an all-American hero. Here’s how to buy one.
8. Austin 7
This is very much dependent on the model. A fabric-bodied saloon might look easy to restore but it might cause you difficulties. But a simple saloon, open model or, better still, a special, is one of the best.
Every part is available, including full bodies, though again they’re usually of the special or open tourer variety. The mechanical parts are almost comedically simple, with the most basic possible lubrication and cooling systems, and components that (if necessary) can be easily replicated.
Some engines might still be running white-metal bearings, which require specialist (though learn-able) skills to rework, but most will have been upgraded to modern shell bearings. Ordering parts won’t be as easy as it is for, say, an MGB or Mini, but they’re out there.
Best of all, an Austin 7 is an incredibly enjoyable car to own. There’s more information here.
7. Ford Model A
Surprised? Confused? Don’t be. The Model A was made to survive the most basic roads and be rebuilt when necessary in the middle of nowhere – think 1920s Midwest America.
So were many such cars of the period of course, but where the Model A differs is the sheer numbers that have survived, and its following across the world. Parts availability is excellent, knowledge is extensive, and the choice of suitable projects is still wide – best in the USA, good in Australia and New Zealand, and still reasonable in the UK and Europe.
Model As are also remarkably good to drive, even over long distance, and they exude a character that few post-war cars can match. It even made our top 10 of cars for long-distance rallies.
6. Citroën 2CV
Recalibrate your brain. Go Gallic! There’s very little that’s conventional about the 2CV but there’s also very little than can’t be fixed or replaced extremely simply.
There are only two cylinders to the engine, the suspension is rudimentary but effective, most of the parts unbolt without hassle and just about everything can be fixed with the minimum of tools.
Parts are also widely available and cheap too, though they’re not as easy to access as those of British or American classics. But be brave, go against the flow, and you’ll learn a new way of automotive thinking that’s just as effective as conventional design – and a lot of fun. Read the buying guide here.
Parts, parts, parts. Just about every single part is available for an MGB – some go in and out of availability, hence the woolly ‘just about’ at the start of this sentence. All body panels are available, as are complete bodyshells, from British Motor Heritage.
The mechanical parts are also simple, with the robust BMC engine at the heart of it. Interiors are basic, and easy to replace or recondition. The bodywork is not as straightforward though, because its construction was over-complicated by the lack of budget for large pressing tools when the MGB was made.
The strength of the MGB is also its weakness. This was BMC’s first unitary construction open-top sports car (the preceding MGA had a separate chassis), and the company went overboard to ensure its rigidity, using a three-piece sill design. It’s one of the reasons why the MG is such a great sports car – but it’s much trickier to repair than a standard two-piece design.
There’s more information in this buying guide.
4. Land Rover Series I-III
If you want a grown-up Meccano set, here it is. Robust, easily fixable, fun – and its already excellent parts availability is getting even better, thanks to increasing values and the influence of Land Rover’s own ‘Reborn’ programme of restored Series Is (shown above).
Everything’s built on a hefty but rust-prone chassis, and a full restoration will almost certainly entail replacing the chassis. The mix of Birmabright alloy (for all but the last of the Series IIIs) and mild steel used in the construction of the bodywork makes for nasty cases of electrolytic corrosion – but the great thing is, the panels never looked especially straight from new, and look even better with a spot of [cough] patina.
The toughest part is repairing or replacing the bulkhead, which means stripping just about everything else off the chassis. And you need a lot of space to do that! The payoff is that you get a true go-anywhere icon at the end of it all. Check out our buying guides for Series I and Series II/IIA.
If you’ve ever worked on a Mini you’ll know why it’s not further up the placings; there are some jobs, even replacing a fan belt, for which the Mini’s compactness makes for skinned knuckles and furious swearing.
But parts availability and pricing wins through, along with the simple construction of the bodyshell. The design is generally extremely clever though rust-prone of course. The separate subframes aren’t easy to replace but a new subframe is better than having to weld up a rotten chassis rail.
And of course the A-series engine is an extremely well-known quantity, even if the in-unit transmission can be a bit fiddly. As long as you opt for the rubber cone suspension rather than Hydrolastic, there’s very little that will phase you mechanically.
Best of all, the Mini is more enjoyable to drive than almost any other classic. There’s a buying guide here.
2. VW Beetle
When all four wings unbolt, the engine comes out in under an hour, there’s no messy water cooling and the bodytub unbolts from the self-contained floorpan/chassis, you’re onto a winner.
This is one clever design. It’s unconventional but it all makes sense, it’s robust and parts are easy to come by. There are a few fiddly bits, like rot-prone heater channels within the sills, and expensive heat exchangers to supposedly deliver warmth rather than fumes to the cabin, but mostly a Beetle offers great restoration potential.
Also, of course, you’ll become part of that great aircooled fan base that continues to get stronger ever year. There’s a full buying guide here.
The Spridget has it all. Parts availability? Oh yes, including new bodyshells from British Motor Heritage. Strong, simple construction? And some! Basic but robust mechanicals? Of course.
It’s a clever design, a chassis-less shell that’s all folded steel and basic panels, powered by the venerable A-series engine and four-speed gearbox. Suspension is taken from the Austin A35, and the interior makes the rest of the bunch here look complicated – though it’s no less stylish.
The first of the line, the Sprite MkI, has a heavy one-piece bonnet and front wings assembly that makes restoration more difficult, and Sprites MkI-II and Midget MkI all have quarter-elliptic rear leaf springs that are fine in themselves – but their mounting points are tricky to repair (and very rust-prone).
Late-model Midgets have polyurethane bumpers and more complicated, less stylish interiors – so go for the middle ground to make life as simple and stylish as possible. You won’t regret it! Read more on the Midget here and the Frogeye Sprite here.
Classic Cars for Sale
Mike Authers Classics the Midget and Sprite specialist in Abingdon is looking to buy properly restored chrome bumpered MG Midgets. Up to £8,000 paid. Also barn find or part completed Midgets wanted especially with Heritage body shells. Please call Mike for a chat on 07703 465224
Advertised on behalf of the current owner. Restored onto rust free bodyshell. The last owner has carried out a thorough and detailed restoration and numerous discreet modifications to make this Midget a superb drivers car. This included a full rebuilt engine to 1340cc. Five speed ford type 9 gearbox. Frontline front and rear adjustable suspension using telescopic shock absorbers. Frontline fron
MG Midget . Round wheel arch model and one of the last chrome bumpered Midgets. Major professional restoration in the 1990`s using a new British Motor Heritage body shell. Only 3,000 miles since with photo history. Seats have just been re trimmed in Biscuit, complementing the original Autumn Leaf trim. Recently fitted with wire wheels and new tyres. Electronic ignition and new Alternator. Double
To Be OFFERED AT AUCTION WITHOUT RESERVE at RM Sothebys' The Petersen Automotive Museum Auction event, 8 December 2018. Comprehensive concours-quality restorationThe quintessential British sports car There is something almost indescribably fun about driving a small car . . . and we do not mean simply small, but downright TINY! Consider the Mini, T-series MG, Bugeye Sprite, and, maybe most importan