Restoring a car is no easy undertaking and, unless you’re a professional with all the kit in the world, you’ll almost certainly need some help along the way.
But some classic cars lend themselves to the painstaking task of owner-restoration more than others – for example we’d steer clear of the Citroen DS’s hydropneumatic suspension or the Jaguar XJS’s complex powerplant.
As well as ease of work, you’ll also need to go for something with a ready supply of spare parts and, hopefully, a car that will recoup your outlay if you choose to sell it.
So if you’re looking for something to buy as a project car, here are our top 10 cars to restore.
Restoring an E-Type is not in the same ballpark as making a mass-produced Triumph or MG ready for the road again, but what the hell…we wanted to include at least one challenging car that would see you reap some significant financial reward for getting it right.
Even projects cars these days can go for eye-watering sums, but the finished article – depending on the model, year etc – can be worth a small fortune.
A true 150mph, 1960s supercar with looks to die for, the E-Type is as much a work of art as a car, and you’ll be hard pushed to decide whether to just look at it drive it.
There isn’t room to detail all the pitfalls here, but thankfully plenty of others on the web have done it for us, while there is good support from clubs and books.
To many people, the Porsche 911 is *the* ultimate sports car. Not the fastest, not the most powerful, nor the biggest or most flashy, but with a shape fundamentally unchanged since 1963, almost definitely the most iconic.
Happily, classic examples – while expensive – are mechanically fairly simple and easy to work on.
Rust can be a real problem on cars up to the mid 1970s though, so a very careful inspection is required before parting with (significant) hard-earned cash.
But with more than 70 per cent of all 911s ever made still on the road, there’s a thriving parts industry and plenty of help available, from extensive books to independent specialists and experts on web forums.
There are several pros and cons to plumping for a Mazda MX-5, the spiritual successor to the MGB but based on the Lotus Elan, as a restoration project.
On the one hand, there are so many available that it would make more economic sense to buy the best mark 1 you can afford, and any restoration is likely to cost more than the car will be worth at the end of it.
On the other hand, there are so many available that you can easily pick up a project car for next to nothing, and when you’ve finished you’ll have one of the best drivers’ sports cars ever made.
The original, headlight-popping, MX-5 turned 28 in 2017 and, because of their ubiquity, parts are readily available, plus there’s an excellent owners club for support.
Early examples are prone to rust, but the engines – as you’d expect from Mazda – are virtually bullet-proof and shouldn’t need too much work.
The last of the so-called “hairy chested” TRs, the six-cylinder, 150bhp TR6 was a more macho alternative to the MGB and shares many of its rivals characteristics that make it a great restoration project – apart from availability.
Only 8,370 of the 94,619 TR6s sold were destined for the home market, so the number of right hand drive project cars is naturally dwindling and you’ll need to carefully inspect the severity of the inevitable rust before buying.
Get hold of the right one though, and you’ll have a raucous six-cylinder sports car, designed by Karmann, to bring back to life.
The cars are relatively simple to work on and, like the MGB, the TR is supported by a wide variety of clubs and parts stores.
Ford have failed to come up with a suitable replacement for the Capri since production ended in 1986 – indeed, they seem to have given up on a coupe for the UK market and offered the US-styled Mustang for sale in right hand drive form instead.
Of course, the Capri was Ford’s attempt to conquer Europe with its own Mustang, and the mark I launched in 1969 was a truly stunning car, based on Cortina running gear.
It gave Brits a sporting coupe they could believe in, backed by the trusted blue oval badge, and it went on to be phenomenally successful.
Later cars were less pretty, but the 3.0S as driven by Bodie and Doyle in the professionals and the subsequent 2.8i were superb performance coupes.
There may never be another Capri, so bringing one back to life is an obvious choice for fast Ford fans looking for a restoration project.
The Sprite – and its later sibling the MG Midget – was nicknamed the “roller skate” because of its diminutive size and pinpoint handling.
When it was launched in 1958 with those distinctive “frogeye” headlamps, there was no other car on the road that gave so much open-top fun from a 948cc engine.
An updated body, shared with the Midget – they would come to be known as Spridgets – in 1961 gave the car a more modern look, with a rear end sharing styling with the soon-to-be-announced MGB.
Either of these cars make perfect restoration projects, being small, simple, with huge club support and an abundance of spare parts available. And they’ll put a smile on your face when you’ve finished…
The original British 4×4 remains one of the best-loved homegrown vehicles of all time, and for good reason.
It was built to do one thing, and do it well, and the truth is it’s never been bettered by a British 4×4 – rugged, solid and handsome in a square-jawed way, the Land Rover series III sold more than 440,000 vehicles between 1971 and 1985.
There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of these still being unearthed in barns each year. But while there are plenty of projects available, it pays to take your time to get the right one – they’ve not been laid up out of use for no reason.
Choose carefully, get as complete a car as possible, and get ready to strip down that Meccano-like body and bring a legend back to life.
We’re talking original Beetle here, obviously, not the relaunched, reskinned VW Golf modern version.
The Beetle remains the car most likely to raise a smile on the roads when one chunters past – the makers of the Herbie films didn’t choose the air-cooled classic to play the Love Bug for nothing.
VW made more Beetles than any other car between 1938 and 2003, so getting replacement and aftermarket parts remains fairly straightforward, for now at least.
There are more owners clubs than you can shake a stick at, with help at hand at every turn, and because of their ancient design they are comparatively simple to work on.
And at the end of it all, you’ll have a legendary piece of automotive art that will bring a little ray of sunshine to the nation’s streets.
The ultimate British motoring icon, the Mini remains the embodiment of practical design genius.
Even later models are now fetching good money, so more and more restorations are being undertaken of 80s and 90s cars as well as the pure, clean-lined originals.
Huge parts availability and support, simple mechanics and tried and trusted engines make the Mini a viable restoration project – apart from the rust.
Sills, arches, headlight surround, A panels – all these and more are well-known Mini rust-spots, so unless you’ll either need to proficient with a welder, or prepared to subcontract this work, if you want to take on a Mini restoration.
When it comes to parts availability, club support and restoration guides (both on and offline), it’s hard to beat one of Britain’s best-loved sports cars, the MGB.
Barring the switch from chrome to rubber bumpers, the B remained virtually unchanged through 18 years of production, with more than 500,000 produced.
Literally every part on your MGB will be available from independent suppliers or via the MG Owners Club, from an entire new body shell to individual nuts and bolts.
What’s more, once complete you’ll have a car that may be up to five decades old, but can still keep up with modern traffic in relative comfort.
And if you ever want to sell it, there’ll always be a queue of eager buyers.