Making A British Car A Family Project

When you add a British car to the family, it can inspire teamwork and togetherness

Family fun doesn’t always mean picnics and ballgames. Sometimes the best way for parents and kids to bond is over a couple thousand pounds of steel, glass and rubber.

In today’s fast-paced society, every member of the family has a different schedule of activities. A family meal can feel like a momentous occasion. Fathers are so busy they may put off a car restoration project until after the kids have left home. But this delay means enormous lost opportunities.

First, how else are your children going to learn how cars work, how to identify problems, and how to do basic repairs? These life skills are valuable for boys and girls. British cars are great teaching cars—they have straightforward engines, are inexpensive and easy to work on, and parts are readily available through Moss Motors.

With a project car, you can teach kids about making logical decisions, breaking down a big project into doable parts, solving problems, setting priorities, budgeting and safety precautions. Plus, consider how a successful project will enhance your kids’ self-esteem. Focus on a hobby can help keep teens out of trouble.

A British car project could be the ultimate family car. Sure, the entire family may not be able to ride in the car at once, but when a car is more a project than mere transport, it serves as a vehicle for strengthening family bonds.

With everyone involved in the project, it becomes a focus for teamwork. The project gets done quicker and is more fun. And when completed, there is something tangible that everyone can enjoy—something that provides bragging rights for all family members.

Make the Family Project a Family Decision

Swap meets can be an excellent place to pick up new projects and good ideas. It

Most parents recognize that forcing something on kids, especially if there is work involved, might not fly, and worse, might be resented. You need the enthusiasm and commitment from each member of the family in order to achieve your family goals for the project. And you need incentive, notably the opportunity to drive the car once they get their license.

First, get your kids interested in classic cars by taking them to car shows and encouraging them to select their favorites. Depending on their ages, have them take pictures of the cars they like best, dream up names for them, determine the best colors. Get some classic car books from the library and look through the books together, talking about the marques, models and features that are most cool.

Then have a family powwow about a project car that everyone would be involved in and would eventually be able to drive. Keep in mind there are plenty of aspects to the project that do not involve getting dirty, turning wrenches or sliding under the car. There is computer research, financial accounting, photo documentation and a host of to-dos that will suit all ages and interests. Consider a written family contract that everyone signs and holds each other to in the future.

Once you get the new toy home, a thorough washing and inspection is a great way to get acquainted with your new car.

Be sure to get grandfathers involved, too. They have great experience with a host of cars, and often have more patience with kids than their parents. Plus, they can pass on the stories about cars they had in the past. Have your kids interview their grandparents about their old cars on tape or video. They can write up the family car history and put it together with photos of all the family cars through the years.

Agree on Your Car Selection and Purchase
To ensure everyone’s passion for the project, all family members should be included in the purchase decision. First announce the budget you’ve allocated for purchase and repairs in the first year, and lay out the potential car alternatives that would be easy first-time cars to work on and fit into the budget. (Look at the cover story in the Fall 2008 issue on great first-time British cars to restore at

Encourage everyone to read up on car options in books or online, and then come back with their first, second and third choice picks. Consider what the clubs say online about the model years and features, the availability of parts, technical information and advice, and trends in value for each car option.

Once you’ve come to a family decision on the car make and model, it will take legwork to find the right project car to acquire. Check newspaper and specialty magazine car listings, eBay, car show corrals and car club newsletters. Kids can help with the search; it can be fun if treated like a game.

Take the whole family along when you go look at cars for sale. You’ll want to evaluate the time and money to get the car to your standards for safety, reliability and drivability. You may not know the full picture if the car isn’t running. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of each option so everyone understands your decision-making process. Take a family vote on whether you should buy a certain car or keep looking.

First Things First: Clean and Inspect
Once you’ve got the project car home, start photo documentation. You’ll want the before and after shots, as well as images of the work underway and fun shots of the family with the car. Plan a photo album or a slide show when the project is completed.

Start by revealing the true nature of your new acquisition with a thorough cleaning. Use a pressure washer to remove grime from the underside of the car and the engine compartment. Go easy so you don’t damage anything. For best results, take the wheels off and raise the car as high as it will go on jack stands.

Then get to work up close—it’s easier to see what needs to be done once it’s cleaned up. Ensure there are no rodents or insects living in the vehicle before you start poking around. Perhaps give each family member a section of the car to clean. Be gentle, as metal gets rusty, rubber bits crack, parts dry out and upholstery becomes brittle after years of sitting. Be sure to lubricate door, hood and trunk hinges.

Make Your Go or No-Go Decision

Even the youngest family members can get involved in the car restoration – they love to help, especially when you keep it fun.

Once fully exposed and critically inspected, list all the repairs that must be done to get the car on the road, make it safe and ensure it runs reliably. Consider what you can handle on your own, and what will have to be done by a mechanic or body shop. Add up your must-have parts order from the Moss Motors catalog. Keep in mind the Moss Customer Loyalty Program for great discounts.

Then make your go or no-go decision on the project. Does it need too much work? Is the rust worse than you thought? Would it be better to bail on this car, and find a better example that will require a smaller time commitment from your family? Review key decision points at a family meeting.

Even if you lose some money selling the car at this point, you could save money in the long run if the car doesn’t match your time and money objectives. Certainly you don’t want to get in over your head and have the project stall completely. You might make a little money on the car if you clean it up and get it running better than when you purchased it.

Planning and Family Assignments Are Critical
Once you’ve decided to move ahead with your rolling restoration, break the project down step-by-step and form a project plan. Individual tasks can be assigned to appropriate family members.
Tasks might include finalizing the list of problems to address, determining the order in which they should be completed, finalizing the list of parts to order, setting up an account book or financial expense worksheets, designing a timeline and photographic documentation.

Make a chart listing the tasks, the person responsible for the work and target completion deadline, and post it on the refrigerator. Checking off tasks when completed provides a sense of accomplishment along the way.

Inevitably with all mechanical projects, additional problems become apparent as you get into the nitty gritty details. So be sure your timeline and budget/expense list is drawn up on the computer so you can add to it and adjust timeframes as you go along. Resto projects require patience and flexibility.

In addition to the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the project, there is a lot of research that will add to the success of the project and enjoyment of the car. Documentation is also important. Put together a binder with all the paperwork, receipts and research on the car and project, plus the future wish list. A companion photo album shows progress, while a maintenance record tracks work to be done at specific mileage points. A calendar of auto-related events ensures you have opportunities to show it off once done.

Everyone should take on some of the tasks, from the mom to the youngest child if possible—kids are all about fairness. They like to know everyone is pulling their weight. And kids love to remind adults when they have missed their deadlines—it gives them a sense of joint responsibility.

Set a Family Goal and Be Realistic
Select a fun goal for the family to work towards. Taking it to a local car show or cruise night, getting it done for a special occasion like a new driver’s license or senior prom, taking it to an open track day, or entering an autocross are great incentives to keep the momentum rolling on a restoration project.

Be sure to set a reasonable timeline based on the repairs needed and family commitment. Consider setting a minimum time allotment to work on the car for each family member each month, and keep a time log.

Be prepared to revise deadlines repeatedly as other obligations get in the way. Negotiation might be the name of the game to keep the project on track. Kids are masters at wiggling out of commitments, but remember this is a valuable life classroom, and there is more at stake than mechanical skills.

Get the Car Running
Before you start letting your children work around tools and solvents, review safety measures and ensure they are in place at all times.

If the project car isn’t running, start by doing the minimum amount of work to get the car to turn over and take it for a short drive. You can learn a lot about the mechanical condition and what you need to address.

Depending on where the car was stored and the length of time it was sitting, you may have to address rubber seals, gaskets and hoses, electrical wires, belts and tires. All the fluids will have to be changed. The fuel lines and gas tank will probably have to be flushed and cleaned. The brake system and hydraulics will have to be renewed, including clutch, master cylinder and slave cylinder.

Then inspect the chassis, lubricating as you go along, including the gearbox and carburetors. Now your list of specific issues to address on the car kicks in.

When you’re ready for the first test drive, determine who gets to ride in the passenger seat for the first run, but ensure everyone gets a turn. Start out at low speeds so you can pay attention to strange noises, smells or other problems like overheating. If you get green lights on these, take it for a proper test drive.

Celebrate Family Success
At this point, you’re ready to spiff it up for driving around town. Detail the interior, polish the chrome, condition the leather seats, shampoo the carpets and give it a sparkling wax job. Take photos of the car and family. Invite your friends over to admire the results of your labor. Take it to a local car show, cruise night or other event you planned as a family goal.

Down the road, you can consider upgrading the looks of the car, enhancing handling and suspension, and modifying performance. The family may have thoughts on what the priorities should be. You’ll have enthusiastic help on subsequent phases of work on the family car. The biggest problem will be sorting out who gets to drive it—you may need another chart for the refrigerator.

Resto-Research Projects:
• Car clubs in the region to join.
• A list of regional car shows, cruise nights, autocross events, TSD rallies and open track days.
• Best books on the car model’s history and repair tips.
• Best websites with technical information.
• Different ways of resolving specific problems, and part prices for the alternative solutions.
• Recommended maintenance, for example, how often to change the oil, spark plugs and belts.
• Reliable, recommended local British car mechanics that you can turn to for expert help.
• A shop with a dyno so you can diagnose more advanced engine issues on your car.
• How to prep the car to put it away for the winter and put it back on the road in the spring.

One Father’s Perspective
Tim Suddard, publisher of Classic Motorsports and Grassroots Motorsports, completed a restoration on a 1973 Triumph Spitfire with his 14-year-old son, Tommy, and recommends the experience. “At first it was difficult to keep him focused,” explains Suddard. “We had many days filled with the classic father-son dynamic of frustration and exasperation. But we also got to spend a lot of time talking about everything from the mundane to the philosophical.”

Suddard says the turning point was the two-week thrash before their first big event. “We had a finite deadline and real goal, and Tommy got more interested when he saw the fast progress we were making at that point. Now that the car is running, he heads to the garage to work on it on his own.” The bottom line for Suddard: “The project was worthwhile on a lot of levels.”

By Kathleen M. Mangan

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