Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Hot rods are more popular than ever, and that popularity has driven up the cost of original parts and finished cars, making hot rodding more expensive than ever. But there’s hope for the hot rodder with a limited budget: Build Your Own Hot Rod!
These resources are intended to help facilitate your hot rod or classic car build from inspiration and planning to building and customization without breaking the bank. But a car and truck restoration or customization projects can be daunting — Where do you start?
There’s no getting around the fact that a vehicle build or restoration is a big, expensive, time-consuming job. There are many parts of the job rely on one another, which can really make it hard to know where to start, let alone what steps to do, and in what order. And what if you need parts? Do any other vehicles use the same part? How do you even know?
Buying a Project Vehicle or Parts Donor
- Search Project Vehicles and Part Donors For Sale
- How To Assess an Unfinished Project
- How To Do A Field Assessment When Buying a Classic Car
- How To Check If Your Amazing Barn Find Actually Runs
What’s the best way to set things up for a successful build?
In the loosest of terms, we like to break it down to:
- Final Assembly
- Make It Yours
- Make It Legal
It’s often best to start on the chassis, as wheel and tire choices will determine whether or not wheel tubs need to be widened or flared.
As with any other aspect of the build, choices here have cascading effects, as wheel choices determine what brakes will fit or vice versa. Engine and transmission choices might necessitate firewall or floorpan modification as well.
While on chassis, if you’re thinking about a Chassis Swap, we’ve put together an overview of swapping a classic vehicle to a modern drivetrain.
Finding a chassis
(or looking up specs for your project vehicle)
Building a chassis
- How To Build a Budget Hot Rod Chassis
- How To Build a Model A Hot Rod Chassis
- Old School Model T Chassis Build
- Early Ford Beam Axle Identification and Dimensions
Getting your chassis dialed-in
- How To Narrow a Chassis
- How To Graft a Sub-Frame or Front Clip
- How To Install Universal Rear Step Notch Kit
- How to Firm the Flex ~ Chassis Stiffening
- How To Install Rear 4-Link Suspension for Air Ride and Coil-overs
- Wheel Bolt Pattern Cross Reference ~ What Wheels Fit?
- How To Determine Suspension, Brake, and Wheel Clearance
Related resources to help get you to rolling chassis
- Axle Flange Housing Identification
- Differential Identification Chart
- Differential Gear Ratio Calculator
- Early Ford Beam Axle Identification and Dimensions
- How To Determine Ride Height and Shock Absorber Length
- How To Select Proper Rear-End / Differential Gear Ratio
- Rear-End Widths of Classic American Cars
- Speed Potential Calculator for Ring Gear and Pinion Changes
- Tire Change / Speedometer Change Calculator
Your engine block/transmission can be used for mock-up purposes before the vehicle is fully assembled and painted, which is why it makes sense to sort out the chassis first.
With the chassis planned, your vehicle needs a heart. We’ll assume that you won’t be machining your block yourself. If your block needs boring, honing, and decking, send the engine out to be machined.
If your transmission is in need of a rebuild, or your choices make a custom bellhousing or adapter a requirement, now is a good time to get crackin’ on those things.
Finding and engine/transmission
Going junkyard or salvage engine/transmission?
- How To Test and Assess the Health of an Older Engine
- How and Where To Score a Cheap Junkyard Engine
- How To Scavenge a Junkyard
- Cheap Junkyard V8 Engine Potential ~ Ford vs Chevy vs Dodge
Getting your engine/transmission dialed-in
- Custom Motor Mount Considerations
- How To Adapt ANY Engine to ANY Transmission
- How to Measure for a Driveshaft
- How To Determine Engine/Pinion Angle
- How To Select a Torque Converter
Additional engine resources
- Chevrolet Engine Block Numbers
- Ford Engine Block Numbers
- Mopar Engine Block Numbers
- Connecting Rod Ratios
- Engine Displacement Calculator
- Engine Firing Orders
- How To Calculate Compression Ratio
- How To Build Hot Rod Motor Mounts
- Horsepower Gain from Additional Blower Pressure Calculator
Additional transmission resources
- Popular Automatic Transmission Dimensions
- Popular Automatic Transmission Identification Chart
- Popular Manual Transmission Dimensions
- Transmission Gear Ratio Chart
- How To Design An Exhaust System
- How To Determine Proper Exhaust Tubing Size
- How to Make X Pipes, Y Pipes, H Pipes and Exhaust Transitions
- Exhaust System Kits and Parts
Like many other parts of the build, this overlaps to point with mock-up. You’ll need to ensure exhaust clears inner fenders, for example, and may need to fit timgs to fashin body mounts or perches on the chassis.
If you’re planning anything close to a full restoration, you’ll need access to at least the door jambs and sill plates, and likely the entire floorpan and dash as well.
Strip the car down as far as possible, especially because everything will get covered in sanding dust. Once the panels are nice and straight and rust is repaired, the bare metal and filler can be sealed.
Get your sheetmetal and body dialed in
- How To Remove Dents from a Panel Using a Slapper File
- How To Fix Car Dents with Fire
- How To Use Automotive Body Filler
- How To Cut Your Long Bed to a Short Bed in a Weekend
- How To Shrink Stretched Sheet Metal with a Propane Torch
Looking to go old school? Here’s how to use lead instead of plastic filler.
Bodywork will largely, and to a point, coincide with mock-up and making sure everything is going to work and fit.
High-end shops will assemble and disassemble any given build dozens of times. A mock-up, or dry fit, allows panels to be fitted and gaps double checked ensuring any fitment issues are cured, or anything else that could cause a the paint to rub.
Seats and any other bolt-on parts and accessories should be fitted and checked to ensure repaired or new components match the factory mount and attachment locations
This is the time to get your engine back in between the frame rails to plan out where to run wiring and plumbing to confirm that your headers fit with the inner fenders in place. Aftermarket radiators should be fitted, and any addition firewall penetrations should be made, and those unused patched.
- How To Get Perfect Panel Gaps in Doors, Fenders, Hood
- How To Align Body Panels
- 1955-59 GM Truck Body Panel Alignment: Cab to Door to Fender to Hood (While this article is done with a ’55 Chevy truck, the info in this applies to many vehicles with similar construction. Very good explanation)
This step is your last to chance to get things dialed in and solved before final assembly, and you biggest opportunity make sure things go smoothly when you’re putting things together.
Running the original OEM harness? Here’s tips for cleaning and freshening up a wiring harness.
With the panel gaps and mounting and fitment issues sorted, it’s time to do the final priming and block sanding before the basecoat and clearcoat are sprayed on.
- How To Block Sand Body Panels + Tips & Tricks
- Setup a DIY Paint Booth in your Home Garage
- How To Paint A Car At Home In 4 Easy Steps
- How To Color Sand and Buff a Car After a Fresh Paint Job
Don’t have paint in you? Consider vinyl wrap to give your old ride a new look.
Sticking with the original patina? right on. Here’s how to protect and preserve patina.
- Install heat insulation and sound deadening material
- Mount gauges and dash accessories, audio. Final wiring.
- Install door panels, foot well panels, etc. Final wiring.
- Interior and Upholstery Preparation for Hot Rods and Customs
- Interior Parts and Accessories on listed on eBay Motors
At this point you should be very familiar with your car’s every nut, bolt, and wire. Most importantly, there shouldn’t be any surprises when everything goes in its proper place and your project car is once again a driver.
It’s especially important during these final steps to stick to the same methodical process you’ve been doing all along, lest you undo months of careful planning.
- Install Windshield and Glass
Make It Yours
- How to Build and Install Exhaust Flame Throwers
- How To Build and Install Train Horns
- How to Upholster a Hot Rod in Leather
- How to Make Your Own Wide Whitewalls
- More How To and DIY Guides…
Customization and Universal Kits
Make It Legal
- Insurance, Appraisal, Title and Registration
- Insuring Your Hot Rod or Vintage Car
- State-by-State Hot Rod Information
(State DMV, Insurance, Appraisal, Title, Registration, and more…)
Getting Things Done a Budget
- How To Build Your Project Car On A Budget
- 10 Hot Rod Budget Build Alternatives: Buy This, Not That
- 15 Hot Rod Budget Build Alternatives: Do This, Not That
- Top 5 Tips For Building Your Traditional Hot Rod On A Budget
- More budget build articles and low budget builds…
Getting Things Done Yourself
DIY Guides and How-To Articles
The Right Tools for the Job
We get it. Tools can be pricey, and sometimes you only need to use them once. If you’re short on tools, borrow them from your local auto parts store. We’ve put together a summary of the tools and services available from your local auto parts store, most for free.
Auto Repair Lift and Bay Rentals and Other Garage Spaces
We explain all of your options for space to work on your car — from DIY auto shops and garages to more unconventional alternatives.
Find Vintage Car & Truck Parts
Find a Project Vehicle or Parts Donor
Search unfinished project vehicles, salvage cars and trucks, motorcycles and more. Select a Make below to browse vehicles for sale by Model…
Looking for a little bit more? Or for a Finished Vehicle…
Browse several Buyers Guides and Tip Articles we’ve collected, with more to follow. Select a Make below to browse vehicles for sale by Model…