Updated: May 6, 2021
Part 3a: Parts
And now it's time for part 3 of my series entitled "Even More Tips and Tricks to Keep Your. Restoration Moving!" Part 1 concerned organization; and it included several ideas to help you stay motivated and on track to finish your vehicle. Part 2 was all about tools and listed the top 7 tools (in my humble opinion) that you will need in restoration work. But here we are in the third installment in this series to discuss one of my favorite aspects of restoration work: Parts!
Let's face it, even the most complete of vehicles that you begin in restoration work will require you to locate and purchase parts. Granted, some parts may need to be re-chromed, painted, or other sub-assemblies restored to their original condition, but every DIY restorer will find that mechanical parts will need to be replaced, such items as gaskets and weatherstripping must be purchased new, and all kinds of odds and ends that no one reproduces will have to be sought.
Even small parts like bezels or jewel lens for the speedometer will need to be purchased.
My first introduction into the parts world came not long after my purchase of the 1955 Ford Club Sedan when just a teenager. I was working at Pep Boys Auto Parts in Woodbridge, Virginia, at the time I started tinkering on the old Fairlane. Working behind the parts counter in the pre-computer days gave a young man a real education. You had to know your stuff or the customer would not receive the correct replacement for his vehicle to keep him on the road. Back then we had to look up the part numbers in the books on the counter; stretching out over 8 feet long was a series of books from aftermarket brands like Raybestos, Borg Warner, Holley, Monroe, TRW, Stant, and all the rest. I can fondly remember trying to randomly look up parts for my 1955 Ford; even in the early 90's most of the companies either did not offer parts for anything in 1955 or if they did the customer had to special order the item because Pep Boys did not keep it in stock.
Remember the days when a parts store used the catalog of books?
There are some mechanical parts you can find at your local auto parts store but it seems that each year the offerings continue to dwindle. Let's face it - these cars are getting older all the time and more and more obsolete as they say. Whatever the case, let me give you my top 5 ways to locate parts.
Top 5 Ways to Locate Parts!
1. Swap Meet
From the first time I ever set foot on a large fairgrounds in the early 90's I was hooked on parts! In my opinion, there is still no better way to find the parts you need to restore your vehicle than to visit a swap meet. From buckets of rust to all-out project vehicles the swap meet tends to be the place where you can find that missing piece you need or the next car you roll into the garage. I began the parts addiction at one of the world's largest swap meets - the Carlisle, Pennsylvania fairgrounds. Of course, some of you may have heard of the Carlisle swap meet (both the spring and fall meets) or even the larger AACA Hershey show and swap, but Hershey tends to be more of a car show than an actual swap meet. I remember my first trip like it was yesterday - cool spring morning, an orange sunrise over the horizon, and the smells and sounds of all things car and truck related! Rows and rows of vendors selling their leftovers from the latest restoration filled up the landscape. Off in the distance you could see charcoal smoke rising from the food vendors as they began preparations to feed large, hungry crowds of avid parts hounds. There is just nothing quite like the smell of parts fresh from the barn, the sausage links and peppers on the grill, and the occasional whiff of cherry tobacco smoke from a pipe that some vendor had lit up early in the morning. Occasionally the sounds and fumes from an engine on a run stand would also fill the air. This combination always makes for quite the aroma - one that I look forward to each time I visit.
And then there are the sights - junk yard finds everywhere! Sheet metal, engines, transmissions, doors, wheels, tires, brightwork, tools, memorabilia, and so much the more as far as the eye could see. Occasionally a restoration company breaks up the view by taking up several rental spaces with a large tent, but for the most part many of the vendors are DIY car guys like me and you. If you need anything, especially a used part for your car or truck, the swap meet is the place to go. I just love a good, old-fashioned swap meet!
Why visit a swap meet?
You can handle the parts and inspect them before you buy.
You can easily barter for a lower price.
Vendors often have more inventory at home that you may be able to obtain later.
Prices always seem to be the lowest at swap meets. (even the occasional new item)
Of course, the swap meet transactions always follow the mantra of "buyer beware". Arm yourself with knowledge - not only what you need to purchase, but things like part numbers, sizes and measurements, and especially a knowledge of the value of the parts you need! I have seen way too many people duped by vendors who either had no scruples or were just simply ignorant. I have lost count of the number of times I have looked through a vendor's space only to be told incorrect information by said vendor (so that he can make a sale). For instance, most Y block engine cores will be tagged as a 312, knowing that 312's are more valuable because of their rarity and horsepower from the factory. And, since a 312 looks like a 292 or a 272 from the exterior you do have to be careful when looking at an engine core. Ford muddied the water when they used the ECZ-6015C designation for both the 292 and 312! I chuckle sometimes because vendors much older than me like to argue over "what fits what" and tell me my information is wrong, etc. I do not try to pick fights at swap meets and never initiate a conversation with a vendor to tell him he is incorrect, but these humorous arguments always pop up when a vendor approaches me and asks "What are you working on?" and when I reply a 1955 Ford some will miraculously have parts that fit my car, etc. Usually these discussions end with me leaving the space shaking my head - after working on 1955 - 56 Fords and Y blocks since I was a teenager I am pretty confident that I know my stuff.
Anything I ever buy at a swap meet I barter on a price that will demand a full tear-down and rebuild. Most used items will need to be restored or at the very least repainted. There are occasions when you can find NOS (new old stock) items; at times these pieces can still be in the original packaging. These parts are always a bonus but usually come at a higher price. It should go without saying that if the NOS part includes any gasket or rubber seal you should expect to replace that before installing the part on your vehicle.
Depending upon the location of the swap meet and what parts you are looking to acquire, you may want to consider bringing a large satchel, a hand truck, or even a "parts cart" like the one pictured below. Some of the larger venues are next to impossible to see in one day - when you locate a part you need just make plans to deal on it right then and there. If you delay and then decide to come back to that vendor location later on in the day, odds are that the part will be gone. I will have to admit I have learned that valuable lesson.
The swap meet can be a gold mine if you are willing to spend the time and effort to walk through the vendor spaces and speak with the guys selling off their extras. Over the years I have made many a good deal!
2. The Internet (Social Media, Online Forums, eBay, etc)
Let's face it, we are living in 2021 and many people today live in a virtual world online. Internet forums such as y-blocksforever.com, the ford barn, and jalopy journal, (and many others) have served to bring multiplied millions of people around the world together to discuss and promote their favorite classic car, truck, boat, etc. For a long time even the VS57 Paxton McCulloch Supercharger had its own website that included a forum and a classifieds section. Usually, the hardest parts to find can be located in forums like these by asking questions or posting a want ad in the classifieds section. I have bought quite a bit through contacts made in these forums, and the bonus of working a deal on these sites is building the trust of those who frequent the pages. I must add as well that I have learned quite a few good restoration tips and tricks myself!
Websites like Craigslist are still around, but since Facebook began its "Marketplace" pages it seems that a lot of those types of transactions have shifted to that venue. Craigslist always meant a hidden identity and was a little sketchy concerning meeting someone to make a purchase. With social media pages such as Facebook the credibility and accountability factors come into play making potential buyers feel more at ease. If you have the time to visit YouTube, check out the go kart project that my son and I completed during the COVID lockdown - https://youtu.be/MHKTmc_sn1M. There is a second video on my channel as well. At any rate, we used Facebook Marketplace to find a FREE go kart project. Concerning parts for my car, I did pick up some 55/56 Ford steel wheels last year along with some brand new odds and ends that a guy had leftover from a 55 Ford Crown Victoria build - all because of a post that I saw on Facebook Marketplace. Use the search function to your advantage.
While online sites such as RockAuto and even Amazon have the occasional part I am looking to purchase, I would have to say that over the last decade or more I have used eBay the most. Of course, many of you know that I sell parts on eBay as well - you just cannot beat the worldwide exposure by just such a site. Just like Facebook Marketplace the search bar is critical to finding what you need, but always remember that people can easily misspell words or even make a mistake in filling out the application information for what they are listing. It is a little known fact that the current engine in my 1955 Ford Fairlane came from an engine remanufacturing company that had a variety of long blocks on eBay. At the time, they were selling off much of their inventory that "was not moving" so I jumped on a great deal! They had a rebuilt 292 c.i. Y block bored .060 over with ECZ-G heads, C2AE rods, and hi-lift rocker arms. Price? - a paltry $1,000 and that including shipping from Arkansas to my door via a lift-gate truck!
If there is a downside to eBay, it has got to be the changes they have made in the eBay motors department. Over the past several years, such updates as charging sellers a fee on the shipping amount a customer pays has really decreased the parts inventory in the eBay motors listings. I used to ship quite a few heads back when I started selling parts on eBay, but when shipping is about $65 each, and eBay takes a cut of both your selling price AND your shipping price this makes it very difficult for sellers to list anything with a substantial weight because of the decreased profit margin. I have had a few buyers actually travel to me and pick up an item to save cost but those are few and far between.
3. Reproduction Parts Companies
If you own a Ford from the 40's, 50's, or 60's, odds are you have heard of the reproduction parts manufacturer Dennis Carpenter out of Charlotte, North Carolina. Over the years I believe I have dealt with them the most when compared to others. Many of the suppliers such as Mac's, Concours Parts, Larry's Thunderbird, and TeeBird Auto Parts acquire inventory from Carpenter's. Dennis, now deceased, began his company out of need. While working on his 1940s Ford, NOS parts were continuing to dry up and items such as plastic/bakelite or weatherstripping needed to be replaced. He began experimenting with making replacement pieces and the rest is history. Much of what the company produces today is licensed by Ford Motor Company. Granted, there are other companies who do a fine job in the parts business, but Carpenter's has got to be one of the most well known on the east coast. I did have the opportunity to tour some of his "museum" several years ago before he passed away and wouldn't you know it but he had these very rare Y block specimen's tucked away! (click the arrow on the right for a slideshow)
Yes my friends, that is a dual overhead camshaft setup for the Y block complete with all the goodies. And who would have ever thought that the famous race car driver Mario Andretti drove a Y Block powered race car?!?!
Sorry a little bit of Y Block A.D.D. there... Getting back to the topic of restoration parts, I won't bother posting links to their websites and all the rest, but there are a host of companies these days that offer much in the way of restoration parts. While most of these items are seals (weatherstripping, glass runs, etc) and brightwork, they will also carry some mechanical pieces that you can no longer find at the local auto parts store.
I have well over 1,000 archived photos and videos of this restoration work and many of them include reproduction parts from companies such as Dennis Carpenter's or TeeBird Auto. (With TeeBird Auto in Exton, Pennsylvania being my favorite hands down - you just cannot beat their customer service.)
4. The Junk Yard!
Believer it or not, there are still regions of the US (and maybe some other countries) where you can find hulks of cars or trucks just rusting away to nothing, ready to be salvaged. Most junk yards near larger cities will probably not have the fine collection that many rural areas would hold, so you might need to be willing to travel depending on where you live. Just this winter my son and I stumbled upon this 1953? Ford Big Job truck with a very large boom at the rear. We had visited this yard, tucked away in the woods (only 20 minutes from our house!) to locate a rear seat for my son's 1995 Ford Explorer. Much of the truck was still intact with a plethora of its original parts available, but how would anyone (beyond the owner of the yard) ever know?
While living in the Winchester, Virginia, area for 12 years I was always coming across parts cars and trucks that had been parked in old junkyards or around the fields of orchards and farms. Look below at these "fine" examples...
Yes, I know these are very rough and not even close to being restorable as they say. (Ok, so maybe that brown four door on top looks pretty good but you can't see the other side.) However, these cars were a treasure trove of parts. I disassembled most of what they contained; the engines, transmissions, and rear end assemblies to the small clips and hardware that were inside the door panels. That 1955 Ford Town Sedan on the bottom - I paid $150 for it about 11 years ago - what a bargain! I sold over $1000 worth of parts from that car and kept the other pieces I needed. I have literally financed 100% of the restoration of my 1955 Ford Club Sedan via the method of scrounging for parts, restoring sub-assemblies, and selling quite a bit over the years. To say the hard work has paid off would be an understatement.
Conclusion: One of the first assessments you should make when you acquire that project vehicle is to make a list of the parts you will need and begin your search as soon as you can. These days, there are a good number of ways to find parts; and although the parts cars continue to dry up (remember that each manufacturer made a finite number of that model!) there could be a hidden gem close enough to you to make the trip worthwhile. Educate yourself before doing any "horse trading" and prepare yourself with both a budget and a knowledge of what parts from what years and which particular models fit your project vehicle.
Part 4 in the series will be tips and tricks on the DIY of restoration! In other words, I will present ideas and suggestions for you to accomplish as much of the work on your vehicle as you personally can do without sub-contracting work. The sub-assemblies of a vehicle can be a many-faceted, complex arrangement of parts that work in unison, and DIY folks like ourselves need to be read up and conversant on a host of topics. Wiring, plumbing, body work, engine diagnostics, etc - there is much to say grace over when it comes to vehicle restoration.
If you have tips you would like for me to share on the blog, just send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message here on the website. Later on this year I do plan to write a post that will include subscribers' rides and projects - thank you to all that have submitted files so far.
As I finish up this blog post I am reminded that Easter Sunday is 7 days away - this happens to be one of the most joyous times of the year for Bible-believers like the Hot Rod Reverend. Without the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ I would have no hope of everlasting life, not hope of heaven being my home when I leave this earth. How about you? Are you ready to meet God if you were to die today? I urge you to take the time to read the greatest message ever told!
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup