Tracking down that elusive part for your classic car build/restoration can sometimes feel as challenging as swimming the Atlantic Ocean without a chase boat. Restoring a classic car is hard enough as it is without having to deal with finding those seemingly impossible-to-find parts. However, it doesn’t have to be. Racing Junk recently reached out to several restorers and parts suppliers to see how they go about finding replacement parts.
Classic Car Specialty Suppliers
My friend Dave from San Jose, who has a few show-winning classic restos to his name, likes to start his Classic American Car parts search by opening a catalog – Classic Industries, National Parts Depot and/or Year One.
“These guys have been the go-to name for auto restorers for as long as I can remember,” Dave says, “and have been instrumental in quite a few of my builds. They all have a huge selection of rare and hard-to-find NOS and aftermarket parts for almost any American muscle car from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Better yet, on the rare occasion they haven’t had what I needed, they usually knew where I could find it. They’re a godsend.”
Car shows usually have a swap meet section where vendors and individuals can buy and sell parts. These too are gold mines when trying to find that extra-rare restoration part. Often times the parts that are for sale here will be well-used but still in serviceable condition. You’ll also find that it’s the rare seller in these environs who brings every part along – they usually save a few choice parts back. If you see someone with a good selection of parts but not what you’re looking for, ask. There’s a good chance the seller will say, “Yeah, I have two of those back in my garage. Gimme your number and I’ll call you this week.”
This is also true for local swap meets or flea markets. The ones I’ve been to put the people with the parts we’re looking for way back in the farthest reaches of the property, but taking the time to go back there is almost always profitable when hunting down rare parts.
Car clubs are another excellent source of rare parts. Those clubs dedicated to a manufacturer and not a body style or model will also be able to tell you what parts from other models from that manufacturer will fit. The president of Mopar Alley in Santa Clara clued me in to the fact that I could use the spindle off a Belvedere to replace the one on my ’66 Charger when the outer bearing welded itself to the race. While you usually won’t be able to swap body panels or interior parts across a manufacturer’s product or body style line, you’ll find that engine parts and especially chassis/suspension parts are the same across a body style (GM F-body, Chrysler B-body, for example) and thus completely interchangeable.
It goes without saying that wrecking yards or junkyards can also hide treasure troves for the parts hunter willing in to put in the legwork, literally and figuratively. Ask the people working at the yards if they’ve got anything even remotely close to what you’re looking for and if they have a boneyard where they send cars that are almost completely stripped. Call ahead; often, you’ll find pick-a-part yards will know what’s really valuable and have already pulled what you’re looking for before sending the car to the yard.
Many wrecking yards are on a statewide or regional parts network connecting wrecking yards. This means they can get online and query other yards on the network for the part you’re looking for. Whenever possible, ask to look at the part you’re buying before paying or get a warranty on the part in case it’s not in usable condition.
The internet has become another great source of parts. Obviously, RacingJunk is a place to start. It features all sorts of new and used parts from OEMs and private sellers. Check online auction sites for parts or vehicles that could be used as parts sources. Use YouTube to discover people who have worked on or are working on something similar to you for guidance. Make sure the site you buy from has a good reputation before making a purchase, just in case the seller has misrepresented the part.
There are also a number of companies that manufacture and sell knockoff replacement parts for classic vehicles. Again, before you pay anything make sure the company has a solid reputation and a problem resolution process in case the part’s quality/fitment isn’t up to snuff. Some of these aftermarket manufacturers don’t have the quality controls the OEMs did when making the original parts.
Check your local parts stores as well. They’ll often keep stuff off the showroom shelves because the parent company didn’t manufacture or brand the part. Oftentimes you’ll also find that the staff will also be gearheads and will be able to guide your search in the right direction.
All Hail 21st Century Technology!
Technology today makes it so no part is really obsolete and impossible to put your hands on, no matter what. You may not be able to find the part you’re looking for where you’ve always done so for the last 30 years. If you’ve exhausted every option listed above and still haven’t found what you’re looking for, thanks to modern technology, you can have that part 3D printed.
As long as you can tell the printing software the three-dimensional specifications of the part, you can have just about anything printed these days. It doesn’t matter if it’s plastic or metal, either. In fact, there are a few manufacturers using 3D printing both in prototype as well as on production vehicles.