In the classic car hobby, the word restoration (and it's variants) are widely used and abused. Anyone who is involved in buying or selling of classic automobiles has seen the abuse of these terms. "Restored", "frame off restoration","needs restoration",85% restored", "ground up restoration", etc. It's either not for sale because the owner wants to restore it one day (and it will continue to rot away) or it is too expensive because it was restored. (Somebody tell this guy that new seat covers and an Earl Schieb paint job is not a restoration.)
I would classify a restoration into two stages, mechanical and body and paint. A mechanical restoration would include the complete drive train (engine, transmission, rear axles and differential) heating and cooling system electrical system, braking system,exhaust system, frame and suspension, and body mount bushings and hardware. All of these components should be completely disassembled and reconditioned and or rebuilt.
Body and Paint restoration includes sheetmetal, chrome, stainless steel and aluminum moldings, grill, glass, wheels, seats, dash, interior,and trunk compartment. I'm talking down to bare metal stripping, repairing or replacing metal panels, replating, anodizing, recovering and refinishing everything else.
Now the trick is to get all this done without exceeding the value of the vehicle. I will tell you right now the value of the vehicle is what someone is willing to pay for it, not some book value like CPI publishes. I will also tell you that unless you own a numbers matching 1970 LS6, or a genuine big block convertible SS, all this work, plus the price of the car will exceed what the book value of the car says it's worth. This fact will separate the men from the boys when it comes to a complete "restoration."
The people who spend the big bucks do so for love of the car, not to make a profit on it.
So you love your car, but where do you start on a restoration?
In my opinion, the car should be made to be safe and dependable first. Take care of the bad brakes, loose and weak suspension, etc. Then deal with the bad starter or fuel pump, carburetor, etc. You want to make the car mechanically sound and dependable before proceeding with the body and paint stage.
The first order of this stage is to kill all the rampant rust. This means cutting out the rusty areas and welding in new metal. This is the only way to do it. Filling rust holes with Kitty Hair is a waste of time and effort. Only greedy profit seeking individuals or people who don't know any better do this. It will come back with a vengeance, bubbling up through that new paint.
Another bone of contention is the use of filler. Now the purists will brag that there is no "bondo" on their car, and if you look closely, you will be able to tell just where those seams and welds are. Lead filled seams and welds were what the factory used, but that was when "bondo" was just that. Today's high tech fillers (when properly applied) are vastly superior to the old "bondo" of thirty years ago. Even if you replace whole panels with factory NOS replacements, you will need to use filler,there's no getting around that fact. Even NOS panels have "factory waves" and "dings" from shipping and handling, or "shelf wear." O.K. enough said 'bout that.
After the first priority of killing rust and patching sheet metal is complete, the car will soon be ready for paint. First it will need filling around the seams and welds from sheetmetal repairs. I recommend the use of a waterproof filler called Duraglass by USC. This is excellent for filling the welds and patch panels. Just a light skim coat, followed by a premium plastic filler, such as Rage, by Evercoat. After the panels are sanded and " blocked", prime the sheet metal with PPG's DP 40, an excellent two part, self etching epoxy primer, then over this, shoot two or three coats of PPG's K200 surfacer/primer. After this is blocked and wet sanded, you'll be ready for the final paint. I recommend a BC/CC system such as DuPont's Chroma Base. It is very "user Friendly", dries fast and wet sands beautifully. Sounds simple right? Well it's not, nor is it cheap. Whatever you plan on spending, double it! However long you think it will take, double it. Hate to sound negative, but I'm basing this on my experience. If anyone tells you that a complete and thorough restoration such as I earlier described, is either cheap or quick, walk away. But, it is worth it, I think. You will have a piece of History, that will only appreciate with time, and you will be forced to turn down seriously tempting offers for the car. Just remember, you did it for the love of the car not for the money.