I'm thinking about restoring my father's car. A couple of years ago, my now-86-year-old father gave me his commuting car. It's a 1987 Nissan Sentra 4WD station wagon. He bought it new near Albany, NY. It's been my winter car and my every-other-day car, taking the strain off my 1999 Mazda Miata that's been my nearly daily driver since 2001. I keep it because driving it makes me think of my father.

The car has a lot going for it. I'd like to keep it on the road for another 25 years. It looks pretty good for its age, with only a little rust. The interior is in great shape. I installed a mid-range Sony stereo and four new speakers. It could use a subwoofer or a better enclosure for the rear pair. The heater works. The 4WD works. The windows crank up and down easily. The remote trunk and gas door releases work. It still has the original Nissan wheel covers.

I've been thinking for while about what I want to do to the car. None of it is radical. I want the car to look and drive like nearly new. I want to make the best of its limited performance. I don't want to draw attention to the car. Here's my list in approximately descending order of importance:

  • Repair the suspension: four new struts and whatever else that implies
  • Alignment
  • New all-season tires
  • Clean out the gas tank
  • Replace the fuel pump and sender
  • Make the body look as new: remediate the rust under the fenders, in the trunk, and in the doors; under the car, restore the little rail that the jack fits over; install new trim around the back window
  • Restore the air conditioner: either with freon or replace it with a modern AC system

It's a modest list. I hope it's not expensive. The car isn't worth much but then I'm doing this for sentimental reasons.

Why this list?

One of the rear struts is bad and the car bounces around a lot when the road is rough. I think the car has all of the original suspension bits. I hope that refreshing it with new parts will make it drive like new.

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It needs tires. Two of the four are showing significant, uneven wear. That indicates alignment, right? Could it be a consequence of the bad strut?

The car sometimes stalls when coming to a stop. I've replaced the fuel filter twice and while that helped it's not solved the problem. Also, the fuel gage isn't accurate any more. I hope that replacing the fuel pump and sender along with cleaning out the gas tank will take care of these problems.

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The car has the usual Sentra rusty areas, so I'm told. The wheel wells have some. I found some around the drain hole under the spare tire today. There is a little on the bottom of three of the doors and some on the bottom of the tail gate. Somehow, the little metal rail that runs below the doors, that rail that the jack fits over, is mushed against the under side of the body. That needs to be fixed.

As for the air conditioner, I live near Washington, DC. I love our hot, muggy summers but my friends don't, so the AC is for them.

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I'd like to make the wagon corner with less body roll. Can I do that without changing the ride height? The car understeers now, so giving it less or that or even a little oversteer would be OK.

Also in the nice-to-have category is acceleration. The car doesn't have much from a stand-still. I might be willing to buy lighter wheels if that will make it noticeably quicker. They have to look stock and fit the stock wheel covers. This car will never be quick. I don't want to look like a poseur.