Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
February 2003

Columnist — Allen Wright

Just What Does It Take to Restore a Vehicle? The Four Major Things You Need Before You Start.

Happy New Year to all — wishing you and your family health, happiness and prosperity during the coming year.

From time to time someone asks what it takes to restore a vehicle. Let's start with money and enough income in the future to complete the project.

It takes time. If you don't have the time now to do much, an auto restoration project will take forever and lead to frustration.

It takes patience. You have to be a patient person with your own work and the work you farm out to others.

Finally, you have to know your goal for your auto restoration. Do you want to get a trophy at Pebble Beach? Or would you be perfectly happy with a small award from Omega Burger? All of my cars are Omega Burger cars and I am quite happy with that.

When you begin a restoration, it's a good idea to have your family and significant others on board. What I mean is if your loving wife hates the restoration idea, some rethinking may be in order. It is possible that you need to choose a different wife…or a different vehicle.

By the way, this advice is sound, all sound. It's sometimes not followed exactly by this writer, but it's good advice.

The point is, it is no fun to do an auto restoration with pissed-off family members. It is easy to upset them along with way with stories about how broke you are because of the project or by missing significant family events like holidays, birthdays or, worst of all, anniversaries. Can you say wedding anniversary?

By the way, the idea of a wedding anniversary or birthday cruise in the old car just may not be appropriate.

Money. This is the biggest killer of an auto restoration. Nothing is free. And it is fun to head off to the auto parts store for parts and pick up some of the rack items along with the purchase that brought you in originally. Keep a journal of expenses. See how quickly these add up.

Give yourself an annual budget that you can afford without cutting into the family savings. It is worth noting here that a $5,000 investment in a decent old car a year ago would probably still have a value of about $5,000 today. I can't say that about most of my investments.

It is my recommendation that you try to stay within 30% of the value listed for your vehicle in the old car appraisal guides. If you spend on the high side, this should be a car you always have wanted, you plan to restore only one, and drive it until you die. If you spend on the low side, you see a decent old car that runs. You fix it up to be safe and enjoy it.

Is it cheaper to purchase a restored vehicle than restore one yourself? Sometimes, if it is a good vehicle done by competent tradesmen. There are, however, unscrupulous characters out there that will do a good cosmetic job with shoddy work hidden. Cheap paint and Bondo hide a lot of sins…initially.

One last thing about money: it is my opinion that auto restorations are fun. And, as everyone knows, fun costs money. Some people play golf. Some have boats or small train sets or travel. Auto restoration should be something, in my opinion, that you spend discretionary funds to enjoy.

Time. I have noticed that as I get older I don't have as much time as I would like for projects. You need to have enough time to enjoy a project and not get bogged down and quit with frustration. I have seen many projects that were slated for completion in 12 months that lasted for years. Some never get finished. My '63 Super Stock Plymouth was a project car that was started but just got too complicated for the fellow I bought it from. He had the right idea but just lost interest.

Once you lose interest in an auto restoration take the hit, sell the vehicle as-is, and move on. These restoration-in-progress sales happen all the time. They are a good place to start a new project, especially if the seller has a treasure trove of new parts.

Back to discussing time. Many of my friends agree with me that small victories during the restoration keep it fun. Getting all the dashboard gauges working can be an extremely happy time and that joy can last for weeks. Finding the correct door handles at the swap meet for $1.00 can be a reason to celebrate. The whole restoration project is supposed to be fun. The more time you take on successful parts of the project the more fun you will have, simple as that.

But, again, if you have a fun victory on your restoration, share it with your family. In your festive mood, go do something they want to do and forget about the car.

You've got to be patient with your own abilities and the talents (or lack of talents) of your contractors. If frustration gets the best of you, walk away from the project until you can think right. Bending, forcing things to fit, using the "universal tool""(the five-pound hammer), and lengthy profanity-laden outbursts normally aren't fun. Breaking new parts during installation will always bring out the phrase, "Rat bastard!"

Talented restoration-minded contractors are hard to find. Some of the more famous are extremely pricey. But remember, in most cases, you get what you pay for.

Auto painters and custom body guys are about the worst. You have to think of them as artists. Nobody told Van Gogh how quickly to paint the yellow house. Your vehicle may be in their shop for awhile.

I use the 2X approach to about everything to avoid frustration. For example, I'll ask, "How long to rebuild this transmission?"

"It will be done in a week."

Using my 2X rule, I mentally note that it will be done in two weeks. Usually this method works well.

In some cases, there is an exception to this 2X formula. I am involved with a Corvette restoration that has spent the last four years at the custom painter. It wouldn't have taken Van Gogh that long to paint the whole yellow house with a Q-tip. Here is what I've learned from this experience: never tell an automotive painter "There's no rush."

That's about all the wisdom — if you can call it that — about auto restorations and why or why not to do them.

I was driving in Corona the other day in the '63 Plymouth and a fellow motorist pulled up next to me at a stop light and said, "That's a beautiful car." At that moment, I realized that I had done something that was appreciated by more than just me. The whole restoration was fun and I am a happier person for keeping that Plymouth alive.

Restorations are fun but not for everyone. Do what makes you happy.

Originally published in the February 2003 Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright February 2003 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.