Restoration projects are central to every classic car enthusiast’s collection and finding a new project is one of the most enjoyable parts of the passion. Typically, you have three things on your mind when sizing up a new restoration project:
- Finding a car that resonates with you
- Choosing the right restoration project to match your skill level
- Purchasing for a price you can afford
To help with this, our in-house restoration expert Rick Drewry shares some of his best wisdom when it comes to finding the right classic car restoration project for you.
Find Your Passion
The best thing about being a classic car enthusiast is, no matter what your niche is, the love and passion spreads across all the classes. “I've got 15 cars of my own,” Rick says. “Anything 50’s, 60’s, 70’s; American cars, that's my thing. Everybody's allowed to like what they want, and the passion for ‘the automobile’ in general jumps from class to class. You could have muscle car guys going to street rod shows, street rod guys going to vintage road racing shows. We all like it, we get geeked up about it.”
Just like Rick, you may have a whole list of cars you want or already have, cars you are interested in but will never own. Shop around to get a feel for what you like, what you’re drawn to. Restoring cars is about loving and enjoying the process as much as anything else. Find what speaks to you and go after it.
If you’re having trouble deciding on a car or you’re just not sure what speaks to you yet, try deciding how you plan to use it. If you’re looking for an everyday driver, you may want a newer model with the comforts to which you’re accustomed or at least a model you can modify. If you’re looking for a show-specific car that you don’t plan to drive often, this may help you narrow down your search. You may decide you want to build and restore a car you can eventually enter in the Concours d’Elegance, one of the most elegant car events in the country, celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. You may decide that Hot Rodding is for you, and choose to customize your own rod for entry in the Street Machine Nationals.
Whether a first-timer or a seasoned expert, don’t be afraid to dive in to the world of restoration … and don’t get in over your head. Rick emphasizes that there is a restoration project to suit all types of car lovers, depending on your level of experience and expertise. “There’s a huge difference between an amateur restoration and a concourse restoration,” he says. “A lot of it has to do with skillset and it also has a lot to do with money. A lot of people will invest more into a restoration than the car is worth.” It may look great up front, buying an extremely rare car at a great price for a potentially big return. Let research give you a confirmation first. Research auto shops that specialize in rare cars, accessibility and affordability of parts, as well as assessing your own skills.
A good place to start is with an early model hot rod or street rod such as an early Model A or T Ford or an older 40’s or 50’s model with a simpler engine. The mechanics of 60’s and 70’s cars start to get more complicated and require a bit more expertise.
Just Because You Can Afford It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Worth It
If you’re just starting out, choosing a popular car can be a great way to go because they are less expensive, parts are readily available and they can be great practice. The downside to restoring a car that everyone’s likely to have – known as “belly button cars” such ‘69 Camaros, ‘66 Fastback Mustangs, the “Tri-fives” (‘55, ‘56 and ‘57 Chevys) or pre-’49 custom built cars – is that the resale value is often not worth the investment.
Rick says some of the most expensive and rare cars restored by Classic Auto clients, such as “vintage Ferrari’s, the Ferrari Dino, pro-touring, older Corvettes like the ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59 through ’62 Corvettes are bringing six figures and then some, easily.” The resale value on these cars is extremely high, yes, but if you don’t have access to great custom shops in your area, if you don’t have the up-front cash to invest in the car and if you don’t have the energy to give the car a quality restoration, the return won’t be nearly what you’d hoped for.
How do you choose the perfect custom shop? Networking and social connections are the first place to start, because the advice of those who have already completed restorations is the most valuable piece of information you can get on a custom shop. Check out their reputation locally, ask to see some of their work, talk to the mechanics who will be working on your car. Ask for a detailed estimate that covers all the work, so you’ll know the cost up front and you can dispute anything that gets added on unnecessarily.
The best places to look for a car to purchase and restore are:
- Car auctions
- Connections made through car collector circles
- Local car clubs
- Car shows
- A drive through your neighborhood to see what’s for sale
Another effective way to find a car that is both unique and affordable is to locate it through online buying sites and internet forums. It’s important to do your homework here, too – and to use the same common sense you’d use online as you would with other retail opportunities to protect yourself, your family and your property: 1) vet the source, especially when dealing with high value items such as a car; 2) meet in a public place and take your mobile phone with you; 3) tell family members where you’re going and have a trusted person accompany you; and 4) trust your instincts.
No matter what you have in your collection -fully restored cars, partially restored cars or just a pile of pieces you hope to turn into your dream car- Rick advises car collectors to protect their hard-earned investment. He says the problem with so many enthusiasts is that they neglect to do the research on their collector car insurance coverage. Many of them even think their classic cars are covered in their homeowner’s insurance when they really qualify for custom coverage. Making this mistake can result in a grave loss, when it comes to costly repairs or if an accident occurs.
We hope 2015 brings you great success with your next restoration project, whether you’re starting with a partially restored exotic beauty or a stripped down vintage hot rod. Just remember to plan ahead, go after the car you really want and have fun!