Classic Car and Truck Restoration Tips
We’ll use this week’s column to answer many similar questions I receive about collector car and truck restorations, and whether a vehicle is worthy to proceed with major repairs and/or a restoration. And if the vehicle is worthy, what is the next step?
First, let's visit a recent letter where a reader is thinking of restoring a 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup that has a rusty side. It’s an SLT Quad-Cab with two-wheel drive and asks if it’s worth fixing.
Quickly I would say to be very prudent (nice way of saying don’t do it) about restoring or even undertaking a major repair on this old truck. The money needed to really fix the rust will most likely run more than the vehicle is worth. Once rust has inhabited the side of a vehicle, you can pretty much know that there’s lots of rust elsewhere and in spots you can’t see. Being that a 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup is not a ’57 T-Bird or a ‘68 Plymouth Roadrunner with side rust, I’d sure move on and just do some quick patchwork at best and enjoy the vehicle for what it is.
Letters like these are many, but sometimes I’ll receive one from an enthusiast or group that wants to do a restoration on a vehicle that is worthy. A recent letter from a person at Vineyard of Faith Lutheran Church in Windsor, California, asked if its youth group should restore a 1956 Mercury that was given to them. This car looked great from the photos sent and after several emails back and forth with more photos, I was informed rust was not a factor. Thus, I quickly gave a personal “go ahead” nod to this group on a restoration.
However, even in the case of this neat ’56 Mercury two-door, there is no real way to look at a prospective restoration project and tell how much work needs to be done. How a vehicle ages depends on a variety of factors from where it was stored, regional climate to proper and regular maintenance, the latter vitally important. You will never really know until you start dismantling a vehicle to find out its real condition. Sometimes you’ll be surprised, other times highly disappointed. I would think the ’56 Mercury group will be pleased, however, and wish them well.
Another question I receive frequently concerns quality restorations, how much it will cost and where to go for this type of work.
As for the cost, a good restoration shop should be able to give an enthusiast a "ballpark" estimate based on their past experiences with a certain model of car. This is, however, still an educated guess as there is usually a whole host of problems that might be lurking under the paint. You probably won't be able to get an accurate price quote until the vehicle is ready for paint and all the bodywork has been completed.
The outcome of a restoration is totally dependent upon the skills of the shop, too. While it can be a daunting process, once you have knowledge of the process, it will make choosing the right shop an easier procedure. Remember that a restoration shop is different from a body shop or repair center, and centers on classic and muscle car restorations. The best advice I can give is check prior customers who can rate the shop and its services. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for names of customers who have had their work done at a certain shop and check the internet for reviews.
As for the restoration itself, you don't have to do a whole vehicle restoration all at once. You can choose to do just one aspect of the process, like a mechanical restoration and then move on to other aspects as you acquire additional funding. You can also, work with your shop to determine what your budget can afford and how you can maximize your dollars best.
Finally, if you buy a completely restored vehicle from someone you don’t know (happens all the time these days), make sure you have a professional check it out before you buy.