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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Before you dive into a restoration, read this

Recently I saw an Instagram post about a 25,000-hour restoration. It turned out to be apocryphal, but true or not, it got me thinking. Restorations have been around almost as long as cars themselves. Then as now, the term is open to a great deal of interpretation.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/buying-and-selling/before-you-dive-into-a-restoration-read-this/
93 REPLIES 93
FigueroB
Intermediate Driver

I'm thinking of buying Bonnie and Clyde's 1934 Ford Tudor and doing a complete rotisserie restoration.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Lol. That would be a hoot:
"Look, I filled in all of these weird holes! Doesn't it look better now?"

azaustin
Pit Crew

A great article. I’ve watched restoration prices climb to astronomical levels over the last few years and wondered why some cars were restored, even if they were “special history” cars like family heirlooms. Owner-restored cars are rapidly approaching this same point, if not already there. I’m restoring a couple of 1965 Dodge Darts, one of which has sentimental value, but, even doing most of the work myself, I have to accept the realistic fact that they probably won’t be worth what I have in them when I’m done, even without factoring in my labor. I think there is definitely a place for nicely “refurbished” cars (which is what my cars will be) that aren’t concours-correct, but still nice, drivable cars that can be enjoyed. I’ve seen some cars with decent, but not show quality, paint, restored interiors and drivelines, online for about the cost of what all that would entail. The owners were still out the price they paid for the car, but at least they could look forward to getting some of their money back when it came time to sell. I think this is a more realistic process for today’s market. When I was in the motorcycle business people would often get upset when I would tell them that someone could have given them a motorcycle (often the case) and it still wouldn’t be worth what it would cost to repair it. I hate to say it, but the big-money guys have ruined a lot of hobbies, like hot-rodding, and classic car and motorcycle collection. It’s the time we live in.
SteelyDan
Intermediate Driver

Great basic article for those that will need to hire out all, or most all of the resto work. For a great many of us car nuts, it is worth pointing out that getting your hands dirty to some degree is going to really amplify your emotional attachment to the vehicle and can knock the out of pocket expense way down. Yeah you better budget for the $5000 ++ paint job if you know a preservation job wont make you happy, and $10k of other parts and farmed out work, but the journey is so worth it. I restored Dad's 60 year old convertible acting as a 'General Contractor'. If you enjoy the parts hunting, online help on forums, and are reasonably handy - there is plenty of 'bull work' of disassembly, cleaning, purchasing and reassembly that can save a ton of money (pro-billed shop hour rates). Your local car community knows the engine and trans rebuilders, body and paint pros. Send out the PS or AC by Fedex and let a specialist 5 states away freshen it up.
I think you will be surprised how many intimate small choices have to be made as it goes along and even what you want your resto final target to be. And when your friends ask, 'when will it be done?', you tell 'em- 'if its got a delivery, it ain't a hobby'.
Camarojoe
Detailer

We live in a capitalist society (and that's why the USA is successful) so looking at the $$ is always part of what is done. The back half is that since some are VERY successful capitalists, they have the money to do whatever they want. More power to them. I have resorted many cars with a process and budget that has worked will, just need to start with the right vehicle.
Correctly said by someone here, costs the same to paint a Falcon as a GT350. The problem is getting Falcon is easier than the GT350. Some cars are worth restoring with a huge budget. AKA any 60ties Ferrari.
Snailish
Engineer

^fair points Camarojoe

 

But from a purely capitalist perspective I would guess at least 80% of the cars Hagerty insures are poor investments.

Inline8OD
Technician

Camjoe's political reaction misses the point about "restorations," their worth, authenticity.

That he thinks most of the bored silver spooners at such events are "very successful capitalists"  suggests he doesn't know many, nor the source of their wealth.

 

  They don't need his shilling for them but are of course glad for the attention.

Gene_M
Detailer

WTF, who uses the word "apocryphal" and, more importantly, what does it mean??? give me a break!
Snailish
Engineer

dubious and unsubstantiated are two of the more normal meanings of the word.

 

Spurious I like the sound of but would probably use incorrectly in a sentence myself.

4RenT
Instructor

"Apocrypha" meant "unveiling" as after the wedding ceremony when the bride lifted her veil and the groom finally saw what she looked like.
In other words, the groom either had it made, or was done for.
DanC
Intermediate Driver

Some of the best money I ever spent and best advice I got was:
Be patient when you look, decisive when you buy.
Buy a car someone ELSE spent a fortune to restore
Buy a 4-5 year old...well maintained used car
Tcoradeschi
Detailer

Yep. When my Dad was still alive, his MG club buddies would say “What’s the best way to get yourself a great $10,000 MGB? Invest $20,000 in restoring one!”
SteveNL
Detailer

I volunteer at a classic car museum that has about 200 cars ranging from 1899 through 1989. The exhibit includes some high end cars such as a Duesenberg that might be worth a million. But the striking fact is that at one time, almost none of them were worth restoring. But somehow each one survived. Some later became valuable. Those owners probably didn't calculate the dollars and cents of the matter. People probably save old cars because they fell in love with them.

It makes sense that some cars aren't worth restoring, perhaps because of extensive rust or crash damage. Even if you do most of the work yourself, it can be hard not to lose money on a restoration. I'm in awe of anyone who can restore a car and make a profit on it. I never have. Most of us restore old cars because we are willing to suffer frustration and financial pain in order to experience the satisfaction of driving a really cool old car that was once worn out and a few steps from the junk yard.

It seems only recently that collectors have become so obsessed with every bolt having the correct plating. That level of obsession seems more exhausting than pleasurable. It's owners who have lovingly maintained their #3 drivers who have kept the classic car passion alive for so many decades, not the owners of perfectly restored high end cars that sit in the garage. So if you love your old car, restore it, drive it and enjoy it.
Inline8OD
Technician

Good points.  A relative handful of silver spoons playing tournament d' credit line have turned maintaining, rejuvenation into parody.   Perhaps the first step is for magazines  to stop covering nonsense like Pebble Beach and Amelia Island.

  Unfortunately, the little guys are the first to come to the defense of the bored rich, suggesting those seeing nothing to fawn over at such non-events  "bitter."  Perhaps those long second-tiered by  janitorial d'non-elegances think egging them on will  rub off on them and their more prosaic cars.

 

   Aren't those ooh and ahhing over money better served by Kiplinger's and the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition?

JakeOctaneroad
New Driver

This statement in the article..."not all cars should be restored—especially when you consider the cost involved and any potential return on that expenditure." is what is so sad about this article. I am surprised Hagerty lets this kind of message on their platform. Hagerty touts cars are a hobby, as is the restoration of the cars. Hobbyists restore cars for the same reason fisherman throw their fish back in the lake after they catch them, vs eating them, it is a hobby. This platform and the Hagerty Drivers Club is for enthusiasts. What business does profiteering have here? None. This is a hobby and not a business. Restoring cars is a very large part of our hobby. The same as mods/ modifying our cars. Spending money beyond their value? Last time I checked I did not make any money on that hunting trip either. Enjoy the ride and enjoy the journey, enjoy the entire journey.
Snailish
Engineer

I agree with many of your points JakeOctaneroad but I have to say this:

Colin Comer is the elite 1% of people working in the hobby that make money off this buying and selling old cars thing. So his perspective is interesting to hear because he's not trying to sell us a car or service but is offering insight.

I'm not interested in this hobby as an investment, but it doesn't hurt for some $ reality to inform a person's decisions.
RallyeRalph
Detailer

You can't always put a price on a restoration. A friend with a shop had a gent come in for an estimate on a '19 Dodge touring. My friend told him forget it- a proper restoration would cost three times its current market value. The man replied that a cheaper one wouldn't be the actual car his grandfather' purchased new like this one and paid for the restoration.
I think (and evidently a few shows like the Louis Vuitton in Paris think) that preservation, even with a lot of patina, is the way to go. Virtually all car shows are check writing contests, the deepest pockets win. Given enough time and money you probably could manufacture an original Deusenberg from scratch. A competition of snobs? But you can't make original old cars in original time-worn condition.
And is a perfect condition old car such a great thing anyway? I once had a 1910 Buick 10 Touring that had been awarded an AACA National Junior First a few years before I bought it. It had been stored in ideal conditions and still needed several things to bring it back to high 90's points. (Is there really a 100 point car?) We tended its needs and drove it 4 miles to a park for photos. I spent two days taking care of things that happened in those 4 miles. Cars are to be driven at least a little. I never wanted a hangar queen again and sold it to a man who went over details again and showed it claiming a "fresh restoration".
Inline8OD
Technician

Good points.  And there's no such thing as a 100-point car, regardless how many clipboard martinets concur, regardless how many other cars allowed on the field as judging fodder, to make the bought trophies mean something to a handful of bored trust funders.

   A late friend took Best of Show at Pebble.  To say he was of two minds about such proceedings would be gross understatement.

MARK400
Detailer

If it makes you happy then it`s worth every penny no matter what it is..
MustangJim
Technician

Restore a car because you have the money to have it done, the talent to do it yourself and most likley you will need both.. you do it because you love the car for some reason, not to make money. As they say at the auctions when a nice car crosses the block, you can't restore it for that money. As far as flippers, the succesful ones are looking for cars that are good but underpriced for whatever reason. They are not restoring because they know that they will loose their money. They will do minor refreshing, paint correction, etc.. they are not doing frame off or even on frame restorations. They need a quick profit and move on to the next one.
Britracing
Pit Crew

I sat on a 1952 jag xk120 for 30 years that needed everything. I had no experience in this area, so I paid a shop to strip it, send it to a paint guy for a rotisserie paint job. Then I pretty much had almost everything replaced. I set it up as a comp car, and it was fun over 5 years to see it becoming fabulous. But the never ending invoices, and the labor estimate that the shop signed off on, ended up being 3 times what they estimated. It pretty much robbed most of the fun, after $165,000. I would never do it again, but I would buy someone else's restoration at a discount. Lesson learned...
jimliberty
Intermediate Driver

I have been restoring 356 Porsches for many decades. Today, I can't even brake even if I get the car for free. Labor costs, and parts have gone through the roof. This is the case even though I charge nothing for my time. ...................Jim.
LIBERTY MOTORSPORTS
warrene
Detailer

Everybody mentions 'time' when figuring cost of car work; If you stay home from work to do your car work, then time in indeed counted. But when it's evenings, weekends and off-time, I doubt you can claim 'wages' into this or add fictitious dollar figures at the bottom of the ledger. When I retired I went into this car work just about 24/7, I was on the 'government payroll', that was my 'wages'.
When doing car work for others, I did charge deflated wages, actual pay for car work.
GoFaster
Detailer

Recently I spoke with a guy who I had not seen in many years. He has owned his 68 Dodge Charger R/T for 40 years and recently spent a ton of money on a full restoration. The car is perfect in every possible way and is impressive to view, and it makes him happy. I cannot afford to do what he did, but I'm glad there are people like him who do not consider a restoration to be a money making event. Look into mutual funds if you are worried about making money.
janedon
Advanced Driver

If your just doing it for the money, then Yes--many (if not most) cars arn't worth restoring-- or restoring fully-- you are just pushing up prices-- (GREED)---For most of us it's a Hobby- Like most "Hobbies" it's difficult or even impossible to make a profit-- That's not what Hobbies are for-- Hobbies are for Enjoyment & a sense of satisfaction-- Pride in what you've accomplished--no matter how much hands on you are or arn't-- Monetizing it takes the joy out of it- It becomes a Job--
JDull139
Intermediate Driver

I agree.I have been messing with cars since I was 16.I'm 71 now.Lost count of how many I have owned.I have never done a "restoration".I call it fixed up.
Most I have done were 20 footers.
The average person would look at it and not see the flaws.My paint work is pretty good,so "good enough", is good enough for me.I never do a car thinking I'm going to get rich from it.If someone doesn't like my cars,who cares.
milo2021
Intermediate Driver

Restorations are out of control even when you can do a lot of it in your garage but as soon as you get to something like replacing a trunk floor with wheel wells and quarter panels the money flows out of your wallet. But if a show car paint job is not that important to you as a DIYer who is retired with some skills can make a driver out of a solid car. But forget about it as an investment just restore for your satisfaction.
JGMan
Intermediate Driver

Q: While out driving or showing our classic rides, how many of us have been asked: "Nice car, did you restore it all yourself?" I suspect the answer is, every single one of us have been asked that silly question. Do they really think every one of us is a master mechanic, master restorer, body-man and (3 stage) painter, plus have day jobs as well? They must, after all we are crazy enough to drive a vehicle on public roads that is sometimes underpowered, has no airbag, no collapsable steering column, no crumple zones and expensive, brand new tires that were purposely manufactured with substandard traction and handling characteristics! But do THEY do their own taxes, plumbing, HVAC and architectural design on their own houses? I used to say "no" to that question (because I usually pay a mechanic to do stuff I can't do without a lift and specialized tools). Now that I've tinkered with over 20 different cars for the last 40 years, spent many hours contorted half in/out of the car in my tiny garage that is soo narrow that I can't even swing the door all the way open to get under the dashboard, or under the car on a creeper, I thought I'd earned the right to say my new answer, which is simply, "I've done some of the stuff that I could myself." However, from this article and most of the comments here, it sounds like everything from commissioning a high-dollar restoration of a rare Stutz Bearcat (or as Tim Allen said a "Stutz Rarecat," or shelling out way too much money on our hobby for our own amusement, does count as "restoring" the vehicle, so maybe from now on I'll just say, "Why yes. Yes I did, thank you!" ... And then proceed to educate them about the historical automotive significance of what they are looking at. That's where the fun in our hobby is.
Inline8OD
Technician

"Historical significance."  Thank you, sir.  Now you're talking.  Once upon a time,  the first questions were "What kind of engine does it have?   What is it?  Where did you find it?"  etc.

 

  In recent years, the first thing we hear is  "What's sumpin' like that worth?"   Thanks, Hagerty, for perpetuating that rudest of questions, ensuring our hobby no longer is.

Spookysgarage
Detailer

What a great article. I work at All American Classics https://www.allamericanclassics.com/ in Washington state, and so many times we see customers get in over their heads restoring a mundane 4 door sedan, when all of the time and energy can be put toward a car that would be a better investment. -for example, I spent $$ and years on a 1959 Edsel Ranger 4 door sedan. Rare? well, kinda, but a 2 door hardtop would have been a much better investment, like the one I have now.
Maestro1
Technician

Colin, well done. None of my cars are concours and I would not want them that way. I am on the Left
Coast and the way idiots drive here it's a lot less heartbreaking to drive, say, a Number 2 or 3 than a
candidate for Pebble Beach. But the point, Hagerties, as had been said before this, if you want an
immaculate whatever it is and drive it that's great if you have the pockets to support that scenario. The rest of us drive what we love which is why we're in the Hobby in the first place.
KwikDraw
Intermediate Driver

Around 1990 I could have bought a decent driver condition 1970 Dodge SuperBee for around $15,000. A beautiful car. For the past 15 or 20 years, the possibility of ever seeing a situation like that has disappeared as the collectable MOPAR movement has exploded.

I know the restoration side of the industry has changed, but I also think that the increase in easy internet nationwide advertising, televised auctions, and similar market changes have transformed the collectible car market. From my modest view point, it has not been a positive change. But if you are a ultra-wealth collector/investor then maybe it has been good for you.

And the SuperBee . . . I still kick my own butt over not buying that one. I passed because it was just a little more expensive than I thought I could afford, instead I bout a $10,000 Corvette. Which I sold around 2001 - that was another one of my automotive mistakes.
KwikDraw
Intermediate Driver

Selling the Corvette was my mistake, not buying it. (Just to clarify.)
Zephyr
Technician

Over the years one thing I have learned is that it's nearly always much cheaper to buy an already restored car than to restore one yourself. Especially if you're willing to buy a drivable #2 rather than a trailer queen #1.
TG
Gearhead

I bought my current 65 Impala 'restoration' project because I finished with my 74 Corvette and didn't have anything to do. The car was probably on the hairy edge of being a parts car when I got it (although all of the fixtures, chrome doohickeys, and whatnot are all there) and by the way it needed more work than I anticipated. It is all DIY and I have no aspirations of it crossing the block at Mecum and fetching 6 digits - It is just going to be something I enjoy driving when I'm done
roadio55
Detailer

I've owned a dozen or so collectible cars over the last fifty years. This is a hobby, so I've rarely made any money on a car. In addition to a recent purchase just to drive for fun, I still have the family heirloom that started it all. It still goes and stops quite well but is very rusty. I've bought all available reproduction body panels and am looking for someone to do the body and paint work. I know that will cost more than the car will ever be worth, but that doesn't bother me. Twenty years ago, I paid $80,000.00 for a restoration. When that car broke down fifty miles from the shop, I decided to cut my losses and put it up on Ebay. I sold it for $20,000.00 to someone who I think was a straw purchaser for the restorer. I had maxed out credit cards to pay for it and it took my finances years to recover. Restore for love, not money!
joesurfer
Intermediate Driver

An interesting point finally on the mass 'restoration' of all vehicles no matter how much of it is actually left! I've watched cars sell on the auction block, whether it be Mecums or others, for what it seems like barely the cost of the restoration, if they're lucky. Now the announcers talk about a 'great deal' or 'great buy' but I keep thinking "man, I bet it the restoration cost more than the final bid". IMO of course but check the next auction and see if you know what I mean.
DaleL
Pit Crew

Sometimes (often?) is isn't a strict cost-benifit issue. My neighbor had a 1931 Rudge-Whitworth 500cc Special motorcycle in boxes for over 40 years. His wife told him to get it put together or get rid of it so he and I found someone familiar with Rudge to rebuild it. I warned the owner to double the original estimate for time and cost which guaranteed that the repairs would exceed the value of the finished product. All three predictions proved accurate. He went ahead with the rebuild and the smile on his face when he first heard it run made the expense immaterial to him. I am sure most restorations follow a similar pattern.
acooper529
Advanced Driver

The whole thing always seemed more like a psychologically linked connection rather than any possible business smart dollars and sense endeavor.
I have been directly linked to the automotive world for roughly 55 years.
Here is a somewhat related, albeit low dollar, version of the same thing.
Almost annually, a customer would come in with a shiney 60s to 70s Mustang to have me "check it over". Tp put it bluntly, they had paid to paint up a rusty old turd that they got cheap from XYZ or a relative.
As most of you know, the motor to floor unibody frame connectors were rust out and the road worthiness of the vehicle was seriously in question.
The point is... they generally had that "young love" look in their eyes... and I was just the guy that was being asked to crap all over their dreams.
BIG dollar deals like the Sunbeam seem more emotional than practical. It THEY have the $$$ then that is fine. Resale? Hmm?
My customers would do this, without financial resources, and it usually got very ugly and disappointing for them.
A different tangent on the same issue.
lavapirate
Intermediate Driver

a similar topic that is personal to me is say you have a toy that you drive on the side but also factor in the possibility of selling it later. Do you try to keep it as original as possible or do you customize it to your own liking knowing that it will almost certainly hurt resale value and market as personal taste varies greatly. sure, swapping out original rims is easily reversed, but what about the interior? electronics or an engine swap. Some of us don't have a huge barn or garage to store all the original parts. Question is, do you want to enjoy the car yourself or be more of a custodian?
Dphotos
New Driver

I think if you have a car that was bought at a very low price point and the car is selling very high even in a soft market. Then for sure do the restoration and try to use as much original parts as possible and I am of the opinon not to modify the car beyond factory specs unless it is done for a safety reasons or to save an engine. For example I know many of the Pantara's had a bad design with their radiators. Many restorations are done because the car brings an emotional value to the owner such as the car has been in the family for a great number of years. As long as you know up front the restoration could cost a great deal of money but at the end of the day will this restoration bring you and your family pleasure and happiness then I say go do it.
Godfrey
New Driver

I've built up, repaired, restored, detailed ... whatever you want to call it ... several cars and motorbikes. The goal in every case was not to build a concours whatever but to make a vehicle I happened to like into the nice machine that I wanted. Whether that meant stock, original, or highly modified is irrelevant.

To do all of this kind of thing with money and "value" being forever the priority is a waste of life. I like nice cars and bikes that I can drive, and that I can afford. I'm not going to spend $500,000—or even $100,000—on a restoration because I can't afford that.

My current project is a Lancia Fulvia Coupe. I'll have something around $70K into it when I'm done, and I intend to drive it for a least a few years. Perhaps the collectable value of the car will be close to that when it's time to move on, perhaps not, but I'll have my joy in making this lovely old car beautiful and "right" again, and my joy in driving it, and that's worth far more than any amount of money I'll ever put into it or attempt to get out of it.

IMO, the priorities of money and focus on valuation are a good deal of what ruined the automobile industry over the past 50 years. When I was a young man, you'd have that wonderful thrill of seeing, smelling, and hearing a Ferrari 250GT SWB come past once in a bit, and you'd meet the guy at the grocery store to admire the car and fantasize about how much fun it would be. Nowadays, all these beautiful cars are no longer cars: they're Fabergé eggs coddled and hidden in lock ups, occasionally brought out to show, trade, and then hidden again.

I can only remember Sir Stirling Moss at Goodwood a decade or two ago when some goofball commentator interviews him, asking, "So you're going to get on the track and risk destroying this priceless Mercedes 300SLR?! Isn't that rather foolish given how much it's worth?"

Stirling cocked his head and said, "Listen man, it's a race car. The only value of a race car is in racing it. The rest is nonsense."

G
MYTFAST
Intermediate Driver

Know what you're doing if you want to do something like a 1955 - 1957 T-bird. Things like 55s had 6 volt systems, not 12 volt & 55s don't have side fender air vents to deliver air into the car's interior. Just an easy example of how doing a 56-57 can be more beneficial than a 55. Later T-birds 64-66 are also another example. While most everything from a 64 & 65 are transferable, while the 66 has significant body changes unique to only the 66.

Buying a T=bird conv 1958-1966 will cost a pretty penny if there are any problems with the conv. mechanism, since although the conv tops are soft fold vinyl, in those years the top is stored in the trunk & that mechanism comprises 8 electrical relays (4 each for raising & lowering) and a number of mechanical levers/switches that divert power off & on to both electric motors and hydraulic cylinders that open & close the trunk area where the top is stored. The process is identical to the 1957-1959 Ford Skyliner which had a retractable hardtop instead of a soft top. Things like what I've mentioned can be an additional challenge when restoring those types of vehicles.
autorelic
Intermediate Driver

Many "restorations" are for the nostalgic factor.
And folks, nostalgia is VERY expensive...