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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Why do people abandon projects? The answer may not be simple

You've seen the tarped silhouette before-the barn-cocooned, garaged-entombed remnants of a machine lost to time. Trees growing through the engine bay, saplings sprouted from the food stores of rodents. You've probably driven past one for years at one point or another in your life, some slowly eroding hulk that slides further into neglect each time you see it.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/why-do-people-abandon-projects-the-answer-may-not-be-simple/
40 REPLIES 40
hyperv6
Racer

The reason most give up are the lack of money and skill. Many get in over their heads skill wise and find they also can’t afford to pay someone to fix what they can’t.

Others run out of time due to family and job obligation. This often leads to loss of interest.

In rare cases the lack of needed parts to do the job right.

Kit cars are classic example of lack of skill and money.

What is sad I see many failed projects that could be fixed easily and back on the road or track. But people get that I will finish it model but they never do. Sadly these cars lay away hidden from sight. Others lay outside and begin decay that often leads to their loss.

We had a guy north of here in Ohio that for a long time left a real Ferrari GTO sit outside in his drive for decades. Finally someone got the car from him before the prices got insane snd it is in Europe restored today.

In other cases some folks do get back to these cars and do finish them. I helped with one not long ago so it is true some will be finished. But that is more rare than common.

 

My way of working is that I hate anything unfinished and apart so I rarely leave anything apart and if it is it is not apart  long. 

XJ6
Intermediate Driver

We had a neighbor that had an Edsel sitting in his driveway for decades just rotting away. One day I was walking the dog and ask him about it. He thought it was going to be worth a ton of money that he was going to retire on.
TG
Technician

A neighbor up the road from me had a 442 convertible that had sat outside so long the convertible top (frame and all) was down inside the car. I asked the owner about it and he also thought he was going to get a million dollars selling it one day. He moved, the car stayed, and the new owners pushed it down to my property after they heard I had been interested in it. I was never able to get a title for it and ended up giving it away
Davis_H
Pit Crew

The logical side of my brain took over. Why put good money into a bad car when I could just buy a clean example? The project languished for 2 years before I let some other sucker have it.
hyperv6
Racer

This is becoming more a common thing now as often you can find a finished car for less than the cost to restore one anymore. 

If you have to pay for paint and other work it can Add up and cost more than the cars worth in many cases. 

I often recommend to pay more for a clean low mile model vs trying to restore a car unless it is something really special personally or rarity. 

DUB6
Specialist

I think we can also factor in the "instant gratification" trend of late. When people start a project, they sometimes expect they'll be collecting trophies in a few months. Then the reality of the work involved (let alone costs, parts availability, schedules of places they need work done at) sets in, and the months easily become years.
markvii1
Detailer

I let a blown head gasket on my running and driving 71 Olds Cutlass turn into a full engine and transmission overhaul with performance upgrades, which then led to cooling, electrical, fuel, suspension, brake, and wheel/tire repairs and upgrades. I think that it is impossible to truly know what a project is going to turn into until you are too far down the track to turn back.

Sometimes the project can swallow the budget and then spit out a new problem an owner wouldn't have even thought to consider. The machine shop that bored my engine block lost the plugs that seal the oil passage in the bottom of the block. I had to pay a racing machine shop almost $200 to have new plugs machined as they were not available anywhere to purchase already made. It had been months since I picked up the engine block from the machine shop and they honestly had no idea they were even missing. I've gone through two camshafts trying to find a satisfactory engine note and manageable amount of vacuum. Plus the kickdown cable seized and snapped from excess heat due to the long tube headers I installed and had to be replaced.

Long winded response to say that best laid plans almost never remain the same from the start of a project to the finish.
DUB6
Specialist

Yeah, and a LOT of people don't even have a "best laid plan" - like the Edsel guy mentioned by XJ6!  🤣

DUB6
Specialist

   That does depend a little on the specific definition of "worth" though, doesn't it @hyperv6   I mean, when my daughter and I built our Pontiac, the definition of worth, to me, was the 1) enjoyable time spent together, 2) the laughs, 3) working together to try and accomplish things we both wanted from the car (me: speed / her: beauty / both: killer stereo) - stuff like that.  The dollar$ spent?  Hardly even a thought, although we did have a pretty small budget.  But my point is that we didn't build that car to balance what we spent against "what it is worth" when we were done.

   So, as @autowriter points out, often it's about what the specific project "means to you, personally", and not what you can list it for on a "car for sale" site.  Not every project can - or should - be viewed through a dollars-and-cents lens.

hyperv6
Racer

It is a matter of what you are in it for. If you want to spend time etc then the journey  is worth the time. Others just want the designation. 

 

Kind of like going to Disney world. Some would love the two day drive there with the family while others would rather spend the time at the park after a 2 hour flight.  Neither is wrong it is a matter of what you prefer. 

 

Or in a case you are restoring your High School car. It may not be a Cobra but it holds a lot of memories. It is worth the time and money you may put in that you will never get out since you may never sell it. 

 

Most people today want a car they can drive and enjoy. In the past you had to often restore to get what you want but today most of these cars are for sale some place. Also many entered the hobby that can't turn a wrench or in some cases should not turn a wrench. I have bailed many out of the holes they dug. 

 

We see the people at many auctions. Ones like BJ in AZ is full of people who don't turn wrenches but they have money to buy. I know many of my customers who build cars for these auctions because they know people over pay because thy want the car but can't build them them selves. Often what sold two years ago ends up at the auction again because they lost interest and moved on. 

 

There are so many angle. 

 

For right now you can buy a car that is 80% there and just finish it for much less than you can restore it to that point. This gives you room to go back and change things should you like to get the car to where you want it. 

 

I get many who want to buy a Fiero and often most are rusted out under the plastic. Many find out too late the car is scrap. Too often after paint and an interior. They often will have enough in the car that they could buy a model with 20K miles with no weather. Many of these cars were put away or just weekend cars. The money spent is often well spent since you can't find much in parts for the interiors etc. Find a set of NOS v6 valve covers if you can. I have a pair and they are the only ones I have seen in going on 20 years. 

 

Getting involved here take some thinking and decisions. You need to tailor the situation to what is best for you emotionally and economically. Too often emotions can cost you. The is ok if you choose that knowing the cost. Many never think it though. 

 

I spent more money on a hood than I should have but I wanted it. I knew it and could have bailed but I am glad I did it. I never have plans to sell the car and the hood is a key feature. I had to do a lot of work to make it right but in the end it was worth it to me. I would not recommend it to everyone. 

 

 

DUB6
Specialist

I really wish I had got that bumper sticker I once saw.  It said "BUILT, NOT BOUGHT".

Sajeev
Community Manager

That phrase has been used to death. You are better off without it. 😀

GRP_Photo
Instructor

I bought a '40 Ford back in 2001. It was intact and ran. No brakes. I put in new brakes. Then it took me a year to find a machine shop that could re-furbish the rear axle housings. Even the spring shackles took special tools.
I got tired of this. But it ran.
Then one day it didn't.
Every once in a while someone drops by to look at it, but that era isn't popular anymore. Nobody really wants it.
DMcC
Detailer

I fear there will soon be abundant '30s and '40s special interest cars on the market via estate sales - possibly including mine. Those of us who enjoyed those cars as owners, drivers, and enthusiasts generally from the "boomer" era are aging out.
964c4
Detailer

Love these car stories. The article was well written and made me remember some of the vehicles I have "discovered" in my long automotive career. Barn finds are the best and I always enjoy resurrecting them. Most of the vehicles I have restored were projects abandoned by the previous owner due to lack of funds and skill. Very common.
OptimusPrime
Detailer

Most of the time, when you buy a project car you don't know the half of what it needs. I'd always heard when you're restoring a car to double the amount you think it will cost. With my most recent "project car," that ended up being 100% true.

The only reason to rescue a needy classic today is if the money doesn't matter or you truly enjoy doing the required work yourself. Otherwise, wait for the right car that's ready to go and in your budget.

It's taken me 20 years to learn but for the same price, I'd now rather have a less valuable classic that's dialed in than a more valuable aspirational car that requires a ton of work.

Also, if you're buying a non-running project, drive a running example before you take the plunge. Nothing worse than spending too much money getting a car back on the road only to learn that you don't really enjoy driving it.
MoparMan
Advanced Driver

I rescued a '73 Challenger 340 Rallye from a junkyard, got it running and started restoring it. I swore I'd never sell it, and commenced to acquiring NOS/OEM parts for it. Then the transmission developed a serious leak, which caused me to stop driving it. The everyday process of living intervened, job changes, etc. After languishing for 10 years or so, the restoration never continued and I realized that I had more calendar pages behind me, than in front...so I sold it on eBay. My only (semi) regret is that I didn't hold onto to it a few more years as the prices have risen to INSANE levels, LOL!! 🙂
SteelyDan
Intermediate Driver

Great story, but for most of us, this is in that strange space of ex-race cars, cut up and modified in the heat of competitive adrenaline then almost always bunted into a corner when they dump their bottom end or can't keep up with their class. Racing $ure is alway$ ca$h for $peed. Hard for the average home car mechanic to love the empty husks left over.
Now see how many smiles you can manufacture with even a 6 pot, 3 speed Gremlin rolling down Main............
Fatcat321
Intermediate Driver

Actually the reason a project stalls out can be as simple as other responsibilities take precedent. In my case, I had five restoration projects that were zipping along until work responsibilities escalated. I had a perfect system developed; work on one project until it needed parts or I needed help, then move on to another one. Then 9/11 happened and my company was basically drafted into producing defense materials. All other activities in my life ceased for 12 years, when the physical and mental stress created health problems that made doing either the government work or the work on my vehicles too difficult. i was able to pass on the defense work to another entity, (with continued help from me), but the work on the project cars slowed to a standstill. My body just plain gave out. So those projects have been passed onto other enthusiasts.
TimK
Detailer

Oh, yes, the abandoned projects. In 1975 I bought a 70 Boss 302 and put over 100K miles on it as my daily driver. After a foolish move to Florida in 82 things went badly for me and the Boss in that I had to have it trailered back to Colorado when I returned because it didn't run because I had to leave it in outdoor storage for a few years becoming a victim of thieves, vandals and rust. Once home I had plans but also had a couple problems we jokingly refer to Hawaiian diseases: "Lack-a-Time" and "Lack-a-Cash". Hope I didn't offend any Hawaiian with that one. Things started looking up when I transferred and had it shipped to my new home in Texas. After building a garage to do the work I transferred again. After 2 houses I finally had the income and a great shop. Then life happened again. I wanted to see it on the road again before I died but but not having the estimated $30K for the project, in 2003 I sold it to my neighbor who after almost 20 years, doing most of the work himself along with a good friend and over $25K in parts he only need to rebuild the engine and transmission. I probably wouldn't have been able to get that far and I knew it. I now have my Mark VIII purchased in 95, a C4 Corvette purchased in 04 (they're relatively inexpensive) and a solid and driveable 68 Ranchero purchased in 07 but has been sitting because I'm doing the the proverbial waiting to start the restoration because of "Lack-a-Time." Hoping to start that project in the coming year as I should have my honey-do list finally finished and going to mostly retire, ha!
autowriter
Detailer

How important is a specific car to you Personally? Not as an investment -- those almost never pan out to the usual car guys in the hobby. As something that you really and truly Want for its own sake, something that just Compels you to re-do it. I've had a number of cars over the years that were sort of fun, including a 280Z Black Pearl Datsun that I owned, drove and showed for 39 years. But in the end, when there was really nothing I could do to it to make it better, it was time to sell it and pass it on to someone else so its story could continue. There was only ever just one car that I found compelling -- the 1966 Corvair Corsa convertible that I bought the day before I went to Viet Nam the second time. But with the others in my collection, I sold it in 1978 and bought the Z. I always wondered in the back of my mind what had happened to it. So in 2013, on a whim, I posted a CL ad on a North Dakota site, asking if anyone knew what might have happened to it. Was it maintained, crushed, or sitting rotting away in a field somewhere south of Jamestown? Quite unexpectedly, I got an email several days later from a guy who had bought it to part out some 20 years earlier. He had "fixed it up" by putting a turbo motor and a power top on it, and painting it with a high quality toothbrush. But it turned out it was That car -- the same exact one that I drove when I returned from Viet Nam in late August 1968. In 2014, I didn't know it was a basket case, a real disaster, full of bondo and "repairs" done badly. But it was That car. So I bought it, started in on it, discovered how bad it really was and thought seriously about just parting it out and getting on with my life. But it was Personally compelling. I decided to go all in on it, regardless of time or cost. Took 6+ years to collect the parts and get all the work done properly. Finished it a month ago. It now has 201 miles on the drivetrain, and the cold monsoons have come. I will not drive it in the wet. But dogged determination and perseverance, way too much money spent, close attention to detail and correctness, and I now have That Exact Car back with me again. I smile when I open the shop door. It was worth every dollar and every day spent on it.
C7W289
Intermediate Driver

I gave up a beautiful 1990 olds wagon, just elegant and useful (I have a bunch of kids), but it was just deteriorating in my driveway. You always wonder if it will get treated better by the next owner.
I drove a '67 Cougar from when I was 16 into my 30's. It needed a little work and I I supplanted it with a 90 Mustang Convertible. After getting married and having some kids, it was just sitting in the garage getting moldy. I finally sold it, and thought about it often thereafter. Cougars at car shows often looked worse than mine, despite the 250K plus miles. My wife even thought of secretly calling the buyers and seeing if they would sell it back, but never was sure enough to do it. Then one day my wife gets a note on facebook to see if she knew my name and if I had ever owned a 67 Cougar. The guy had just bought it, decided on a better one, and found my name in the abundant records in the trunk, and thought that I may want to have first dibs on it. Long story shorter, it's in the garage. It sat out, half stripped for about 15 years, barely salvageable. I will slowly patch it up and drive it (thankfully the owner did not mess with the engine that I had built, everything else he touched he ruined). It is so weird having it back in the garage, like having an old girlfriend around. It just makes me smile, though whenever I see it.
DUB6
Specialist

A project "abandoned" and then reacquired and a chance to take another run at it!?!?  Great story, and @C7W289 , I hope we get to see some photos of progress on that Cougar.  You are reacquainted with an old love, and your wife is even on board with the idea.  Second chances are opportunities we should definitely take advantage of.  😁

C7W289
Intermediate Driver

My wife is unusual in that regard, I'm glad that she is not typical at all. My mustang that I replaced the cougar with has been around from our first date to bringing home six kids from the hospital, so it is staying around as my daily driver (350K miles now). My wife gave me a supercharger for our 5.0 anniversary, and it has been the gift that keeps giving for 16 years now. I'm keeping the wife and the car, you can bet.
autowriter
Detailer

My wife's first car was a 67 Cougar.  She remembers it fondly.  Her Dad decided she should sell it and buy a Nova, which she didn't like.  She has often said that if she were to get a 67 Cougar back again, it would have to be That exact car.  But it's not going to happen - ever.  She lived in Minneapolis, and the car has long since dissolved and recycled itself back into the FeO2 from which it came.  But if I could find it, I'd redo it and give it to her.  Just because.

MarveH
Detailer

Fortunately, I'm a weirdo and my tastes often run to the unloved and unusual, so the big high dollar cars are almost never on my radar.
My first rule, however, is to never tear a running car to bits. Make a running car run, steer, and stop better, then enjoy driving it (even if its ugly) for a while. If you're still in love with it after a year or two try to do a rolling restoration. If you find out you hate it, it's far easier to sell a running, inspected, and licensed car than a project in baskets.
I'll even go so far as, if the car needs an engine rebuild, to find a replacement motor, swap it in so I can still drive it, and work on the original engine on the stand. Again if you run out of time or money you are still selling a running car with a numbers matching motor thrown in.
Gene_M
Detailer

As with many other things, life gets in the way.
Tinkerah
Engineer

Oh my Gawd this article strikes a sensitive nerve in me. I bought a rolling project, towed it to a bodyshop, paid the man a handsome advance and made a point not to pester him knowing no craftsman likes to be nagged. Some months later I got a voicemail: "We're bankrupt, shutting down, sorry about your money, your car's outside pick it up whenever you want." All they'd done was strip its paint and "lose" the hood, trunk lid and fenders. I suspect they sold them. 20 years later it's still in my driveway under a tarp while I've completed other projects. I'm caught somewhere between anger, anguish, shame and hope.
DUB6
Specialist

Ouch.😢

TG
Technician

There are some of the more obvious ones - like lack of resources (time. money, space), or the project that needed a lot more work outside of your wheelhouse than you anticipated (I'm currently wrangling with one of them)...

But the one I've seen a lot of that is a project killer is what I call scope-creep. Someone gets a project car with a limited intended scope: Get it running halfway decent and paint it. Then somewhere along the line the project expands into something between a perfect factory frame-off restoration, a street-strip car with no clear line of which side of street/strip it's going to land on, an LS swap - all bundled into one project with a lot of parts thrown at it and no direction. Another general thing I tell folks all the time that if you are not a professional restorer - DO NOT TAKE THE BODY OFF THE FRAME. I have seen 2 out of 3 friends' restoration projects die (along with the car) after the body came off the car, and now your languishing project is taking up 2 bays instead of 1
janedon
Advanced Driver

Why do project cars get abandoned ? I'd say that 95% of the time--Costs-- but like it says--many other reasons to- I found a (Semi ) collector car with low mileage that did'nt take much to make it roadworthy-- My wife liked it to- I used it as my daily driver for a few yrs-got it painted ect,ect--then it got stolen & somewhat damaged-(I didn't have enough insurance on it)-got it back but about that time my wife took ill & I was busy taking care of her plus we never had a lot of "Spare" money in the first place- the costs of her care just put us further in debt & the car sat in the garage-- she died about 3 yrs ago-- Now--with an even lower income & still a mortgage payment /no savings ect the car is still in the garage damaged--I've hardly even looked at it for 7 or more yrs-- I Sooo want to g(I don't even know what it needs)- It has sentiment value--not sure it has that much monetary value-- & sure can't afford one that's already roadworthy- When people say Life gets in the way--Man -are they Right-
hyperv6
Racer

One thing I forgot is that some projects unfortunately get lost in the garage due to financial and medical health reasons. I have seen where someone starts out and a heart attack or loss of a job stops a project in its tracks. Some people recover to finish it some never do. These are the ones hard to see.  The TV show Garage Squad has gotten some of these back on the road for these people and families. It is nice to see how much it means to some. 

swampyankee
Pit Crew

Good article and a cautionary tale.

Although I've done many renovations over the years and had my share of abandoned projects, lately it's been tougher to attain sufficient momentum to complete my current ones. Worth they are too - a '65 Benelli 250 Barracuda, found while searching for parts for the lost-cause resto of my childhood Benelli 250; an Ossa SDR; and my old '91 VW GTI 16V, reacquired from my son after 20 years of abuse and neglect.

They are all in various stages, from mid-resto, to barn-find revival. The good news is, I look forward to retirement when I can devote more time (but probably have less cash) to see them through.

I remain ever optimistic...

jaysalserVW
Advanced Driver

In my experience, some people say..."This car belonged to my father/husband/brother (you name the relative)...I could NEVER sell it!" And...there it sits returning to dirt in the driveway. I've seen it! Or the person ignores the fact that people DO get older, less healthy and eventually DIE. Or--the person who collects numerous vehicles has the story about how he is going to restore one of them (every time he talks about his vehicles, he chooses a different one which he is going to restore)--it never is going to happen. Cars cannot be restored over night--unless you get with one of those reality shows which does a "restoration" in a month's time. Or, the person knows nothing about cars and is "going to learn by working on this one!". So, he disassembles the entire vehicle without so much as going about it in a coherent manner--just chunks the parts into piles. I once saw a young man disassemble a collector vehicle on the grass in his back yard--right down to the bare frame. I've also seen people who just accrue vehicles because they can--like a person would collect items of a certain genera and put them onto shelves in his den. He likes cars--the more the merrier. Dreamers--they are out there by the thousands. Most project cars are begun with absolutely NO thought about the 3 essentials necessary for any automotive project: Time, Space and Money. They are sitting but never will be completed. The owner NEVER will sell because he still has not awakened from his dream. His heirs have the"project" carted off to be recycled. There's more-------
DUB6
Specialist

@jaysalserVW has identified probably the Number 1 reason that projects get abandoned: "the owner...has not awakened from his dream".  I love it!  😄

JohninNC
Instructor

That Gremlin is sweet! I'd love to pull up to the kids soccer games in that.
I let my Model-A sit for a lame reason, the battery died! Oh and a couple tires have slow leaks. I'm about to get it back on the road though!
I stand firm in my belief though, that a slumber like my car has had is fine, it's in a dry garage, not rusting away in a field.
SAG
Instructor

I would fall into the category of_
_a bad "collector of cars".
Lots of "money" bleaching out in the Sun.
Shame on me.
_but current value [as is] is above purchase price.
We - the "terrible" owners know the "restored value" and the cost's involved.
$0.10 on the $1.00
think again
RG440
Instructor

In my opinion;
1.) Life got in the way (millions and millions of words)
2.) Money
3.) Saving for future generations, investment, love of the past automobilia…

My first 50 years, I was Mopar, Mopar, Mopar and still am for that matter but now love them all. I have in the past saved and put into the right hands over hundreds of classics and had no regrets having my own personal junkyard in the back and life in the front mainly due to money. The back was always an investment with quality of life out front. When / If the vehicle is dirt, (we all know what that means, dust for us) I can always find ONE piece in that pile of dirt that PAYS for the initial investment. PARTS IS PARTS !!! Just ask American Pickers! I once went to a scrapped out junk yard asking fo Mopar Parts. There was nothing there but DIRT. I found a 1970 Charger Hood that looked like tin foil. After scraping mud out of the turn signal insert in the hood and leaving a good amount on it for the purchase only to be given it as a gift, the turn around of that piece was embarrassing grand far exceeding the price of the whole car (if it was still there) as a junk yard purchase. PARTS IS PARTS !!! This coming from a guy that loves automotive design from the beginning and had tears in my eyes watching a two one of a kind fully restorable autos get crushed because one guy pushing the switch saying “MOPAR’S are Junk” and the other, years apart “Fords are junk”. No amount of money in hand could persuade them otherwise! The cars I can see as it was today. 1970 numbers matching Seafoam, white interior 440 pistol grip Dana Charger no rust southern car and a 1969 numbers matching Talledaga . Thanks for the article!
autorelic
Intermediate Driver

Great article but it doesn't make me feel any better about the projects languishing in my possession. In my younger days I managed to get several projects finished -- I owned a body shop at the time -- along with a LOT of customer's treasures. I thought I'd have the time to finish my projects in retirement so I just kept collecting the. Now that I'm retired and "enjoying" the health many years in the restoration business left me in (I have more replacement parts than some of my projects) I find I'm likely never going to get to many of them. So they're slowly being sold off to other kids who are like I was years ago, even the finished ones. I miss my Galaxies, the '64 2 door HT 500 and the '63 XL convertible but they're in homes that will appreciate them now so it's all good. and the I have had the chance to finish some of them -- my daily is a '79 F-150 shortbox I built entirely out of wrecking yards and NAPA, took me 16 years to get it 90% finished. A couple of years ago my wife said, "Get it finished or sell it" and 2 weeks later it was painted and put back together. A year later I decided I did not like the color so it was taken apart and repainted again...
autorelic
Intermediate Driver

Thought I would add that many of the cars/trucks/motorcycles I've restored for others had more "sentimental value" than "ACV" but I always warned my customers in advance. "If you're doing this for nostalgic purposes, don't forget that nostalgia can be VERY expensive." And then we proceeded on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. Interestingly, over the years every single one of those that the customer had me start on got finished. The one time I was worried was when a '68 Satellite convertible came in and it was in the days B-body parts were hard to get, especially NOS. The guy wanted to fix it for his wife since it was the first new car they bought as a married couple. It resembled something from Bedrock (yabba-dabba-do!), but it did run/drive. You just had to make sure you didn't drag your feet on the pavement while doing so. We settled up each week but it took nearly 2 years just to find all the parts it needed. In the end it was completely restored and beautiful. Unfortunately, his wife passed away 2 weeks after it was done.