12 Ways to Ruin a Restoration -- And How to Avoid Them

RK Motors Sep 28 2017

Time is money. Nothing could be truer when it comes to restoring a muscle car, because whether it is plowing forward with a structurally shaky rust bucket or nailing the elemental attention to detail, most of a project’s success or failure can be traced to the clock.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re tackling a first-time resto yourself or entrusting your car to seasoned professionals. The issues and details that sink a restoration are often due to lousy time management, which can prolong the project to balloon the cost or trigger cost-cutting moves that are ultimately revealed in a poor-quality final product.

Paint prep, for example, is an area where you get out what you put in. The more time spent on block sanding to ensure a laser-straight surface, the better the paint job will look.

Conversely, finishing the build with cheap hardware-store nuts, bolts, and worm clamps rather than factory-correct fasteners will detract from that mile-deep paintwork. It all adds up.

No two restorations are alike, but the pitfalls that afflict them are universal. We have compiled this list of a dozen ways projects can go sideways in the hope you can avoid them. We cannot turn back the hands of time, but these tips might just help manage it more effectively.

1. Buy Your Project Without Inspection

A few years ago we documented the disassembly of a Superbird that had recently been purchased by a well-known sports celebrity. It looked good and ran well, but it was purchased online, sight-unseen, and without an inspection. Big mistake. When the resto shop began to take apart the winged warrior, it quickly discovered it was a patchwork of multiple Mopars tacked together in the form of a Superbird. And while it may have been difficult to spot the seams beneath the carpet and headliner that indicated where it had been back-halved, a brief inspection of the easily viewable but nonmatching body-number stampings would have quickly revealed the problem.

2. Revive a Total Rust-Bucket

We get it. You found the GTO you drove in high school, or perhaps it was your dad’s old Chevelle. It may even have been a deal on a Fairlane that you just couldn’t pass up—but probably should have. We’d never dissuade anyone from restoring the muscle car of his or her dreams, especially one with a strong emotional connection, but letting your heart have the final say on a severely rusted car will have you reaching for the nitro pills. We’re talking about more than simply replacing a tin-worm-ravaged quarter-panel. We’re talking committing to a project where much of the inner-structure sheetmetal requires repair or replacement. It is extremely time-consuming, often requiring custom fabrication for countless small pieces, which ratchets up the labor hours tremendously. An emotional connection may be priceless, but you’re better off starting with a more solid car.

3. Shop Resto Shops by Price Alone

A restoration is all about time, so it’s only logical that you would want to know a shop’s labor rate before dropping off your car and writing the first check. Heck, on a thousand-hour job there’s a $10,000 difference between paying $60 per hour and $70. That’s real money, but it should not be the determining factor for selecting a restorer. And don’t take the shop’s word for its work. We have heard too many horror stories of owners who put their trust in a shop, only to pull out their car when substandard work or excessive delays jeopardized the restoration. Ask around at shows and online forums. Recommendations for good shops will float to the surface. Even if you pay a little more in the long run, the satisfaction of a restoration done right is worth it.

4. Change Course Midstream

We hear it all the time from restorers: “The guy came in for a quick respray, and it turned into a rotisserie restoration.” That’s a surefire way to send the cost of your restoration into the stratosphere, because it means backtracking. The work already done, whether by you or the shop, has to be undone to start over. That can even mean tossing out newly installed parts and repurchasing them. Be firm and honest with yourself, because trying to sneak up on a full restoration will only cost you more time and money in the long run.

5. Piecemeal Your Project

There is an old adage about too many cooks in the kitchen, but problems also arise when there are too many kitchens. Whether you’re doing most of the resto work yourself and farming out some of the subprojects, or letting others do the whole thing but through more than one shop, the likelihood of something going amiss rises exponentially. If an important part goes missing, for example, it will be harder to trace. And it’s almost impossible to coordinate timing between shops, causing delays and frustration. You will not save time or money spreading the work around.

6. Disassembly Without Documentation

Bagging and tagging the parts removed from your project car is fundamental to the restoration, but don’t forget to take photos during the disassembly. Bolts and brackets in bags will not remind you of their proper orientation or installation sequence months later during reassembly. This is an easy aspect of the project to overlook when the wrenches are spinning during disassembly, so recruit a friend or your wife to simply snap pics while you pull apart your muscle car. You will be thankful weeks or months later.

7. Throw Away the Old Parts

Yes, they’re rusty and crusty and take up a lot of valuable space on the garage floor. But for the love of Woodward Avenue, don’t toss out the old parts, no matter how badly worn or damaged, until the restoration is finished. Invariably you will need them for reference during the project. Even the rodent-chewed interior parts may come in handy as patterns for replacement soft parts, and you may find that you need to recondition an original part if a reproduction is not available. You cannot do that if you sent it to the landfill or recycling center.

8. Rely on the Resto Shop to Acquire Parts

This is another one that’s all about time. You want your resto shop to spend all the labor hours on the hard stuff—rust repair, block sanding, and getting the wrinkles out of the headliner—not tracking down N.O.S. license plate bracket bolts. That’s your job. Get on the phone. Get on the web. Scrounge the swap meet. While the shop is hammering away, you can spend your lunchtime and weekends searching for the hard-to-find stuff your car needs. Besides, it will ultimately be up to you to decide whether to go with used, N.O.S., or repro parts, so there will be no ambiguity or misunderstanding about that with the shop.

9. Skimp on the Nuts and Bolts

Once you’ve gone nearly all the way with a restoration, don’t cheap out on the little things, such as clamps and fasteners, no matter how tempting it is to save a couple of bucks. We know all about it: Those little, seemingly insignificant pieces can carry a stiff price from specialty sources. And after spending tens of thousands of dollars on other areas of the car, it may seem justifiable to trim the spending on nuts and bolts and clamps, but such a large investment is the very reason you should not do that. You think people will not notice, but they will. They will know immediately that you finished your otherwise gorgeous restoration with a trip to Home Depot. Don’t be that guy.

10. Rush the Paint Job

A restorer told us that on a concours-level restoration, his shop may put 400 hours or more into the paint job, and only eight of them will be in the spray booth. The rest was prep and follow-up work, from days and days of block sanding to hours and hours of color sanding. Ensuring the body is as smooth as possible is the only way to make sure the paint figuratively and literally shines—and it takes an enormous amount of time. You get what you pay for here, so steel yourself for the labor. It’s the price of perfection.

11. Overlook the Details

Semigloss or glossy. Painted or natural. Crayon marks on the firewall. If you are aiming for a factory-correct resto, do your homework and rely on your disassembly documentation to ensure that you nail the details. Unlike the early days of muscle car restoration, when knowledge and authentic replacement parts were less prevalent, the tools to do the job right are readily available these days for most vehicles. At the very least it’s easy to duplicate the factory finish for most engine, chassis, and trim parts. Spraying everything with a can of chassis black just doesn’t cut it these days.

12. Expect You’ll Earn Back Your Investment

Only a handful of super-rare cars are worth more than the combined costs of vehicle purchase, parts, and labor for a full, rotisserie-type restoration, so nix those thoughts that your restoration will bring a windfall at auction. The math doesn’t add up. Restore the car because you love it and because driving it makes you feel good. The only one earning money on the project is the resto shop.

SOURCE: Muscle Car Review

AUTHOR: Barry Kluczyk

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