“..but I can buy one cheaper”

I chuckle when I hear the statement, “I don’t want or need to restore a car because I am savvy and I will just buy one done, it’s cheaper.”  This article is a follow-on to the Restorations Build vs. Buy post.  I will reiterate my statement in that post;  Do you really think guys are going to loose their ass and sell you their meticulously restored car for the same price as an auction dealer fluff and flip car? The answer is hell no!  The extent and quality will not be the same. Moreover you just paid huge auction fees to buy that “done” car.

My intent here is to share my experiences, specifically the estimating process,  in restoring a classic car. Restoring a car should be fun. I  don’t want you to feel ripped off or disappointed when you a). see the price of a restored car, and b). overspend your hard earned money re-working or going backwards to achieve your end goal, c). establish a good price to pay for a project car. 

With that said, what is your end goal?  If you are looking for a Saturday evening cruiser,  or a trailer queen, concours award winning car, I hope this article will provide you with guidance and insight.  Give this decision a lot of thought. 

Even a driver is a blast. I have a couple I call my “bar cars”. Good cool drivers/hot rods and a cream puff that can withstand a box store parking lot or a cruise-in riddled with toddlers and drunk idiots.  Still a great time visiting with like-minded car guys about their rides.  The drivers were built with this purpose in mind. Even if I were to have bought them done, which I rarely do, I am safe on the money.  Remember this is a hobby after and not a business. From time to time I don’t mind being upside down in a car.  Your job is to NOT spend near concours restoration money on a driver, regardless what the seller claims. Why spend the money twice if your end goal is to someday restore the car? 

We have covered the differenced between a survivor car and a restored car in the post noted above. Now will will delve into the restoration project and related costs. Trying to predict the cost of a build is tricky and often times impossible. There are many variables depending on your end goal.  As a project manager by profession my job is to manage cost and schedule in a given project.  Because I have historical data AND real world experience with automotive restoration, I can predict within reason what a restoration will cost and how long it will take. In the absence of data there are methods to perform a build-up of costs. 

You will see on most of the restoration car pages here on my website there is  a build and acquisition cost listed. You will also see the year the work was done and whether the work was outsourced or done in my hobby shop. All of these things are factors in restoration costs. 

No tricks here just get our your pad and paper and start listing, purchase price, parts and labor.  Let’s break each down parts and labor and discuss the variables. I use an Excel spreadsheet on every car.  

Parts: Depending on your end goal, quality and extent of restoration, the parts needed, and or restored and re-used, or replacing missing parts, will drive this section of your cost build up. Often times you wont know every single part you will need until you tear the car apart. i.e. a heater box diaphragm.  You also may not know the sticker shock or the price of a used or hard to find part. Regardless start your list and identify the costs.  Leave yourself a 20% reserve of your total parts line.  See the “Pieces & Parts “article about sourcing parts. 

Next are the labor costs. Sorry but as a hobbyist your time is not able to be charged to the project. Turn key shops will obviously cost the most. Having a hobby shop with heat and mechanicals like I did will save substantial dollars. Having a space to do tear-down, do blasting and light parts painting will save big dollars.  However building a $30k garage to restore one car is not conducive to the one car build. Even in a two car garage or the third stall in your suburbia home, a lot of disassembly and assembly work can be done. You don’t need a hoist.  Store completed parts in your basement. Get a lawn shed or an enclosed trailer to store parts or other items.

Farm out your engine and driveline components and re-assemble in your existing garage. Same goes for upholstery, either do these items yourself or haul them to an upholstery shop to have professionally done. 

Tear Down & Blasting: This is an easy area to save money. Tear down and take apart your own car. After all you are the one who will be putting it back together. This will also dictate the extent or your restoration project. Of course take pictures. Even though you have manuals, pictures work the best for re-assembly. If you don’t have a blaster haul your car and parts to a sand and media blasting shop. Stay away from the dustless blasters. Have a plan once your parts and car are stripped to bare metal for the means to apply primer sealant.  Don’t plan to allow a car sit in bare metal for even a month. This is something that needs to be taken care of in days, not weeks or months. This is a great time to revisit your parts list now that you can see what parts are savable and usable. 

Body Shop Jail:  Finding body guys to do restoration work is tough. Body guys generally go for the easy collision work to make more money. Can’t fault them for that. Stay away from the collision shop that will take your restoration in as “side” work. This almost always turns out bad. Your project sits, parts start to turn up missing, and months can turn into years. This has happened to many of us. Before I had my own hobby shop I outsourced a lot of paint and body work. Once the relationship deteriorated due to missed deadlines and empty promises, I was not shy about just showing up with a car trailer, a long cable, and loading my car.  Live and learn. 

Knowing I was going to do several restorations I built a hobby shop. It doubled as storage and a man-cave. Overkill for sure with AC and in floor heat but what the hell. I do miss it but it served me well. Something to consider if you have the space and means. I went one step further and hired paint and body guys to work for cash at an hourly labor rate vs. a loaded hourly shop rate in my own pole barn. I paid for heat, AC, yes AC, the repairs to the air compressor, garage doors etc.  I could control and track material costs and usage with my own facility. 

Look for a body shop with lower overhead. Be cautious of the guy charging $90/hour out of his back yard pole barn out in a rural area. Does he have shop insurance against fire and theft? Probably not. Is there a crew there where 2-3 people will be working on your car for the $90/hour?  The sweet spot is a 1-2 man shop that do restorations only, maybe light repairable work. Make sure they are a real business for anything over $40 bucks an hour. Get a discount for cash. Get an estimate on cost and schedule. Let them make the estimate and let them pic the schedule. Then remind them that they picked both and you will hold them to it. Progress payments are normal but always do a 15% withhold payable when the entire project is completed. 

Don’t get wrapped around the axel so to speak about an hourly rate. Get an estimate. Work with the body guy to do an hourly build up by part if he is unable to tell you how many hours for each phase.  Metal work, rough in, paint and final cut and buff are good phases.  If he refuses to work with you on an estimate walk away. I generally wait for them to tout their 20-30-40 years in doing body work.  If that is the case then they should have no problem providing you an estimate, or work with you on a build up.  200 hours-600 hours? Is the $90/hour for 1-2 men or just one? $90/hour may actually be $45 depending how you look at it. Who is paying for materials?  Is there a mark upon materials? Where do they get their materials? Have them give you the estimate in writing. Generate your line item price for body labor from the hourly rate x their hours estimate.  

If you are are working on a project someone else started or have to switch body guys, be wary of the guy that criticizes the workmanship of the previous body guy. This negativity is bad news and a true sign of an attitude you don’t want to work with. This belly aching is not productive. Look,  shi* happens and while re-work is expensive it is not the end of the world. Move on.  

Good help is hard to find. There are old school body guys out there that enjoy doing restoration work. Network and make good connections. Ask your local auto-parts store that mixes automotive paint for names of body guys.  Ask your fellow car club members.  Another reason to join a car club and attend the monthly meetings. See Car Club Article.

At this point your project plan and cost estimate should be filling up. Revisit your numbers and list your outsourced items along with the business that will be doing the work.  Common misses are exhaust, brakes, bulbs and fluids. These small items can add up.  This data  can now be used in determining what you will pay for a project car.  Buying knowledge is buying power so you don’t overpay.  Use this estimate on other project cars you are looking to buy, or the one you already have. 

Now that you have a good cost estimate think about what your end result will be. Is it what you want? Is it a restomod? An OE restoration or a combination? For most the hunt and restoration journey is part of the dream and most certainly garnishes respect. Also a great sense of accomplishment.   Working though this estimating and then the restoration process can be challenging but in the end is well worth it. If you work with good vendors and shops the experience can be grand!  In the end you know what you have for a car.  Now ask yourself if that done car you were looking at buying in haste at an auction, with no back story, with no true knowledge of the type or extent of restoration performed, is something you want to pay big money for? – Jake 

Restoration Builds VS. Survivors VS. Build or Buy

This article is about the important difference between a car that has been restored, to a given degree, and a survivor car.  Then I will talk about Build vs. buy. Right now the year is 2018 and for a few years now the hot cars have been survivor cars.  I get it, and I too think they are only original once. That is something very special. Before Survivor cars were hot is was Restomods, and before that it was RatRods, heck in the 90’s Model T’s hit their high and were hot.   Many opinions claim the survivors should bring more money than a restored car.  I say they are apples and oranges just like a restored car often next to another restored car, that analogy is a green apple compared to a red apple. Don’t use one to determine value on another. Silly.  It is like comparing the value of a house on a lake or river to a house not on a lake or river. 

Restorations have been my thing so that is what I can write about with confidence.  I have owned some ultra low mile survivor cars, i.e 900 mile and 1,200 mile cars. Cool but tough to drive, and not really a project. Tough to see a transformation and get a sense of pride and accomplishment.  When I started restoring cars the quality was far less than the extent and quality I do now. It was a natural path vs.  going the other direction,  from high quality to lower quality. It is important to remember while cars are in fact are only original once, and seeing that originality is cool, if your plan is to drive your car, even occasionally, having reliability, including being able to start and stop is important.  

The basics of a restored car are the new or rebuilt mechanical systems.  Along with their components are far superior than a worn out, or car with wear ,and or has leaking components. Moreover, when the parts and components that make up a vehicle’s systems sit idle, they deteriorate from nonuse. This concept alone is why a survivor car is the orange and a restored car with new or rebuilt systems is the apple. Two very difference things.  What your preference is is irrelevant, but again it is not logical to use one to establish value for another. 

Another statement I hear is “buying a car done is cheaper than building one”. This always makes me chuckle.  (see blog article on this)  I rarely hear a guy 2-3 months or years after he claimed a big ‘score” on a car that the score was a real value. A recent story was a “score” at a live TV auction of a “restored” ’70 Dodge Challenger Big-Block car for $38k. While walking around this car I noticed house wiring on the car, yes 12 gauge house wiring and wiring cap nuts used for connectors. This is unsafe to the owner and those of us around that car.  The car clearly had been restored fast and built to flip. If this is what can be seen on the surface, what might be lurking underneath and in hidden areas? Not a good value. Hence building a car vs. buying a car, the vast majority of the time is the better choice.

Do you really think sellers are loosing their ass and selling a well restored car all that often? The answer is hell no. Buying a restored car done right or building the car yourself is the best deal going.  You know what you have and you can truly be proud of your car. Picking up an unfinished project or basket case can be a great value. Look out for any work already done so you don’t run into re-work. When it comes to valuation be sure to keep things in perspective. (See blog” but I can buy it cheaper for costs) 

Not unlike a Restomod, or a Ratrod, or a customized Jeep, maybe a late model car is your thing, there is no right or wrong preference to a car and all good car guys never judge, smirk or sneer at your ride.  Wheels and a motor, working or not are the basics of our hobby. The good people that make them go make them great!  -Jake 

Pieces and Parts

This article is part of the restoration series here at jakesgeneralstore.com.  Of the 13 or so restorations I have done on my own cars, sourcing used parts and reproduction parts is paramount to completing the restoration. 

Parts List: Making a parts list is a basic function of managing your restoration project before you start. This list is dynamic but provides something more than a SWAG, (silly wild-ass guess), as to what the parts line item in your restoration budget will be. 

Used Parts: If you have the space get a couple or parts cars. How do you find parts cars? Read the hunting article I have here on the site. Having a parts car, even a 4 door to build your 2 door and often times even a slightly different model can prove priceless in your build. The $3.79 trips to the hardware store for a bolt or fastener can add up but are also a huge drain on time. Walking out to your parts car and seeing how a part is fastened,  and fastened with what, is invaluable.  Combing swap meets can prove to be a good value especially for the guy who is cleaning out his garage after his build.  Look for that guy if you are buying.  If you are in or around Minnesota I was that guy selling parts at swap meets from 1999-2014. This is a great was to serve your fellow hobbyist and put a few bucks in your pocket to fund your build. Moreover an excellent way to get educated about your brand and hang out with your pals. 

 

Parts Hoards:  I have scored those hard to find parts off of online ads where a guy is selling one part, when I get to his house he actually has a garage full or parts or an old shed out back full of parts or even better a PARTS CAR. I end up buying all the stuff for the low price of one-time/one-money deal. 

Reproduction  Parts:  For years I would comb the auto-forums for Year One codes and ask for 15% off, free shipping etc. from the plethora of reproduction parts suppliers. They come and go like Paddock and others. I would shop Classic Industries and others for their prices and try and do bulk buys for an even bigger discount.  What I found to be the best value is getting your parts from the same small group of suppliers. I deal with a small  mom, pop & son reproduction parts house. They also happen to be the closest parts supplier to me so shipping is very cheap and timely. They know me by name and I can trust them with a credit card on file. They also know the car I am building. Often times they will catch duplicate orders and always take care of me on defective parts.   If you have to go with the big houses always create an account. This will help with returns and warranty issues.

The quality of the re-pop parts continues to plague our industry but since many of us are cheap “bustards” we continue to buy this crap and deal with the frustrations.  The quality is getting better and I have found manufacturers in Canada are turning out great parts. 

Car Clubs

Car clubs are invaluable, both online and locally to the car hobby.  I belong to many car clubs. It is the best $20 bucks per year, per club I spend. I get a newsletter and access to other members to network with.  The benefits are; social, sourcing parts and vendors, and education. 

When I bought my Model T the first thing I did was joined the Model T Club.  Within a week the local club president came to my house and went over my Model T with me. I learned a lot and to this day am very thankful.  I attended the monthly club meetings and clinics learning about and first hand, how to fix my car.

When I got my Crosley I joined the Crosley Club. A local group of guys who meet on the first Tuesday of each month in a club member’s garage. 2-10 people show up. 

The social aspect of belonging to a car club for me is the best part. I get to hang out with like minded car people and visit about cars.   I get to know their families and they get to know mine. We do social things together like Go-Kart racing, museum tours, Christmas parties, car cruises and at times travel.  Some of my longest friendships have started at a car club meeting or even responding to a parts-for-sale ad.  

Parts & Vendors:  Finding that hard-to find part or a guy who does good stainless repair is most often done by word of mouth. Attend those club pizza parties and get to know your fellow Kool-Car Guys. “Who did your motor work?” just ask around and you will hear who the good guys are and who the not-so good guys are. Club members also have parts from past restorations, or know of someone who might. Networking is the name of the game here. 

As primarily a Mopar guy here is a write-up I did for our newsletter on why I joined the club, a real life example;

The  Mopar club and its membership have truly benefited me for decades. The annual car show has provided me with incredible networking opportunities and a venue to swap parts and learn about Chrysler products. Most importantly, networking with other club members has provided me with knowledge and introductions to Mopar gurus who graciously helped me with my restorations. One is example is my recent AAR Cuda restoration. In discussing the project and the engine build with fellow club member, he suggested I talk to Mopar guru Jim  who I had not heard of, to help with my engine build. Needless to say Jim turned out to be an invaluable resource on two engine builds since, that are factory exact OE builds. Turns out Jim has had a few cars featured in magazines and while he is a retired snowbird, he does help out folks with their Mopar projects from time to time. I would have not met Jim if it were not for the club. Thanks again Dan.

 

Online clubs or car forums can also be a great source for networking and learning. Often times members of those forums will publish data, have hard to find parts and will just help out. Before you know it you will find yourself helping out a junior member and sharing your knowledge and skills with members of the group. 

Car clubs online and offline can be a great source for keeping your daily driver on the road as well. A good example and an experience I will share is when I had a long daily commute to work and drive a VW TDI. I joined Fred’s TDI Club.com and learned how to maintain and repair my own car saving myself thousands of dollars (literally) from having to take my car to the “stealerships” for repair and service work. I hosted a “GTG”- Get To-Gether in my hobby shop in the middle of winter and allowed club members to perform mods and maint. to their TDIs.     Find a club and join it! Or even better, start one. 

Auctions

The concept of collector car auctions has always baffled me.   I like them because they are a good snap shot on what the market is on a given item, sort of.   Buying hay or cattle or antiques at an auction, in person, is one thing, but buying something like a vehicle at an auction, site unseen no less, is just crazy.  It is a fad that has thankfully cooled for the prudent car collector. Note the term prudent I used there. Auctions are marketing events and while I love to see the wheels of commerce turn, as a buyer my preference is to spin my wheels a bit slower.

SpecificallyI  like auctions because they are pseudo public transactions where the data can be used as “comparables” to like-kind items. While they are in fact skewed with buying and selling fees, and hype, they can be used as a guide, a loose guide.  I don’t know if the buyer was there in person. Nor do I know how much they inspected the car, or if they even drove the car.   I rarely use online auction results, i.e. eGouge, in valuing a collector car because I believe buyers are holding back a bit on their offer as a means risk mitigation because they are in fact buying something site unseen,  at least I hope they are.

Every car has a story and that story is a huge factor when I buy or sell a car. The story must be shared and understood.   I have to ask when buying or selling a car at an auction, or even worse at an online auction, how much of that story is able to be told and conveyed from seller to buyer? The auction house acts as a facilitator between buyers and sellers. There is immediately an insulator inserted between the buyer and seller. This is going to restrict the conveyance of the story. That is a problem for me.

Auctions are a game you need to understand before you play.  I have bought and sold cars at auctions and because of my experiences, and the reasons shared above, I avoid them. Good entertainment and eye candy yes. Auctions are also also a great place for socializing and networking. However, I have seen first hand cars “short-saled” or “quick-hammered” to an auction house’s good buying customer. Often times the bids being announced are fishing bids by the auctioneer.  There is not any real money behind the bids even though the bids appear to advanced in steps. This is just one example of the smoke and mirrors that take place.  Know your auctioneer and watch the room. Again much too fast and loose of a game for me to play in. No thank you.

Collector car appraisers use auction results in valuing a car. Insurance companies use auction results in determining a car’s value for loss purposes.   This is really the only sales data out there. I use a combination and try not to use auction results. If I do, I create a separate “auction value”.  If you ever see a seller using “Appraised Value”, know that the only hard core data available to the appraiser was auction results. Again, auction sales are very different than NON-auction sales. Moreover, online auctions and very different than in-person auctions.   I will be glad when the auction hype is over.

Word of mouth transactions can often be like the big fish stories, a bit embellished. Good sources I will trust. Use your gut.   -Jake

 

Flippers and “Flippees”

The car hobby is expensive so we don’t need any help driving up the costs any higher.  What defines expensive is different for everyone. The buy/sell is the point of this article.  If you are going to flip a car do something to add value vs. flip the darn thing.  Do some research and at least clean the thing up. You can shoot for the moon on a price but the guy who has restored even one car knows what it will take, so be realistic.  Before you buy it, think about giving the info to someone you know that has been looking for that particular car.  No need to drive up the price of the hobby.  I find that when restorers sell a project car it is priced fairly because they know what it will take to build the car.

Unethical and unscrupulous people create mistrust.  I despise them.  Pay a fair price and always make sure you tell an unsuspecting seller what they have. Steeling the Hemi GTX from the little old lady is wrong and most certainly not something to brag about.  Everyone wants to be a flipper but very few will want to be the “flippee”.  Buying a car filled with short cuts like house wiring and countless plumbing junctions after junctions is bad quality and is unsafe.  People can die. While everyone including myself likes to make a buck, creating an unsafe vehicle that goes down the road is wrong. 

Reality TV shows are good entertainment but some programs  have created unsafe and ironically unrealistic picture of the car hobby.  Finding, building driving is what the car hobby is all about. Flipping unsafe low quality junk for big fast profit is not a hobby but instead is a business model, and a bad one for the hobby at that.  Don’t be that guy and please don’t be that unsuspecting consumer and buy an unsafe car in haste.  Talk to the owner and get the story. If you cant get the story on a car, say at an auction, please do not buy the car. Identify your seller as either a businessman or a hobbyist. A good hobbyist can and oftentimes will make a profit, which when done ethically, is grand for all parties. 

“I Still Cant Spell NFL”—How It All started At Age 15

“I still cant spell NFL” is a phrase I use often. I was a small small kid so football and sports weren’t my thing, and still aren’t.  Cars are my thing and have been my thing my entire life. Being raised on a farm mechanical work was part of the job. In addition one of my 5 older bothers was a car guy who brought me along as a 5 year old kid on his projects. Most of the projects were his daily work commuter cars and trucks and eventually dump trucks etc. When I bought my first ’68 Charger at the age of 15 out of that field for $300 bucks I was hooked. Dumping a little gas down the carb of a car that had sat in a field for years, airing up the tires that had sunk into the earth, pounding on the starter with a big pipe to get it to engage, and hearing the motor turn over is still one of the best memories of my life. The thrill of finding that car and getting it fired up for me is what the hobby is all about. 

As a young boy I quickly learned that to buy brake parts, antifreeze, and oil etc. takes money.  Our farm was a hobby farm and there was no fancy big shop. The shop was often tools stored in the trunks of old parked cars and in later years a pole barn with a dirt floor, no lights and one workbench made for a crude but effective workplace. We got the job done and the machinery back into the field. There was no free oil, gas or antifreeze to grab out of a barrel or cabinet. My Charger sat for months while I worked as a janitor for the school district, bailed hay or sold my feeder pigs off if the fall for some cash. I did get $3 bucks an hour from my dad for doing farm work which helped a lot. Later I got a job at $8 bucks an hour working on my brother’s paving crew. Every dollar and dime I had went into my ’68 Charger and it was still a bondo-buggy with green indoor outdoor carpeting, GTO seats and some Plexiglas for a couple of the side windows. However, the 383 ran great and the car stopped well. Cracked tires on the front and big Styleline 60’s on the back,  MY Charger looked great to me. I stored it in an old lean too on the farm under the section with the good roof.  The floor was dirt until I laid down an old billboard sign. to park on.   I found a parts car about 8 miles from home and with  some good tires, meaning the held air for over an hour, I flat-towed the car home with my buddy Chuck. There was no car trailers on our farm, only hay wagons.  The tow vehicle was the 2WD old Ford farm truck that rarely went over 40MPH and left the property about twice a year.  The parts car had a good set of Charger seats so the GTO seats got pitched. I was so eager to get the car out of the highway and drive in my Charger  in a real Charger seat that I just set the seat into the car and put a big chunk of wood behind the seat so it would not tip back.  No time to put the passenger seat in so my pal just sat in the back seat on the passenger side.  I hit the key  and headed out for the highway. We were off driving down the road.  No license plates, no insurance but a running driving Dodge Charger just like on last Friday’s new episode of the Dukes of Hazzard.  We made it out to the county highway (asphalt), a big deal when you live on miles of dirt road.  The dust from the dirt road had filled the car even with the windows down so the windshield was tough to see out of.  I hit the gas pedal and away we went!  At 70MPH the car settled down into 3rd gear of the 727 and kept on climbing fast. The car stopped the typical Chrysler steering wandering and kept true. Our eyes were wide as saucers and at 138MPH the tail end of the car started to swoop so I let off the throttle and slowly brought us down.  Nothing started on fire so we determined the first true flight was a success. Not knowing our true supply of gas, or how long the two leaking tires would keep the rim off of the ground we headed for home.  What a thrill. 

 

age 16 Charger