The Psychology of Classic Car Restoration: Part I

Calling for Help

This month we’re going to begin a two part series on the psychology of classic car restoration: what it really takes to finally complete your dream project and some of the pitfalls that you’ll likely encounter along the way.

This assumes that you’re passionate about the particular vehicle you’ve got your eye on, because let’s face it, just like that lovely lady you’ve long since become accustomed to calling your wife, you’re gonna’ be together for quite awhile. That said, following are a few key considerations you may want to mull over before you pop the question, so to speak.

1.) The Vehicle Registration

When you finally happen upon that vintage vehicle that sets your loins aflame as it were, first thing’s first: check in with the owner on the registration, check the tags and find out exactly how long it’s been out of the system (otherwise known as the Department of Motor Vehicles). Classic car restoration can be quite time consuming and costly, the last thing you want is to get stuck with unpaid registration and parking tickets by the DMV. The ideal situation would obviously be that the car has been registered under a “Non-Op”, or Non-Operational status as this indicates that the owner has taken responsibility for the ownership and the fees will be much lower. This may not always be the case, but a little optimism never hurt anyone, right? If the car is not registered and has been out of the system for more than seven years, you’re in luck: this will mean that it’s considered to have no registration at all, which will make the vehicle that much the easier to claim and start anew with, kinda’ like your second wife after her first divorce.

2.) The Vehicle is Complete

If the vehicle is missing a large number of original components i.e. chrome, interior parts and the like, you’ll find that chasing down these parts will be quite costly both in term of time and money, causing your project to get bogged down at best and at worst, abandoned altogether, which is obviously not what you want to have happen. If this is the case, you may well want to reconsider and look elsewhere. If the car has a lot of aftermarket stuff slapped on, figure out if you want to keep it or budget in the additional cost and time required to replace with stock parts. Again, however, you’ll want this to be aligned with your original vision of the completed restoration and if you’re not feeling good about it, we suggest that you take a pass and move on to the next one. There are plenty of fish in the sea as they say and it may well be that you find something better down the road. If the car is completely taken apart (we call these “basket cases”) take your time to list all the parts and rebuild on paper before you begin negotiations on price. These projects can be a diamond in the rough because you can usually haggle for a lower price, however you can also get burned if you discover that key parts are either missing or incompatible.

3.) How Much Rust Are We Looking At?

There’s a big difference in minor blemishes and full blown cancer so to speak and if you’re viewing the vehicle for the first time, take out your keys and poke around in the rusted areas. If you find your key happens to poke through some of the rust, know that you will most likely be required to replace the rocker panel and quarter panel and depending on your skill level what at first appeared to be minor fixes will likely become costly repairs. If the rust is only on the surface you can still save the body sections. With a little Naval Jelly that rust will disappear, but if it’s rusted underneath, forget about it.

4. Is it a Roller?!

Just prior to taking the plunge and making a purchase, please make sure that the vehicle has all four tires and if it doesn’t run that at the very least it’s easily accessible to a trailer or tow truck. I once purchased a vintage Volkswagen bus from a guy who lived on a steep incline and the bus was wedged in the far end of the yard and had sunken down from years of rain and mud which had completely engulfed the tires. Although I got a great deal on the bus it took me several days to dig the tires out enough to hook up a tow cable and drag it from the mire. Looking back I can see why the price was such a sweet deal.

Parting Thoughts on The Psychology of Classic Car Restoration

And there you have it: four key considerations you want to take into account before purchasing that vintage vehicle you’ve had your eye on. With all hope you’ve performed the above tests on your prospective partner and she’s passed the test with flying colors. All that’s left is to sign on the dotted line fly off into the sunset together. But as anyone who’s been married knows, this only the beginning and there’s a lot more to learn as you make your way down the road together, so stay tuned for next month’s post, wherein we’ll take a look at what happens once you’ve brought your baby home and the real work begins.