How long does it take to restore a classic car?

Answer: How long do you have? A full, complete restoration can take several years – often times the culprit is lack of availability of period-correct parts (or having to rebuild an un-replaceable part), and most certainly it is dependent upon the current state of the vehicle to be restored. On the other hand, a simpler “Resto-Mod” project can be finished in a few months to a year, depending on the level of craftsmanship you wish to go into the body-work and paint; conversely, a more complex “Resto-Mod” project could also take several years. (See “What are the various levels of restoration for classic cars?”)

Is there a difference in “Restoration” versus “Refurbishment/Refreshment” versus “Resto-Mod”?

Answer: Technically, yes. The term “Restoration” actually refers to returning the vehicle to original condition (it does not mean to better-than-new condition or to modern standards). A true “Restoration” will be using original (cleaned or reconditioned) parts, or new parts that have been manufactured to exactly replicate the original (OEM parts, or Original Equipment Manufacturer parts). In a restoration, body fitment actually may not be perfect, as the original fitment was often less than perfect. In contrast, a “Refurbishment” could mean a simple cleaning and possible reconditioning of an original part, or replacing the part with a new one (that may not be OEM, if customer does not care about keeping it original). A “Resto-Mod”, or restoration with modification, means refurbishing the vehicle, but the customer wants changes or upgrades from the original form.

What if I want to do some of the work myself…is that an option?

Answer: Absolutely! Many classic car owners want the satisfaction of performing some or all of the restoration themselves, but lack the space, tools or expertise to do so. Some customers will have started the project, then bring it to us to complete the tasks that they could not, or vice versa (having us bring the vehicle to a certain stage for the customer to then take over). Customers may also arrange to retrieve their vehicle to perform the tasks that they can do themselves, and then return the vehicle to our shop for completion of the contracted work. We have even (on rare occasion) allowed customers to come into our shop and work on their vehicle while it is still on our premises – but for liability reasons we no longer allow this option.

What are the various levels of restoration for classic cars?

Answer: There are as many levels of restoration for a classic car as there are individual tastes! But to simplify, classic car restorations can generally be described as follows:

"Concours" or "Class A" – For restorations of this type, each and every piece of the vehicle (down to the nuts and bolts, and even the manufacturer’s stickers on the engine!) must be period correct, and exactly as it was when the vehicle originally left the manufacturer for the first time. Colors – interior and exterior, as well as engine and engine compartment – must all match the original paint codes for that VIN; even the overspray must be exactly as it was when painted in the factory. All parts must be original, re-conditioned, or exact replicas if the original parts can no longer be found.

“Show Quality” – The distinction that we are discussing here has mainly to do with the quality of the body-work and the paint job. Almost any classic vehicle can be entered into a car show – in any condition – but the winners of any particular category (other than “All Original”) will most likely be those with the best paint. To us, “Show Quality” paint jobs mean the highest quality paint (base coat, but most especially the clear coat), but the difference really is in the time taken with the body-work. It is what happens before the paint goes on that makes the real difference for the longest period of time. Expensive paint on a poor body job means initial dazzle (possibly) but early disappointment (definitely); it is also very time-consuming and expensive to make right. Cheap paint on an excellent body job may or may not give a great first impression, and will still eventually yield to disappointment, but is easily fixable (with a higher quality paint!). High quality paint over an impeccably detailed body job is the only way to go when striving for “Show Quality.”

“Daily Driver” or “Driver Quality” – Customers going for this distinction want their cars to look good going down the road (and at home in the garage, or in their buddy’s driveway), but are not interested in spending the extra time and money that it would take for the kind of paint job that would stand up to a “white glove” type of scrutiny, such as would be done in certain types of car show judging. “Driver Quality” paint jobs are for those vehicles that will be driven regularly or on occasion – and not just taken out of the environmentally-controlled garage only when being towed to a car show! Quality paints and clears would still be used, and a significant amount of time will still be taken with the body-work, so that only the most minute of imperfections would be noted upon close scrutiny. Because of the excellent body-work done, this paint job will still look good for many, many years to come.

“Resto-Mod” – Vehicles in this very broad category have a classic car chassis, but some (a few or a majority) of the components have been modified in some way. Examples include a ’53 Chevy with a big-block or LS conversion, or a ’71 Maverick with a modern suspension. Customers are not tied to using only original or exact-reproduction parts, making availability of parts quicker and cheaper. For this category, any amount of mixing of year/make/model/engine/colors is acceptable, and only the imagination – and the budget – are the limiting factors.

“Partial” or “Partial Restoration” – This is the most common type of project that we see. In this case, the customer wants certain aspects of their classic automobile addressed, while leaving other portions “as is” - this may also be referred to as an “Appearance” restoration, where the exteriors (and often the interiors as well ) are updated, but other components are left as is (such as the mechanicals, suspension, glass, etc.). This gives the appearance of a full restoration, without the greater investment of time and money. A partial restoration also refers to the situations where the customer brings us a vehicle that either they have already completed some of the work on and need us to perform certain tasks or to finish; or they will furnish a vehicle that they want us to bring to a certain point for them to then take-over. Customers may then continue the other aspects of the restoration at a later date.

“Refresh” – This refers to simply fixing up only those items that really require it, such as a new paint job and/or new seat-covers, and repairing or replacing any mechanicals that are absolutely necessary. But significant repairs are not made to the body, and the chassis is not removed from the frame, before painting. This type of project is for the customer that wants to use their vehicle regularly and just wants it to look good and ride comfortably and safely while doing so.

“All One Color” - We don’t do typically these, because this refers to simply slapping paint over a body that has not been adequately prepped or repaired. All manner of physical imperfections will show up…go to Earl Shive for this one. We only mention it because very often customers ask for this – and want a price quote for this level – but in reality they are wanting/expecting something of a much higher quality.

How much should I expect to pay?

Answer: Refer to all of the above Q&A’s! When it comes to restoring classic cars, money is spent in three places:
1) Parts – availability, quality and function are the important variables here;
2) Labor – time is money, and the more “challenges” that a vehicle has, the more time it takes to overcome them;
3) Paint – Some money could be saved with lower cost base (color) coats, but that makes it especially important to use a high quality clear coat.
“Clears” may actually cost more than “Bases.” It is imperative that customers have a very open, frank discussion about how much money they are willing – and able – to come out-of-pocket for their restoration project. In this way, we can help steer them towards the type of restoration that best suits their needs.

What are the payment options and timeframes?

Answer: Typically, we will require a down-payment as we receive your vehicle and begin any work. At or before the time that we receive the vehicle and/or down-payment, the customer is presented with a written contract/estimate that will more clearly define any exact amounts to be paid, and at what time. Because we cannot know exactly what any car is going to need until we have already “opened it up”, even the contract will not represent the exact amount that will be owed upon completion of the project. However, it will state a minimum price or price range of expenses, and our promise to the customer is to give them the “veto or proceed” option at any time an unforeseen problem - or expense that exceeds 10% of original projection – arises. Expect to pay approximately 10-40% of projected total cost as down-payment, and the balance will be due in one of the following ways: either the balance will be due in full upon completion for a short-range (less than 2 months) project; expect to pay a stated number of lump sum installments for medium-range (3-14 months) projects; or for long-range projects, the remaining balance of 60-90% is paid in monthly installments for the approximate length of time that the project is expected to cover, with the majority of overages (if any) due upon completion of the project. Along with the specified monthly installments, additional monies may be requested if parts purchased were not part of the original estimate, or the customer has made revisions/upgrades after the contract has begun - and accrued significant extra costs that were not initially factored into the payment plan. Customers may pay by cash, check or credit card (we accept all major cards); a slight discount is given for cash/check payments.

What if I don’t feel comfortable about the process (or the money)?

Answer: Our advice is…. Then don’t do it! You will be investing a significant amount of money in what is – for most folks – a very sentimental, personal project. You need to feel comfortable about doing so. Because we are exceptionally proud of our workmanship, and we believe in what we do, we are very up-front and honest about the quality of our work, our ethics, and our costs. And we know that if you don’t feel good at the beginning of the project, then you probably won’t be satisfied at the end of it, either. So, we take the time to sit down with you at the beginning and discuss every aspect of your project, including ways to conserve costs where possible at the various stages. If we do not feel that we are the right restoration company for you, we will respectfully decline your project and may refer you to others in the area. If it is mutually agreeable to continue (we must feel good about you, too!), then you should also know that you always have access to your vehicle: If we are in the Shop, then you are always welcome to stop in and see your “Baby” and say “hi – how’s it going?” at any time. However, if you are going to want to ask questions or have a lengthy chat in person about the progress of your project, then we do ask that you make an appointment.

What is going to happen to my car, and where will it be?

Answer: Your car will remain on premises at all times, unless you have cleared for it to go somewhere else. It will be secured and stored inside when the shop is closed, and nobody will drive your vehicle unless necessary for a test drive for mechanical reasons. You can first expect for your car to be disassembled and evaluated, in order to come up with a repair/restore plan. We will then contact you with the specifics of what your vehicle needs, or to discuss with you any unexpected finds. From that point forward, your vehicle will remain in our shop, being moved from work station to work station as the restoration/repair progresses. It will seem like a slow process, as research must be done, parts ordered (and waited upon for arrival), but then suddenly one day, your car will go from a heap of metal to a classic beauty in what seems like overnight!

Didn’t find your question?

Answer: Email us your question (find our information on the “Contact Us” page), and we will respond with an answer, a link, or a suggestion of whom else to contact if we cannot answer your question adequately. We will also publish the question and answer on “Troy’s Talk” page, if we think that it may benefit others.