Hot Rodding 101 - What to expect when repairing, restoring or building a classic car
Published on 10/22/2022
So you want to have a classic car restored - or maybe repaired/upgraded, or maybe a complete custom build from the ground up. We do all of those things on a regular basis and we've seen it all. There is a common misconception from many consumers that these cars are simple to work on and that the work done should be easy and inexpensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the technology of the day was MUCH simpler than the modern vehicles of today - less electronics, no computers, simple mechanical systems - but dealing with these 50+ year old cars consistently proves challenging for many reasons. Make no mistake, working on these cars and trucks is a specialty and not for the faint of heart.
The age of these cars alone cause special, time-consuming challenges due to rust, frozen or broken hardware and lack of information (like wiring or vacuum hose diagrams).
In addition to these, there are other challenges:
- Technicians that know how to work on old cars - the pool of talent is minimal in 2022 for technicians that either know how to work on and deal with classic cars - or young techs getting into the industry. Most new techs go to regular auto shops or dealerships. Finding techs that are experienced, have tools, and are creative problem solvers is difficult and expensive. These guys command a larger paycheck than most might think!
- Parts availability and quality - Parts for these cars have always been a problem. There are many classic car and hot rod parts vendors, we have our Rolodex of good contacts as well, but over the last few years quality and availability has been a major problem across the industry. Some of this is Covid, some is the Suez Canal, whatever the reason. It's a major problem to quickly source good quality parts these days. Many times we are stuck repairing brand new parts right out of the box and many times we have to customize or modify parts that say they fit, because they don't.
- Previous repairs - About 95% of all classic vehicles we work on have been worked on before and many completely rebuilt. The quality of those previous repairs is questionable in a lot of cases. Incorrect parts may have been used, engines and transmissions have been swapped, nothing is as it should be unless the vehicle is a prize winning numbers matching collector car with a pedigree.
Suffice to say, every job is like a puzzle. Even the ones we seem to work on all the time (Mustangs, Camaros and Chevelles being the most common) seem to be unique. Citing the reasons noted above and in addition, many of these cars have be repaired, re-repaired, partially restored or in some cases completely taken apart and put back together by someone before we ever see them. Things have been modified, changed, adapted, force-fit and damaged.
All of these challenges equate to time - time lost, extra time not expected to complete work, time to wait for parts, time that the shop is paying its expensive technicians. When you receive an estimate from a typical classic car specialist or restoration shop, most will tell you they don't know exactly how much something will cost. This is reasonable - an estimate can be provided, but don't even expect a quote or a firm fixed price for any work on an antique or classic vehicle. Many specialty shops that do this work only work on an actual time and materials basis. No formal estimates will be given and you will be kept in the loop on the cost of labor and parts and the job progresses (with regular payments expected). Some niche shops that build the same vehicles over and over (classic Broncos for example) have packages that have fixed all inclusive pricing, or at least a base price plus options. They do the same work over and over again and have it down to a science so it's more predictable and they can be more efficient.
Some shops will charge labor for planning, design and research time up front - before even offering any sort of price estimate. This helps determine feasibility, narrow the scope and generally helps prevent additional time and costs. Think of it like an architect charging you for a design plan before you even get a bid from a contractor to build an addition on your home.
In a nutshell, classic car building, upgrading and restoration is expensive - more than most people think. The jobs typically grow over time and project creep for various reasons is normal. If you are going to take the plunge, just be aware of what you're getting into, don't expect a tight timeline, expect unplanned problems along the way and expect costs to grow. It's not for the faint of heart (or wallet) but the results are most often very much worth the effort.
PRO-SPEED builds, services, upgrades and restores the hot rods and classic cars of your dreams.
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