"About Restoration", page 2
What should a restoration cost?
Well first let's deal with some quaint notions about this.
Quaint notion #1: Gee, I'm tinkin' of buyin' dis car for (X amount of money), havin' yooz restore it for
me, and den I'm gonna sell it for (Y amount of money) and make a profit!" Rather than address the
foolishness of this belief for its merits, I will dispense with it in this way: If it were possible for someone to
buy a car, have me restore it in such a way that I make a profit, and then sell the car for an additional
profit, then I'm going to buy this car, I'm going to restore it at my cost and I'm going to sell it and I'm
going to make that profit! In fact, if this were routinely possible, I would never deal with another
I know of a restorer, who has two retired militaries driving all around the country, buying old cars they
see on back roads and in small towns, never paying more than $500, then shipping them back to him.
He then does quickie "restos" on them, and bangs them out to auctions. Under a different name, he
sometimes makes a profit. He still deals extensively with customers! I think he does the spec stiff mostly
to keep his large crew of minimum wage workers busy during slack periods. During the 80's, when Wall
Street yuppies were buying "E" Type Jaguars for $70,000, restorers were doing ground up restoration
from rusted frames found in junk yards and making huge profits! For those of you who have been asleep
forthe last decade, that market crashed and now I could make a career out of re-restoring the junk that
was pumped out during that era!
Quaint notion #2: My car is worth $12,000 restored, (according to 'Old Cars Price Guide') so it
shouldn't cost more than $12,000 to restore it! The market value of classic, antique, vintage, or custom
cars is affected by a lot of factors. Supply & demand, unusualness of design, original quality of
manufacture, endorsement by some recognized agency (such as AACA) the phases of the moon, etc.
Almost anything but the real cost of repairing it.
What should a restoration or a repair cost? Let's start with a stumble through a history lesson. IN
1971, a Lincoln Continental Mark IV, cost Ford $960 in parts and labor to manufacture. Teh car was
sold retail for $12,000: $2,000 was the factory's profit, $2,000 was for administrative overhead, $2,000
was for advertising and $1,000 was for product liability insurance. Amusingly (or ironically) the actual
cost of manufacture was the lease expensive item. This car was on an assembly line for approximately 7
hours and over 60 people (and in those days, only 3 robots) worked on it. Assuming that during that 7
hour period, the vehicle was being physicaally worked on only half of that time, simple multiplication says
that it took 210 man hours to assemble that car. The parts for this car are manufactured or purchased
by Ford by the 10,000 if not 100,000! Ever heard of a volume discount?
Now lets jump 25 years into the future. I picked this number, because a lot of people suffer from the
mistaken notion that a car automatically becomes a "valuable" antinque at 25 years. Sorry about that!
Stick with me long enough and I'll attack every notion you have ever acquired! A Continental Mark VII
now sells for $42,000 retail. At least a decade of hyperinflation (in this country, 7-8%) has helped to
expand that $960 to over $4,000! You want me to take your 1971 and restore it, so let's examine the
physics of that. I don't have an assembly line, no restorer does. If you find one who does, please let me
know so I can close up shop, there will be no way to compete with him! No, we have to do it the old
fashioned way, by hand with small teams, like Rolls Royce used to. First, we have to disassemble the
vehicle, something Ford didn't have to do. Would you like me to use an air wrench to speed it up?
Oops, I just broke a stud off because the nut was rusted to it! Looks like I am going to have to spend
an hour drilling and tappign it! Hmm, I guess I better move slower and try and do less damage! If only
I could be like a collision guy and just zip, zip, zip it right apart!
So let's say this car is a good restoration candidate. So I only have to replace or repair for arguments
sake 35% of the components. Guess what, I'm just like you, I have to buy almost every one of these
parts retail. I'm not buying 10,000 at a pop, so we can forget the discount! The suppliers of antique car
parts consists of junk yards, individual or small company rebuilders and a number of small companies
that actually have in some quantity reproduction parts manufactured for them, usually in countries like
Taiwan. All of these entities will deal directly with a customer as well as a professional restorer. Only
some of the small companies offer discounts for a certain minimum annual volume. I, like a fool,
generally pass that discount on to you. I suffer from the old-fashioned notion that in return for your
business, I should reward you by allowing you access to my discounts. In fact, my real intention is, to
discourage you from bringing in your own parts and expecting me to warranty them!
Let's get down to some actual numbers. Assuming you hae a good restoratino candidate, and I
apologize for one more digression. I know you ar on the edge of your seat waiting for the numbers. A
good restoration candidate would be a vehicle driven regularly for 5 years for about 50,000 miles. Then,
stored in a well sealed garage for 20 years, being driven downtown say once a month. A vehicle driven
100,000 miles and stored outside for ten years but well maintained, would be somewhat less than a good
candidate, but not necessarily a poor one. A vehicle with only 5,000 miles on it, but stored for 20 years
under a pine tree, would not be a candidate at all, (I've seen 'em!) A vehicle with 100,000 miles on it
and stored outside for ten years with a car cover on it will most likely be a poor candidate. Oops, I
think I just stepped on another notion! I hope these are enought examples for you to see a trend.
A good restoration candidate is generally a very well kept vehicle, properly exercised and stored, very
much better than average. Of the 95% of vehicles coming through my shop from the local area for what
I described as simple repairs, not a single one was what I would consider a "good" restoartion
candidate. That is why they were merely repaired. Most of the professional restorers in this country are
located in either Florida or California. Why? Two reasons primarily, (1) the people in those places have
much more disposable income than you and I, but particularly (2) the climate in those regions allows for
very good restoration candidates.
But back to numbers. We are finding that the average good restoration candidate takes 350 man hours
to completly restore. That's pretty good relative to the 210 mh Lincoln assembly sepecially considering
there is disassembly time in that 350 figure. My general restoration rate is $30 per hour, $45 for the
mechanical phase of it. The average for a typical restoration works out to $37 or so. Tha is probably
near the lowest of any restoration shop anywhere in this country. I have heard that there is a guy in
central Norht Carolina who charges $25 per hour. I also heard he hasn't been to a dentist in 20 years!
Doing some simple math, the labor cost appears to be in the neighborhood of $12,950.