By on February 11, 2012

The easy answer to this question is everyone one of them- from the tranny guy, to the engine rebuild guy, to the auto body technician and all the other restoration people along the path to a completed project. But which one of these trades will figure most prominently into the final equation for you?

The question is wrapped around a restoration project concept, so the tasks are centered on the ability of the professional tradesmen to bring the showroom magic back to a tired old vehicle. The degree of difficulty is complicated by the ravages of time, hard miles and rust in every restoration.

The mechanical challenges to the project include availability of parts that will fit and technicians that can work on older vehicles.  Old iron requires old school guys that can work on old school engines and transmissions that are not a simple computer diagnosis away from smooth operation, and both require old school parts for ultimate success.

The task is not easy for shops that handle older vehicles, but most of the good ones love the challenge of the hunt for parts and successful repair of the vintage rides. The sound of a smooth power-train, right from the smooth idle to the smooth shift of the automatic or manual transmission is the sweetest music ever played for the guys that can work under the hood of an old ride.

They also like brakes that brake and steering systems that steer like the first mile on the road for the vehicle. They are cognizant of the limitations of these systems from the past, but they are anxious to get them back to their best days on the road.

The mechanical tradesmen are invaluable to every project because the vehicles simply will not get restored without their automotive services, however the one trade that will get most of the attention is the auto-body technician whenever the resurrected old set of wheels hits the road.

The worst part of every show is the static display where every vehicle will get subjected to extremely close scrutiny by a highly critical crowd of onlookers. They will leave no stone unturned as they hover over every flaw in the paint and body work and they will be merciless in their critiques.

The mechanical work is largely invisible to the viewing public, unless they notice any leaks under the vehicle, but the body work is naked and vulnerable to very close gawking and heavy criticism, usually from tactless people who have never actually owned, invested (or actually been involved) in a restoration project.

As stated in the opening sentence, a car restoration is a process that involves numerous talented tradesmen to complete the project but the tradesmen that will take the most heat for their work are the auto body guys. A badly rotted sub-frame is only part of the body guy’s challenges, because his metal work will become a lightning rod for every yokel with an opinion at every car show.

Their line of work never escapes the spotlight and, for this reason, the auto body guy will figure very prominently into the final equation of every completed restoration project at a car show. His work is right in front of everybody, so the auto body technician will be a very important part of every successful restoration. In fact, the body guy is the most important guy in the restoration food chain.

Just ask the self-appointed experts at any show.

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20 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: Who Is The Most Valuable Player On Your Vintage Restoration Team?...”

  • avatar

    In my opinion it is body work that makes or breaks a restoration. It’s possible to reproduce or simulate almost anything but the body shows any defect or coverup.
    Restoring the body takes parts, time, skill and a proper environment. A paintbooth is only the start as the guns and machines used are a critical part. Anyone with a decent tool set can rebuild an engine, replace parts, etc, but painting is a skill that is learned through experience.

    Working body panels is an art unto itself. Leading panels was always the best method of replacement until Bondo came along. Welding and fastening new parts takes a bit of knowhow.

    I look at the body of any project before making a decision, it’s where most of the money goes.

  • avatar

    The guy who can make the “numbers match”. Resulting in a end result many more time profitable than a restoration with numbers that don’t.

  • avatar

    For anyone who doesn’t believe it’s the body men, read the comments in the auction reporting in Hemmings Motor News.

    • 0 avatar

      The auction commentary in Hemmings is priceless. It is one of the only car-based humor things (some of the descriptions are not meant to be funny, but have such a sharp and acerbic wit to them that they are funny) that will get a laugh out of my wife.

  • avatar

    I’d also go with it’s the body work. I have an auto body shop in my family and my father-in-law (the owner) is done with car restoration. His general opinion after working 40 years in the business is that he made the least amount of money on doing other people’s restoration as he would spend a lot more time searching for parts and in doing the job right, not to mention that owners generally didn’t want to pay for his time.

    Towards the end of doing restoration work, when someone would stop by about an old car, he started to throw out a high number to determine if they were serious or not? His shop is now pretty much down insurance work. However he does have his own restoration projects. He knows how to do it right and it’s his time and shop.

  • avatar

    Yea it’s the body work that attracts the most attention and probably money. For myself I really like a nice interior, maybe because I do such a lousy job of it.

  • avatar

    The correct answer is “None of the above.” The most important member of a classic car restoration team is the long- suffering spouse who will put up with thousands of dollars of a family’s disposable income being thrown into a hole for years on end without divorcing you and forcing you to sell your half completed dream ride as part of the settlement.

  • avatar

    I’ve restored a couple of cars, many years ago. I’ve done it all. The body work is by far the most difficult to get right.

    BTW, old cars that have been professionally restored are actually superior to said cars when they were new. If you’re old enough to remember, you know all about the monster panel gaps, wavy sheet metal and drippy paint that was coming out of a lot of factories. The good old days weren’t all that good.

  • avatar

    Bodywork is absolutely the killer.

    But I will say, as the serial (and parallel) owner of a large number of old crocks, never, ever, ever, let a pro mechanic younger than your car work on it. They will screw it up every time. This goes triple for windshield replacement monkeys.

  • avatar

    The devil is in the details. I’ve seen beautiful paint jobs only to see bad masking around various gaskets and such – too lazy to remove them. To do it properly, all glass needs to be removed as well as all trim including door handles. I know – I’ve been there and my project never got completed; too young and not enough experience and especially money.

    Good body work – no ripples when viewed sown the sides.
    Good interior work.

    The main thing to remember: Whatever you do, the finished product has to look as if it was designed and built that way.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen classic cars at runs and shows and cannot imagine criticizing someone’s “baby”. That would take some guts. The closest I came was asking one guy if the taillights were original (they weren’t). I’m always impressed by well-done interior restorations because the parts are harder to find.

  • avatar

    I certainly join the others in singing the praises of good body & paint work. A complete restoration can be tragically undervalued by poor work. I’ve never done the total restore thing, though I greatly admire them. My cars have all been drivers that have decent appearance, with rehabbed interiors, and solid mechanicals. Most of my cars have been pedestrian Studes, that only have great value to me personally. I just can’t afford to take on a really valuable project that I might not be able to complete. Someday, I might try a GT Hawk, but that would take some serious financial planning.

  • avatar

    Or instead of worrying about every little flaw you can do it the way I’m doing it: teach yourself as you go. It may not end up being a show winner or score at an auction, but it’s much more satisfying. Besides, now I know every single nut and bolt on that damn car.

  • avatar

    All of it is insufferable. I no longer go to car shows because of the owners and spectators.

  • avatar

    I can do a passable job on everything except the upholstery. I think the interior guy is the most important.

  • avatar

    Word of wisdom I got years ago from an old-school high-end car trader while shopping ’70s Ferraris: Buy the car with the best cosmetics, he said, because the mechanicals are a lot easier (and cheaper) to make right. I think that applies to a lot of collector cars beyond 308s and Boxers.

  • avatar

    I’d vote body work as the most difficult, expensive and consequently most frequently bodged part of a restoration. Most mechanical work can be handled with patience, basic tools and a good local machine shop. Upholstery could go either way depending on the vehicle and its interior condition.

  • avatar

    I guess it all depends on what you mean by restoration and what your purpose is in restoring the car. Personally, I have two classics, and I want them to be the most mechanically sound transportation they can be. In other words, I want to use them; not trailer them to shows for people to look at and judges to pick at. It is not worth me sinking more money into the paint job of a car than I spent on the original project and all of the parts that it took to get it running well again. The quality mechanic is the most important person to me.

    At the same time, I am not a restomod kind of guy. I appreciate the original designs and limitations of the 50’s and 60’s. I will keep a car as close to original as is feasible. In other words, you won’t find me scouring the country for a ’68 Mustang windshield washer fluid pump (I gave up on that after 10 websites). I won’t pay twice as much for a period correct radio as I would for one that works better. However, I’m also not going to convert from the originalmanual steering in my truck to a power steering unit. The manual works just fine thank you. Having typed in this comment, has brought me to a realization. I like classics, but I don’t like to spend anymore money thatn is absolutely necessary. To put it succinctly, when it comes to restorations, I guess that I’m cheap.

  • avatar

    Actually it is not the body work you could see that is challenging. The real challenge is rust repair. You really need a specialist for this sort of work. The best rust repair guys have specialized spraying tips for sealing the backsides of the replacement panels (simply ignored by a lot of body shops).

    In some sense though- the most important player is the ‘support community’, which includes parts suppliers, reproduction shops, and clubs and online forums. This larger ‘support community’ is what makes certain car eminently restorable (ie. aircooled VW’s and Mustangs of any year) and other cars impossible (rear engined Renaults or 1st generation Civics for example) to even try.

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