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Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required – Part 3

When I left off in Part 2, I had placed my 1963 Fixed Head Coupe (FHC), which was mainly in boxes, way down on my personal To Do list. This was not because I didn’t want to work on the car but more because I was totally covered up with work and family responsibilities. I suspect there are thousands of classic cars out there, patiently waiting (and decomposing) under car covers due to other owners with good intentions and poor execution. If that sounds like you, contact me and we can have a virtual cry on each other’s shoulder! I also got bitten badly by the “track bug”. I scratched this itch with the purchase of a Porsche 944, which although it was not in boxes, it did need a lot of work to make it reliable and safe for track events. But that is another story.

Fast forward to 2018, when I had my “first retirement”. My work in nuclear power was performed mainly as a consulting engineer and work had dried up. Therefore, I was retired! Great, time to get some projects around the home done. And do some “bucket list” things. The bucket list included a trip to France for the 24 Hours of Lemans with a side trip to the French Alps. Great trip but yet another story. I also gave my 1967 E-Type 2+2 a hard look. It had been restored 8 years earlier. I inspected as I would when judging a car for a JCNA Concours and found it would not score very well. Really just a bunch of small issues but work was required. So I started on a “refresh” of that car. Lo and behold, retirement did not last very long, as the phone rang and I said yes to another assignment. Fortunately this one was just 10 miles from my house so I still had a lot of time to work on the 2+2. I finished that effort up in the spring of 2020. Also, and fortunately, as Covid was just rearing it’s ugly head, I started my second retirement at the end of 2019. This one has stuck, so far, and it was all for the good, as I probably would not have been successful trying to work with Covid restrictions. So suddenly, the opportunity was there. It was time to get started on the 1963 FHC!

For frame of reference, I got started in June of 2020. This time I did something I have never done before, that being I started keeping a daily spreadsheet of the hours and dollars I spent on this project. So if I quote hours or money spent, I have some basis for my facts. I think most of us tend to minimize both, looking the in the rear view mirror. The actual numbers will probably be quite sobering but hopefully my figures will be instructive if you are contemplating taking on a project like this yourself or hiring someone to do so.

I think it is pretty well understood by steely eyed accountants and wives that restoring an old car is not a sound financial venture. One rarely is able to recoup the cost of restoration, unless the car is extremely rare. And by rare, I mean like less than 25 were made. Think along the lines of the road going Jaguar D-Type known as the XKSS, of which only 16 are known to have been built. I apologize in advance to all Yugo owners reading this article but if you are going to be “underwater” on a car project, you will much closer to the surface with an E-Type than, say, with a Yugo. Restoration costs tend to be the same no matter the provenance of the car. Actually, the E-Type is probably much easier to restore than a Yugo, as the aftermarket parts support is very good. Some of us, like me, just enjoy the restoration process. One may have an emotional attachment to a certain car, which makes the cost of restoration a secondary consideration. Having a car professionally restored by a shop, although not without its pitfalls, at least allows you to have some level of oversight on the work and it allows you to specify the car as you wish. So there can be valid reasons to restore a car but again, I want to be clear, you will probably not sell it for what you have in it. That said, my project will probably be in the black when I’m done if I only consider my hard costs for parts and services. But add in any reasonable valuation for my labor and, as they say, Fugidaboutit!

So let’s assume you have a car that you are considering for restoration. The first step should be to perform as detailed evaluation of the car as you can, with an eye towards establishing what level of work is required. Hand in hand with this effort, you can think about what level or standard of restoration you require. There are several terms that will help categorize your effort. A “rolling restoration” is one where you have an operating car and plan to do work on it in small chunks, such that the car remains rolling or operable throughout the process. Work efforts by this definition could include all manner of cosmetic work and mechanical work that can be accomplished over say a weekend. Next up might be a restoration to a “driver” level of car. In this case, you might need to address a number of mechanical systems to get them back in good shape and thus establish a good basis of mechanical reliability for the car. Cosmetics can run the gamut of doing nothing to having the car inexpensively repainted and installing an upholstery kit. The point of a driver level car may be summed up by stopping short of full perfection. Indeed, there is a saying that the last 10% of a project requires 90% of the effort. If you avoid that “last 10%” you will get done sooner and less expensively. Which leads us to a full concours restoration. When done, the car will most likely be better than new. You will proudly bring it to the show field and admire the blue ribbon affixed to the windscreen at the end of the day. You will hoist your trophy high at the evening awards banquet. And you will have spent “cubic” dollars and time. Even at this level, there is CJC Concours good and there is Pebble Beach good. The quest for perfection can be difficult and it will be expensive. Some have the patience and wherewithal to do this but it is certainly not for everyone. Finally there is a category that is called a “sympathetic restoration”. The thought here is that you have a very nice original car. It needs some things but you want to preserve the patina that age has established. In this type of restoration, you fix those things that need fixing but you try to come away with a car that looks nice but still looks its age. It’s a delicate balancing act but there are folks out there that specialize in this arena. It may be the hardest type of restoration to perform. As far as your evaluation goes, the evaluation for a full concours restoration is easy. Just click the box that says “Needs Everything”.

As a final comment for this article, I would note that I see a number of older Jaguars coming to market where the back story involves the declining health or indeed the demise of the owner. Many of these cars have not been driven much and you would strongly suspect deferred maintenance issues. Do not kid yourself with these cars. To be mechanically sound and safe, a lot of the mechanical and suspension systems will have to be gone through and brought up to snuff. This may not mean an engine rebuild but certainly all rubber parts on the car will be in poor condition, including key elements of the suspension. The fuel system will need to be gone through. Air conditioning, if on the car, will be questionable. Electrical connections will have built up corrosion and thus become problematic. Addressing all these items will be necessary and describe the precipice of the “slippery slope” phenomena, where once you get in there, you find all sorts of things that either need to be addressed or just don’t look right when you have new stuff mixed in with old stuff. I would certainly not rule out these cars as a project but be sure and look beyond the condition of the paint job or the fact that the car can be started. There will be plenty of work to be done.

Next article, we will look into the evaluation process and see how it applied to my car.       

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