Specializing in Corvettes and Classics

Articles - Week ending May 28th, 2011

That is the question. 


Take a high enough number of classic car owners, plop them into a room, then close the door and within about 30 minutes the conversation will inevitably come around to the subject of restorations and what acceptable liberties one should take with their classic during the restoration process. Should I restore the car to exactly how it was when it was new? What if I hate the factory color and want it changed? Are modern mechanical upgrades a good idea?

Having performed or supervised several restorations the best advice I can give anyone is simple, it’s your car, and so do it your way, but make sure you consider the consequences that go with your situation. If you’re aiming to eventually have a high re-sale on your classic then changing your 1963 Corvette from Daytona Blue to pearl pink definitely isn’t a great idea, but then again if you’re mad about pearl pink and a pearl pink 1963 Split Window coupe is your ultimate dream car and you plan on keeping it 20 years…Well I say knock yourself out.


To give some insight on what I mean I’d like to use a few examples from my own collection, starting with the one I toiled with the most which is my 1968 Chevy Camaro. I’d been looking for an unmolested first generation Camaro for years, but too often all I ever found were chopped up, abused, rusty third, fourth or fifth hand cars that would require more work to un-do their half assed restorations then they would to eventually restore. Who knows what evil lurks under that bright red Earl Schieb paint job? The hurdle stems from the fact that when I was in high school in the early 1980’s these first generation Camaros were dirt cheap, not really collectible and young teens and twenty something’s got hold of them and butchered them along with a lot of Chevelles, Mustangs and Mopars. The cars were cheap to buy, easy to fix, fast (and we made them faster) and pretty cool looking to boot, so they were perfect for us youngsters to tweak, experiment with and generally make any restoration process undertaken 20 years later a general pain in the ass.


In 2004 I found my Camaro on e-bay of all places, and the moment I saw the pictures I knew it was “the one”. It didn’t look like much, the paint was badly oxidized, the vinyl top looked well worn and the pictures in general weren’t very good, but I could also tell that the oxidized paint was original, same with the top, and I didn’t see a speck of rust anywhere. The cincher for me was the interior, all original and still very nice. Let me give you what may be my best tip when buying and old car, interiors never lie. Interiors always tell the truth. People will bondo the holes, cover them with paint, paint over bad chrome and claim they “liked the look of it that way” and do all sorts of things to make a junker look passably decent, but it seems like 99% of the time the one thing they will not do is refresh the interior, leaving that job to the new $29.00 seat covers from Pep Boys and some plastic floor mats. A well treated original interior is the sign of a cared for original car.


Needless to say after a quick flight to San Jose and an inspection I soon had my Camaro, which proved to be in such good shape that after a pit stop at the local Jiffy Lube I even drove it home from San Jose to Las Vegas, some 600 miles without a hitch.


The car desperately needed paint, the chrome was fabulous, the interior phenomenal with the exceptions of the carpet and rear package tray, the vinyl top was very tired and the original single exhaust held the only rust.


What to do? I knew I was going to paint the car the original color which was a pretty steel blue with a white nose stripe, but I didn’t care for the white vinyl top and the exhaust sounded more like a Cadillac than a Camaro. On the other hand I had a chance to take this car totally original, have a new white vinyl top installed, new single exhaust and more or less restore it to the state it was born in sometime in 1968. I couldn’t decide, not for months, so I drove it “as is” while I toiled with several considerations…

1.     How hard it would be to un-do anything I did that 
        wasn’t original?

2.     How long was I keeping this car?

3.     Was I concerned about re-sale? If I was how much was I 

4.     What will make me happy when I see the car every 
        morning in the garage?

5.     How much will I regret any changes?

In the end I decided I wasn’t planning on selling the car anytime soon, I liked the hardtop look better than the vinyl top look (and on top of that underneath the old vinyl top was the only place small amounts of rust ever lived), and I wouldn’t change anything that wasn’t fairly easy to change back, so the refreshing process began.

The car was professionally painted, new emblems and some trim were put on (A lot of the original trim survived), an aftermarket stereo was installed without any alterations, a new rear deck and carpet from Year One were installed, a new dual exhaust was professionally done and the white vinyl top was now missing. While the car was being painted I had the interior totally apart and sitting in our spare bedroom, the bumpers off the car, and everything inside and outside that was eventually going back in or on the car once it returned from the painter was polished, cleaned, touched up or buffed. In the end I’m happier with the car, and in the end I can easily make it as it used to be with a minimal investment, adding a white vinyl top, installing a single exhaust and re-introducing the factory radio wouldn’t cost more than maybe a thousand or fifteen hundred bucks if you know enough of the right people. Once the tires wear down I’m changing the wheels to something like a 17” torque thrust or something chrome, but rest assured the original wheels will stay in the garage not too far from the box containing the original radio.





So what should you do? There’s no correct response no matter what any so-called expert tells you, but the main thing I encourage you to do is consider every possible consequence to your actions before you do anything and go from there and remember there are no absolutes. For example lot of people swear that a color change from original will hurt resale values, but I have a good friend that was trying for months to sell his pale green 1968 Mustang with no success and sold it in two weeks for a better price after he painted it black. Light green was a rare color for a reason, because most people didn’t like it then and they don’t like it now.


I’ve had more than one car show asshole tell me how I “ruined” my 1964 Stingray by adding 17” Boyd-Coddington wheels and changing out the old radiator in favor of an aluminum one with an electric fan, but one thing I’ve noticed is that most of these critics show up at the local car show with nothing more than a camera. The truth is my Vette is a lot better off because it stays at a perfect running temperature even in the hottest Las Vegas summers and it handles phenomenally better than most mid years I’ve driven because of the high performance tires and wheels. I’ve enjoyed the car a lot more than I did back when I used to have to keep one eye on the temperature gauge at every red light and fishtail my way around every corner. I’ve had the Vette almost 9 years now and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.


I think there are 4 types of cars and some guidelines that can help anyone when they think about changing their car:

1.  You have a 100% original, numbers matching car that’s popular, like a Camaro, Mustang, Corvette or Challenger. Think long and hard here my friend, and re-read my paragraphs above on the Camaro. There will be consequences to your actions. I tried several times to save my Camaro’s original paint, like acid washes, polishes, even that stuff Billy Mays used to hawk before I decided to paint the car. It’s only original once and the hobby is moving more towards original cars. In the end if you’re car is pretty good looking as is, maybe still some glossy paint, leave it.  

2.  You have a 100% original, numbers matching car that’s not popular. So you have a passion for 1978 Plymouth Volares’ and Dodge Aspens huh? Well in general you risk little by altering the car, so go nuts. Be prepared to spend more than your project is worth though.

3.  You have a car that’s popular, say a 1967 Camaro, but somewhere in 1985 some idiot like me got hold of it, tossed that pesky 327 in the trash, installed a Ford big block (…and a hole in the hood to make it fit!), cut the dash to fit my Pioneer SuperTuner stereo, cut the doors for speakers and painted the car at home with some leftover Dunn Edwards ‘sapphire blue’ from when we re-did the den. Congratulations, it’s time to build that Camaro resto-mod you’ve always wanted! Do it right and you might even break even, maybe... 

4.  You have a “tweener”, like a 1967 Corvette with the original motor, but flared fenders and a transmission/rear end from a 1966 Corvette. It’s also the wrong color. Tread carefully, you could go either way. Consider the consequences. In the end more people will prefer the car with the numbers matching original motor and correct paint and body even if the transmission and rear end are replacements. If you’re not sure what to do, I’d avoid this car and find another Corvette that makes the decision easier.  

When you restore your classic think of the consequences, ask yourself the right questions, and make sure you’ve answered them honestly before you proceed, and after all that, if you’re sure, go ahead and order that pearl pink paint.

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