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Question Of The Day: Are The Days Of Someone Restoring A Rough Car Numbered?

Question Of The Day: Are The Days Of Someone Restoring A Rough Car Numbered?

We have to thank forum member “Thumpin455” for starting this conversation, because it’s certainly a good one. Let’s give you a hypothetical situation: For whatever reason, you find yourself somewhere in the American Southwest, the land of excellent metal and cooked interiors, looking for a car. You won’t be hurting for choice for make and model, but let’s say you stumble upon a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am. It’s in desert-beater condition: the interior is cooked, the paint is roasted, but there’s a good chance it runs and drives, and there’s even a chance you could drive it home. It ain’t pretty, but it could be. Ignore any brand loyalty you have, or feel free to substitute the car of your dreams in place of the Poncho. Would you actually put money down on this car with the intent of doing something with it that doesn’t involve stripping it out? Would you just fix what’s broke and drive it until the wheels fell off? Or, would you be put off because the paint isn’t pretty enough, there’s too much to do, and you’d rather just have one that is already “done”?

Chances are good that if you’re reading these words, that you aren’t affected so much, but to a good portion of the population that likes cars, there seems to be a trend of moving away from cars that need love to the instant gratification of purchasing one that is already up to par for the potential owner. Pick your generation of vehicle and it applies. If you’re hunting late-model (within the last 20 years), would you go for the ragged-out Z28 Camaro that is ready for any engine to replace it’s 230,000 mile old LT-1, or are you waiting for a minty-fresh Camaro SS to come up on eBay? Are you digging through eBay for a mid-70s Monte Carlo, or are you trimming the weeds around a Chevelle that has been sitting on the edge of someone’s property for years to build your own street stomper? We get the allure of getting straight to the driving, but is the idea of doing the work yourself and taking pride in that work actually fading away? You tell us!



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22 thoughts on “Question Of The Day: Are The Days Of Someone Restoring A Rough Car Numbered?

  1. Anthony

    In some cases I can see buying it done just because sellers want too much for raw material. The dough in body and paint alone make up the purchase price.

    1. Lee

      Some cases? Try MOST cases. It is almost always cheaper to buy a restored car than it is to spend the money to restore one. One exception to this is if you owned a good body shop and you yourself could do all the work. Another would be if you bought a very valuable car cheap – after pouring the necessary $125,000+ into it, you wind up with a car worth more than your total investment.

      The rare the car – the more parts cost for it. If you are familiar with the 1963 Chevy 427 Z11 Impala . . . the air cleaner assembly alone will set you back $30,000! Period correct but newly manufactured tires like F70x14 redlines or F60x15 RWL tires – $1500 for a set of 4. NOS – if you can find them – over $10,000 for a set of 4

      In the case of Bryan’s Firebird – it’s a junker. or parts car at best.

  2. Crazy

    Problems today, is much of the \”ruff\” starting points, the owners have BJ fever, and think it is worth big money, or they saw a part on it go for big money so the whole car is worth at least that..
    next, is the location of them.. those in the dry areas have much to pick from so why start with a basket case, a those that live with the rust worm, it cost a good amount to either go get it, or have it shipped after driving or fly\’n out to see it..
    and lastly, many of these ruff wonders, are ruffer than the photo\’s let on..

    bonus is the lack of a title 9 times out of ten, taking them off the table for those in many states..

    many here forget not all of those in the hobby, are mechanicly inclined!!! so buying one and bring it back is way to costly, as they have to farm most of the work out,,
    Then, ask anyone living in an area with a HOA and a 1 car garage or no garage..if they could build/fix it at home, answer not a chance..
    Oh, and a biggie,, not everyones other half is willing to look at a blown apart vehicle for 3-10 years..

  3. jerry z

    Finding a car that is ventilated isn’t my cup of tea. If the car is structurally sound, its worth the price to fix it up mechanically to run and drive. I restored a Chevelle back in the late 80’s/ early 90’s and don’t know if I will go through with that again.

    1. HoosierL98GTA

      To me it seems as though those that have old cars want too much for whats left . They have watched these fix and flip shows and now everyone thinks that a old car with no floors bad quarters and no engine or trans is worth 2000 dollors . Its like they think that just becuse your a car guy they got you . Nope I will buy 4th gen Corvettes . Great value .

  4. Brendan M

    The final value is almost never worth the expense to restore. Especially if you build the car right.
    If you’re in it for the money, just do what Gas Monkey does and clear coat over the rust and put rims on it.

  5. 3rd Generation

    Most of these cars were pretty shitty when they were new anyway. Who wants that junk now – even 100% restored ? Like that Firebird pictured. Those things were terrible, they didn’t do anything good but burn lots of fuel. The big blocks were pigs and slow too. A hard running 327/365 4 speed killed many of them at my High School – I know, it was me handing out the beat downs. Those birds didn’t handle either. The rich spoiled kids got them as presents from Mommy.

    So now that the world drives jelly beans and the parking lots are striped for small vehicles, go ahead and park your new $ 10k paint job next to some whiny Millenial looking for a tampon and see how that flat panel looks after a few weeks out in the public domain. You’ll go from show car to 30-footer pretty fast.

    The crusher is the Best Place for most of it. They never make financial sense to rescue. Never. Even a perfect Barn Find is still a piece-of-junk monetary sinkhole. Trust Me.

    1. BeaverMartin

      You think a 2nd Gen F-body’s handling is shitty…You need to take a stock muscle era rig around some cones. A Miata it ain’t but the f-body also doesn’t look like a middle school teacher with a mid-life crisis bought it. Every bit of fuel my primer and rust 77 Firebird burns makes me feel like a kid again and it’s worth it. Sorry about the bondo chunks hitting your M3’s windshield.

  6. Matt Cramer

    Restorations can be the project car equivalent of financing. It’s often the best move financially to pay cash for something that doesn’t need any future payments – but buying a beater and restoring it can let you get something right now. Except with a restoration, making those extra payments is optional and you can make them on YOUR schedule instead of the bank’s.

    And I’d be a bit more willing to start with something like a desert car with straight bodywork (unless, like with my truck, I was just planning on driving it as a beater and not fixing the bodywork).

  7. SSNOVA427

    I`m a professional restoration/collision guy with 45 years in the business.Unless you can do it all and buy a desirable car with high resale value( hint: tri five/60s- early 70s muscle) for cheap your gonna lose $. Never seen an exception to the rule.But I`ve dealt with a lot of people that thought they could make bank after I warned them and provided detailed estimates.


    Hind sight being 20/20 I would have waited to buy something else instead of my Plymouth. I love the car but the cost and time to take a car that looked presentable on the surface and strip it down to reveal the terrible mess that lurked beneath the surface then build it back up to a relatively reliable driver without any aftermarket support is a lesson in futility and financial irresponsibility. I could have spent another 1000 dollars and got a more solid body, that alone would have been worth it.

  9. joe

    honestly shows like BJ auctions and others have made idiots think their JUNK is work gabillions of dollars

    in the long run, its personal choice on what to do
    late model cars offer SO much, and such a high platform to start with
    not to mention easy to find parts and information

    older rides… well if you don’t have resources, you can QUICKLY and EASILY get in over your head, things add up

    i have my old ride of almost 30 years, and see what shit boxes go for and think WTF are they smoking…. these older cars are not worth that kind of $ when you compare to new rides

    but to each his own
    i personally have always loved older cars and tinkering, but its getting so expensive, especially trying to find quality parts

    let me tell you… second gen f body replacement parts are somewhat lacking…. and NOS OEM is starting to get really old and expensive too (meaning plastic interior parts can be more brittle)

    i remember the days when a worked over fox body making 400hp was impressive
    now you can buy a new one at that price

  10. orange65

    I am currently working on a 66 Chevy C30- not rare as in $$$ but not that easy to find. But it was what I wanted. I have almost all the sheet metal for it in good condition except the cab which I am working on. I believe I will be out less than $7500 for the finished truck- paint, rebuilt engine, interior, and all other things reconditioned. Today’s new trucks start at $27000. I don’t want to afford that. That is too freaking much $$.

    I think that the real factor in whether the cars will continue being restored is if the kids of today have a real link to them. A passion. A memory of seeing one all decked out and thinking it was very cool. That is what got most of interested in playing with them. Restoring a car takes $$, patience, and some talent/ knowledge. The less you have of one, the more you have to have of the others. If all you care about is the feeling of going fast or taking turns, then no- restoration/ repair is not the thing you want to do. You should go buy a new car and make payments. And just like earlier generations, some will do that while others will continue buying old beaters and beat ups and fixing them up.

  11. Don

    Wow I had no idea here was so many cry babies on this site. Sure it might not make financial sense to buy a car that is beat, but the memories with friends and family while putting back together are worth it. I am in this hobby for fun, and it seems that most of that fun took place in cars others would pass by. Why have a beautiful car with perfect everything if you are scared to use it?

  12. Bubba Smith

    It all depends on what you want and what your wallet can stand. Personally I like picking up solid rust free projects and fixing them up. Sometimes I sell them and make a buck, but most times it’s a money loosing proposition. (I buy them because I like them or I want to save them). I will only buy southern rust free cars, body shops want to retire on every job, and rust never sleeps. It’s easy to buy a sun baked southern car and then a northern rust belt car and swap all the soft parts onto the southern body. Ie: make one decent car from the pair.

    You can’t honestly compare older technology with moder or even newish cars. To each their own…get whatever floats your boat. If you want to save an older car they are out there…if you want a newer toy…get one. Myself I like installing modern drive lines in classic bodies. Love or hate the LS…they are cheap and plentiful, fit between the fenders of everything and respond well to modifications. Heck an LS could even make that clapped out F body in the ad above get up and go…won’t fix handling or its fuglyness.

    Don’t get into the old car hobby if your looking to make money, or don’t have a dime to your name. Get into it because it makes you happy!

  13. Hot Rod

    If the government has it’s way: Yes.
    For most investors: Yes
    For the hobbyist: Maybe
    Even if you do most the work by the time you buy the car then pay for everything you’ve spent more than the car is worth.
    But then there will always be guy like me that don’t worry about resale value because we plan to keep the cars and enjoy driving them.

  14. BeaverMartin

    I guess most people on BS have a lot more resources than I do. I can’t afford any muscle car period, so I buy and build malaise era stuff mostly (except for a real expensive diesel pulling period) I have a blast with my cars and I always sell them for what I paid or a little more so I figure I’m ahead on the therapy bill in the long run. I do wish my cars were in better shape, but on Army pay with 3 kids a $1,500 360 AMC Matador with a little cancer is a hell of a good time.

  15. Crazy

    The one saving grace, is now, today, you can drive a junker looking vehicle into a cruise/show , power tour and not have stuffy old men turn their nose up at it..
    This was not always the case.. Even hot rods \”deer ole dad\” Gray and his 30\’s ford got shown the door at goodguys show..
    So, build it to run strong and drive the wheels off it, The days of the need/requirement of a fancy paint and detailed to the 9\’s engine/interior are over.. Sure some still build to that level, but those that don\’t are not looked at as \”THE\”red headed step child , like they used to be..

  16. ratpatrol66

    A 20yr old kid that has a gear head dad might take on the challenge of fixing an old heap like the Trans Am? But outside of that I really doubt it. When I talk about my Model T or 62 Pontaic LeMans most of the younger kids just don’t care. Not sure about the future of the car hobby, and by that I’m thinking out 20yrs.

  17. Jerry

    I restored my Chevelle in the 80’s. Done several other paint and body projects since. Home hobby stuff alive and well here. If I had to pay for paint and body work I would buy one done. i repainted a low mileage corvette once to flip but my cars are like pets. Never expect to sell. Let my kids deal with it when I’m gone. my nephew want to learn how to finish his c10 project so I’m passing it on. Glad to have him interested. Power tour this year gave me hope in the hobby staying alive.

  18. Falcon67

    >honestly shows like BJ auctions and others have made idiots think their JUNK is work gabillions of dollars

    Yes, well – the issue is they get it. Until they don’t get it and/or that crop of shows and owners passes on prices will continue to but off the chart. So you can trash that sun burnt mullet T/A but the reality is that a car I ordered to my specs and paid $8900 cash brand new now brings stupid money. If I could get that hulk for around 5 and DIY the rest, probably a good deal. But asking is probably 10~12 and hard to find parts – then not so much. And they only made maybe 220,000 of the stupid things. WTF. Original Ad says bidding ended at $7300, no sale. “1979 Trans Am – Smokey And The Bandit- SE – WS6 – Back On Black – T-Tops- CA Car” Which relates back to the BJ thing – any black T/A is now a “Smokey” model, never mind the film/car was 1977. So no Mr. Asshat, your damn 79 T/A isn’t Smokey anything unless the valve guides are shot.

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