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Vol. 2, No. 5
January 1, 2004
(Updated January 11, 2009)

Are People Who Restore Classic Cars CRAZY?
by Andy Angove

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While looking at the various classic cars for sale, I continually notice the same phrases used to promote the cars offered for sale to buyers. And it always makes me wonder why that particular car is for sale. I see things like:

"Just completed a 4 year restoration..."

"Only 100 miles since a full frame off restoration..."

"Over $75,000 spent - must sell - my loss is your gain..."

"Every nut and bolt, every single screw, every individual carpet fiber has been completely redone..."

"You will not find a nicer one anywhere..."

"Absolutely the finest car of this model still in existence..."

OK, sounds good...so...that leaves just one question:

Why are they selling it?!?!?

Are they planning on getting out of the restoration hobby? Perhaps. But quite often they go on to offer that they have too many projects, and something has to go. Sometimes they'll say they have another car just like it, and must sell one. If this one is so pristine, why sell it and keep the other one? Why have to go through all the work and cost again when they already have one finished? Why? Well, they must be crazy, that's why!

All of which makes me wonder about the people who restore cars. Do they do it for the sheer exhilaration of the seemingly endless tasks that lie ahead of them? Do they enjoy the aching back, bruised elbows, and skinned knuckles they frequently get when working on their cars? Is it the challenge of bringing an old junker back to life?

Maybe they enjoy vacuuming up the Rat poop and uncovering one surprise after another while tearing down the car. Perhaps it's those laughable moments when things go wrong, or the realization that yet another unpleasant task lies ahead...Now who in the world would have cut this wiring harness and repaired it with Scotch tape? Did the previous owner really think bubble gum would seal this rust hole in the floor pan? And what idiot ran speaker wire for the courtesy light circuit? Ah, the surprises encountered during a restoration. Not fond memories for many of us, and sometimes it leaves me pondering just exactly what IS wrong with the human race, anyway!?!?!?

I've actually found myself thinking how lucky I was that the previous owner didn't do very much to the car, as they surely would have messed it up even worse had they attempted to maintain it!

I purchased a 1969 Ford Thunderbird Tudor Landau in the Fall of 2001. This is the roughest car I've ever owned, and I purchased it solely because it was equipped with a very rare factory power sunroof option. Very few were made, and that was my main attraction to the car, although I've owned other 1969 Thunderbirds in the past, and they are probably my favorite year for vintage Thunderbirds.

After an initial investigation of the overall condition of the car, I convinced myself it would be more work than I wanted to contend with. A friend, who is more experienced at car restoration than I am, later went with me to look at the car. He said it was a good car, and thought I should buy it. And so I did.

The power windows didn't work, which isn't really a big surprise on an old car that has sat for 15+ years in a warehouse. A brief look quickly revealed the problem: the power window switches in the driver's door armrest were dirty, and not making a connection. That was probably the cause of the problem. But someone had cut the wires between the driver's door and the cowl! And this wasn't limited to just the power window wiring. In an effort to not discriminate, the courtesy light wiring, door ajar warning switch wiring, and the door speaker wiring were all cut and spliced! Now, I'm not an auto electric expert, but I do know that the first thing you don't do when there's an electrical problem is start cutting wires! And you don't have to cut wires that have nothing to do with the circuit you're having the problem with!

After realizing the door wiring harness would have to be changed, and the switches would have to be cleaned to get the windows working again, I remember thinking to myself, "thank goodness the previous owner didn't screw up the car any worse than this..." Had he known more (or thought he knew more), he could have really done some serious damage! I was thinking about the possibility of a burned up main wiring harness, or something major like that. I did have to reglue the front door glass back in the window regulator channels (a Ford "better idea" that wasn't), and replace both motors, but I'm happy to say the windows now work as good as new.

Is this something I'd want to do again to another car? NO WAY! Ford obviously never intended that the wiring harness would have to be replaced, because there isn't much room for essential tools (much less arms, hands, and fingers), to unplug and plug in the wiring connectors under the instrument panel. To say there's an access problem is an understatement! These connectors aren't the easiest things to deal with even when there is room.

Which makes me wonder why ANYONE who has already been through the trials and torture of bringing an old car back to life would want to part with it. Especially when they've scarcely had time to enjoy the toils of their work! Isn't it reasonable to think that someone who had spent 4 years, thousands of hours of labor, and tens of thousands of dollars on a project would want to enjoy it for a while before selling it? Seems reasonable to me, yet time after time, I see cars for sale that have just been finished.

Are they attempting to dump the junker on some other idiot before the cardboard behind the bondo repair starts to give? Did they discover it wasn't their dream car after all, only after they'd finished it? Is the excitement and attraction suddenly gone when it's done? If so, what is the point of restoring a car? Maybe they're selflessly doing it for the sole benefit of future generations to enjoy. Maybe the wife finally put down an ultimatum and said it's either her or the car. WHO KNOWS!

It does make you wonder about these people, though. My 1969 Thunderbird will hopefully be the last car I restore. Ever. I plan on driving it and enjoying it and having fun with it. Day to day maintenance will be a breeze compared to repairing holes in the sunroof drainage tray where it rusted through, and spending hours troubleshooting why the interior lights are always on when the battery is connected, regardless of whether or not the doors are closed, and even if the headlight switch isn't set for the courtesy lights to be on. (Just an FYI - according to the part number on the headlight switch, my car had a 1970 Continental Mark III switch in it, which I thought was NOT interchangeable with the 1969 Thunderbird switch, but I could have had a bad switch. It literally took me days to determine that the switch was the problem, and not a short to ground.)

Could it be that the car just isn't quite as perfect as the restorer would like it to be? Instead of really hammering out the little details, they just want to start over on a new project, and make sure they get EVERYTHING right next time around? Have you ever heard the story of The Princess and the Pea? The Princess was so spoiled, she said she could feel a single Pea that was placed between multiple mattresses. She was so uncomfortable, she just couldn't sleep! It makes me think of a guy who, at the end of a 4 year restoration of a 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Convertible, found out that there were holes in the leather on the back side of the right rear passenger seat back where the upholsterer had to undo the hog rings and reposition them to remove a wrinkle in the panel on the side of the seat. You could not see the holes unless the seat were pulled out of the car, nor could the wrinkles in the side panel hardly be seen, yet the owner insisted the wrinkles be removed, and he couldn't spend the extra money to have a new piece of leather installed to get rid of the holes from repositioning the leather, so he just sold it and started over on another one! Yep, he sold the car and started over!

Man in a 1964 Cadillac ConvertibleThis totally changed my opinion of the guy as a person, but to each his own. Last I heard, he was still working on his latest project, and drove around town in a boring new car, because his vintage car was in pieces all over the garage. I really think he's afraid of not having something to do, although I don't know of too many old cars that don't need to have something done to them. There's always something to clean, adjust, straighten, or redo. I guess that's not enough for some people.

I realize some might experience financial hardships that force them to part with their beloved cars, and everyone knows it costs more to restore one than you'll likely sell it for. But these people seem to be so happy to sell the car! If it were me, I'd be miserable!

It's difficult taking something that has been neglected by others for a long time and returning it to usefulness. Lots of people aren't up to the challenge. It does take a special person with the capacity to appreciate something that was once a thing of beauty, and see that it could be that way once again. But regardless of whether it's a piece of antique furniture, a historic home or building, or an old car, these things do seem to have a personality of their own. My '69 Thunderbird is just loaded with personality. That's what makes it different than any other '69 Thunderbird out there.

I know there are lots of reasons to sell a car, and the people who restore old cars all have special reasons as to why they want to take on such a big project, but in the end only the people doing the restoration know exactly what it is that drives them. Others probably come close to understanding, but no one really can profess to know what drives another in this hobby.

The only thing that can be verified is that all car restorers are crazy! Crazy about the old cars that ignite something within them that gives them the motivation to turn a mass of steel into a work of art.

Copyright © 2004, Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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