|Drawing the line with neighbors and
local authorities between what's rebuildable
...and what's junk
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Vol. 4, No. 5
To those who don't value or collect classic cars, it's difficult to understand the labor of love that bringing an old car back to life can be. They don't understand how that beat up, wrecked, rusted, hulk of metal sitting next to your house can possibly be of any value to anyone, other than for scrap metal. But a true old car enthusiast knows that within the wrecked metal object can be a treasure trove of valuable parts and pieces. And in the eyes and heart of a true classic car lover, that rusty metal compilation can someday be what it once was: a shiny work of art that once said so much about our culture.
And somewhere between the rusted hulk of metal and the shiny work of art lies the period of time when the transformation occurs. In some instances, this period can be quite short lived; but all too often, it takes much longer than anyone ever imagined it would. And the reasons for this can be legitimate considerations or nonsense excuses. The health of the person charged with the responsibility for the restoration, financial setbacks, family illness, unplanned obligations, or inability to locate parts necessary to begin the process are all good reasons for the delay.
All too often, however, the reality of the job itself overwhelms the person who bought the car with every good intention. It is expensive, it takes a lot of time, and it is dirty work that often leaves you cut, bruised, and sore. But if the dream of what it once was, and what it can be again is strong enough, none of that matters.
Neighbors, state and local authorities, and spouses are not always able to understand this. And often the aggression and disdain begin immediately. Almost before the flatbed can unload the car, a complaint has been registered. And how this is handled from the very beginning often determines the frequency and severity of future complaints.
The place to begin is before the car is purchased. Find out what your state and local laws governing inoperable vehicles are. In some areas, it may be as simple as giving the car the appearance of being able to be driven. The fact that it will not run, turn, or stop does not matter. It just has to look like it could do all those things. In other areas, it may be as easy as registering the car as a non-operable vehicle, and keeping the necessary licenses and tags current. The laws vary greatly, and some homeowner associations may forbid inoperable cars altogether, although you normally could store it in your garage, since it would be out of sight most of the time. Find out before you buy, and don't try to skirt the issues. If it's forbidden, you'll need to add in the cost of a storage area or garage where inoperable cars are permitted, and where you'll be able to have access to it when you're ready to work on it.
If you can store your parts car or current project at your home, (and note this is a singular statement, not plural—don't push your luck with multiple vehicles), you'll want to do everything possible to minimize the aggravation of the neighbors and the oversight of local authorities. What starts off as being acceptable can often become an issue as time goes by.
The first thing you need to do is make the car look as presentable as possible. Clean it up, inside and out. This will be a great time to start making a list of things you'll need, and of parts that are in good enough shape to protect from future damage. Wash it, polish the chrome, clean the junk out of the interior and put it in the trunk where it can't be seen, or in a garage or storage building. Nothing screams "JUNK CAR!" like having a bumper leaning up against the house next to the car, or a fender hanging out of a broken car window. Keep the area tidy. Keep the area clean. No visible fluids running down the driveway from underneath the car.
If it has wheel covers, put them on. If it doesn't, get some. Even a set of the universal plastic ones is better than nothing. Keep the tires inflated. If they are dry rotted and won't hold air, buy a new set of cheap ones and put them on the car. You'll be glad you did later when you need to move the car, and you always need to move it at some point. And buy whitewalls—they don't cost much more, and if you keep the white stripes clean, they do wonders for the appearance of a car that isn't operable. There's something about clean, inflated white stripe tires that make a car look operable. Really, it does make a difference.
Never, ever leave a car sitting up on blocks where it can be seen. This is not only discourteous to your neighbors, it will no doubt be the reason many of them will eventually complain. People always judge others by different standards than they hold themselves to. So the fact that they have weeds 5 feet high in the side yard makes no difference.
Clean the glass, inside as well as outside. Filthy windows that can't be seen through are a sure sign the car isn't driven. Even cracked glass looks better when it has the dirt cleaned off.
Keep the area around the car trimmed. Use a weed wacker to knock down weeds and keep the vegetation under the car trimmed and tidy. You don't want a tree growing up through the car! Invest in a new car cover or tarp and use it. You don't want an old stained one with holes in it. If the seats are in bad shape, cover them with inexpensive seat covers. Again, you'll help to protect what's there, and you'll improve the appearance of the car. After all, who really knows if you're covering up an eyesore or protecting perfect Broadcloth from the damaging rays of the sun?
Is it possible to install privacy fencing to keep the car out of sight? Often a section of fencing can be moved to hide the car from the street. A gate can be installed to allow access to the car, but some areas don't allow cars to be parked legally on unpaved surfaces, so once again it's best to check first before spending money to modify fencing.
Be sure to communicate with your neighbors on a regular basis regarding the car. Tell them when you're waiting for parts to arrive, or that due to your job you won't be working on it as much during the next few months. Communication goes a long way toward eliminating problems before they start. When a neighbor notices that an old car sits for months or years and isn't touched, their patience dissipates. But when time is spent on it regularly, the perception of progress is embedded in the minds of neighbors. And as the restoration of the car proceeds, it will be easier for them to overlook little things, since they know it's only a matter of time before you're done.
If you have friends with old cars that are already restored, have them drop by from time to time in their car. This reminds neighbors that old cars can be things of beauty, and that someday your car may also look like their car. Tell your buds to keep off the gas if they have loud exhaust systems, no one really wants to hear loud engines being revved next door, or down the street. If your neighbors can't see or hear your car, there's little to remind them that it even exists, which is exactly what you want.
On a car forum, one gentleman wrote of acquiring a 1956 Continental Mark II from a friend who had fallen on hard times. The car was in an advanced stage of neglect, and although he had intended to park it in his garage, it wouldn't fit, so he had no other choice for the moment but to leave it parked on the curb. Less than 24 hours later, a neighbor was spotted standing near the car in her jogging outfit talking on the phone. 20 minutes later, an "advisory" was received from the home owner's association that the car didn't have tags on it.
Two days later, a storage yard was located and the car was moved, much to the relief of the neighbors no doubt. Subsequent research indicated that this car was originally ordered new by none other than Frank Sinatra! To say that this information changes the picture a bit is an understatement. This "junk" car will be worth more than many of the neighbors' new imports when finished.
To recap, find out what the laws are in your locale, and check with any neighborhood association to determine what is and what is not allowed. Keep the car as presentable as possible, and keep it out of sight whenever possible, even if you do so only by draping a car cover over it. Keep the tires inflated, don't put it up on blocks, keep the glass clean and don't neglect it and let it sit for months on end without progress. Communicate with your neighbors, and let them know you're aware that it's an eyesore but that it has sentimental value to you, and assure them that you will do everything possible to minimize its intrusion on their property values.
The most common conditions that cause vehicles to be in violation of laws
Keep these things in mind—Automotive Mileposts strongly believes there is a big difference between an individual operating a junk yard, salvage, or dump, and someone storing old cars that are being repaired and restored on private property.
Enjoy the moments you spend working on the car, and realize that it will fight you to some degree. Old cars don't seem to mind the predicament they're in, and don't realize you're trying to help them live a longer, happier life by bringing them back from death's door. However, the rewards of doing so are quite worthy, and the time you spend working on them and driving them are all a part of your life's journey, and very well could be something that you are supposed to do while here on Earth. Keep in mind others will not always realize this labor of love, so it's important to respect their feelings enough to minimize the impact your old car will have on their lives, and by doing so you convey to them how important that rusty old hunk of metal really is to you.
Copyright © 2008 Automotive Mileposts, Inc. All rights reserved.
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