Restoring classic cars doesn't make financial sense -- but can be worthwhile

The 1965 Ford Mustang was used as the The 1965 Ford Mustang was used as the Indy Pace Car. Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company

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This week I was asked to look at 1965 Mustang Coupe for a customer who was considering it as a possible candidate for restoration. I didn’t know much about the car other than the fact that it had been sitting unused for many years. Mustang Coupes are not particularly valuable cars, so if it needed a lot of work I knew that a financially viable restoration was not in the cards.

First generation Mustangs are great cars. They are recognizable to just about any inhabitant of planet Earth, they are dependable, parts availability is second to none, they perform acceptably, and with a few exception for rare models they are affordable. These are the reasons that I always suggest one of these cars when a newcomer to the hobby asks me what they should buy.

When I arrived to look at the Mustang, I was surprised to see that it was sitting outdoors on four flat tires. When I was told that it had been there for thirteen years I immediately knew that it would not pay to restore the car. But since I was being paid to look at the car, look at the car I did. And the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. The red paint was deteriorated, but somehow the car had managed to survive the ravages of nature in a virtually rust-free state. The interior was in very good condition, but of course it had that old moldy smell that could only be properly dealt with by replacing most of the upholstered portions of the interior. A manual shifter sticking up through the floor offered hope that a 289 engine might reside under the hood, but those hopes were dashed when a 6-cylinder engine was revealed. The manual transmission turned out to be the unloved 3-speed rather than the much loved 4-speed. 

Even though it was a “6-cylinder 3-speed,” it was still a great car. It was entirely original, it was complete, and it was virtually rust free. Hmmm. The thought crossed my mind that maybe it does pay to restore this car.

The problem was that while the car was in great shape, and really didn’t “need” anything, it “needed” everything. The cost of simply painting the car and replacing the interior would likely exceed the value of the car. In order to make the car roadworthy many other costs would need to be factored in including rebuilding the engine and transmission, new fuel system, new brake system, new suspension components, new exhaust, and new tires. This doesn’t even include the virtually unlimited and inevitable list of potential repairs to accessories such as lights, gauges, radio, wipers, heater and more. I started adding up these numbers in my head only to discover what that I already knew.

Even if my customer was given this car for free, it still wouldn’t pay to restore it. 

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In fact, the truth of the matter is that with very few exceptions, it does not make financial sense to restore a car. Just about anyone that has paid to have a car restored will attest to this. It is far less expensive and less time consuming to buy a car that is already restored. Doing this eliminates the problems that can, and often do, arise during a restoration.

This encounter led me to wonder under what circumstances it would make sense to restore this car. After all, I’ve seen so much junk get restored, why not a nice car like this? What if someone were to do the restoration by them self?
It could probably be done if the person doing the work were to put absolutely no dollar value on their labor. This makes the assumption that they have the necessary time and skills to do most, or all of the work on their own. It also assumes that they have the funds to pay for the parts that will have to be purchased. The abundance of NOS, reproduction, and used parts makes a project like this a possibility with a Mustang. Try this with the Mustangs larger stablemate, the Lincoln Continental, and the bank will be broken as soon as you’ve ordered the material to re-upholster the seats.

So why go to all of this trouble? There are several reasons. All things being relative, this would be a fairly easy restoration. A project of this nature allows you the opportunity to invest time and money on your schedule. Not someone else’s. Once the restoration is completed there will be no question as to the quality of the restoration. After all, you did it. But the best reason of all is that when someone compliments your car you’ll be able to say “Thanks. I restored it myself.” 

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