When it's worth restoring a classic car

The 1978 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the The 1978 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the least desirable Corvettes among classic car collectors. Photo Credit: General Motors

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At some point, many of us are faced with the prospect of restoring a classic car. For some this is a conscious decision. For others it is thrust upon us. When pondering a restoration, it is important to keep a clear mind…not exactly something that car collectors are known for doing.

I really didn’t want the Corvette. I ended up owning it because I wanted another car that belonged to the seller and he would only sell them as a pair.

By buying the pair for a set price I had absolutely no idea what I was paying for each car individually, so I arbitrarily set a very low value on the Corvette.

To most normal people the Corvette would be nothing more than an eyesore.

And they would be absolutely right. It was a “restoration in progress” that someone had abandoned a few years ago. “Abandoned” is the operative word. The fiberglass body was stripped of paint and the interior had been removed from the car. At some point, the cost of storage must have exceeded the value of the car, because all of the interior parts that had been carefully and painstakingly removed were carelessly shoved back inside of the car. It had become less of a car and more of a miniature storage unit. This car had the unfortunate fortune to have been built in 1978, arguably one of the least desirable years for a Corvette. It’s only saving grace was that it was a “25th Anniversary Edition” Corvette.

But it was still a Corvette. That fact alone earns it a closer look before sealing its fate as a “parts car,” or worse. So that’s exactly what I did; I looked at it, but no matter how long I looked at it, it didn’t look any better.

Financially it made absolutely no sense to restore this car. The cost of a restoration to nice, but not show quality standards could easily exceed $20,000. All of this for a car that might be worth $10,000 on a good day. So I looked at it some more.

The major parts of the car, like the body, frame and drive train, were in great shape. I figured that they were worth about $4000 if I were to “part the car out.” The rest of the parts could bring another $1000 if I were lucky. At those prices I could actually make money on the Corvette. But I’d been down this road before and I knew that the only way to accomplish that would be to disassemble the Corvette myself, catalog the parts, and slowly sell them off. I really didn’t have the inclination, or the time to do this. And even if I did, the cost of listing the parts on eBay would cut deeply into my profits. I could pay someone to do all of this for me, but I would have to pay them more than the parts were worth. So I looked at it some more.

It wasn’t worth restoring and it wasn’t worth parting out. In a way I was glad that it wasn’t worth parting out because the car was complete, and structurally it was far too nice to meet that fate. Many people faced with this decision would simply push the car behind a garage or a barn, cover it in a blue tarp, and leave the decision for another day. “Leave the decision for another day” is code for “Accelerate the process of deterioration while providing a home for the local rodent population, so that in less than two years the car will be ready to be picked up by the local scrap-yard,” thus effectively avoiding a decision. Neither my wife nor my neighbors would have approved of this, so I looked at it some more.

The mind of a car collector is unlike that of a normal person as evidenced by the fact that I had thought about the possibility of restoring the Corvette, parting it out, and storing it, before deciding on what would have been obvious to most people in the first place. Simply sell it as is. If you shared in my anguish as you read this column, you are a “car person.” If you wondered from the very beginning why I didn’t just sell the Corvette, you are normal.

The next morning my first telephone call was to a friend who buys, sells, and restores Corvettes. I told him I just wanted to sell the car, and by the end of the conversation the car was sold, at a fair profit no less. It turns out that one of his customers was owed a significant amount of money by a body shop, with no likelihood of him ever being repaid. In exchange for repaying the money, the body shop had agreed to restore a car for him if he would supply the car. A fair deal for everyone. A normal person would have made that telephone call before doing anything else. I could finally stop looking at the car.  

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