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Classic car minor fixes should be put off for a while

A 1964 Porsche 356 Sunroof Coupe owned by

A 1964 Porsche 356 Sunroof Coupe owned by Rich Shoenfeld won the award for Best Early Porsche at the Concours D'Elegance at Americana Manhasset. (Oct. 20, 2013) Credit: Adam Fusfeld

I advise a lot of newcomers to the hobby, and a fair amount of veterans as well, regarding the purchase of classic cars. For the newcomers, the advice is all-encompassing. For the veterans, my advice is usually solicited when they are considering the purchase of a car that is out of their “comfort zone.”

But newcomers and veterans alike all seem to make one mistake. It must be human nature. I’ve made the mistake dozens of times myself. In fact, it’s taken me decades, and ownership of hundreds of cars, to consciously avoid making the mistake. I call it the automotive version of “I love you, you’re perfect, now change.” Here’s how it works. You spend months deciding what will be your first classic car, or what classic car you will add to your collection.

You agonize over the details such as hardtop or convertible, color combination, engine and transmission, original or restored, desirable options, driver quality or show quality, and a host of other decisions. You spend several more months scouring newspapers, online classifieds, online auction sites, and visiting classic car dealerships in search of the perfect car.

Sometimes you get lucky and just stumble across the perfect car at a local car show. Then you call me to inspect the car before you buy it. The car passes with flying colors, and you spend an hour telling me how lucky you were to find exactly the car that you were looking for. I congratulate you on your new acquisition, and we part ways.

A week or two later you call me to prepare an appraisal for your insurance company. We talk a little about the car, and you mention that you’re going to have it painted. I ask why, and you tell me that although the paint is stunning, the two little chips on the trunk lid would likely drive you crazy. You also mention that you’re having the interior re-upholstered because the scuff on the outboard bolster of the drivers seat-back detracts from the rest of the beautiful interior.

While it’s in the upholstery shop, a new convertible top is being installed because of the little crease in the otherwise perfect top, at the “pinch-point” where the convertible top frame hinges. You’re also considering adding rear wheel disc brakes, even though the car has front discs, and as long as the mechanic is going to have it anyway, he’ll replace the rear-main engine seal because the car drips about one or two drops of oil a week on your garage floor.

Having experienced this many, many times, I’m surprised that I’m still incredulous as I make the observation that you knew about all of these minor imperfections when you purchased the car. In fact, you didn’t want a flawless car because you and your family (including your 160 pound St. Bernard) intended to use it regularly, and you “didn’t want to worry about it.” The car was absolutely beautiful. You had searched diligently for just such a car, and although it was not perfect, it was perfect for you.

Since my job of inspecting and appraising the car was completed weeks ago, there’s no point making you feel bad by telling you that if you wanted a perfect car, you should have bought a perfect car. It would have cost you less money than you will have invested in this car by the time you complete all the work, not to mention the time and headaches that go along with a “sympathetic restoration.”

But all is not lost.

Decades of dealing with this “I love you, you’re perfect, now change” syndrome have taught me that there is another approach, other than making you feel bad, that might still salvage the situation: An intervention. I secretly contact all of your family and friends, and we lure you to a safe setting, where one at a time, and in a non-threatening way, we help you to realize the folly on which you’re about to embark.

Of course I’m only kidding. But in a way, I do stage my own intervention.

When I feel that it’s appropriate, I’ll ask you to consider living with the car just the way it is for one year. If after one year you still feel that you need to do all of that work, well, then go right ahead. Most people agree to this because it gives them an excuse, and a finite period of time to delay an expensive but inevitable (in their mind) undertaking.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that 99% of the people to whom I offer this advice call me one year later to thank me. They no longer even notice the things that they thought would drive them crazy. I prefer to think of it as “I love you, you’re almost perfect, I’ll take you as you are.” 

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