Natural selection: How to choose a professional restorer for your classic

(From left)) Bobby Smith, Alan Taylor, Lance Coren | Photo by Jim Resnick
(From left)) Bobby Smith, Alan Taylor, Lance Coren | Photo by Jim Resnick

It is difficult enough boiling down your classic car obsession to a manageable, affordable group of cars. But it is just as time-intensive when you need to find the most capable and conscientious professional shop to take on your restoration work.

To that end, Russo and Steele Auctions hosted The Art of Vintage Restoration seminar during Arizona Auction Week with three noted experts: Bobby Smith, who specializes in classic Ferraris; Alan Taylor, who specializes in pre-war collectible cars; Lance Coren, official appraiser for both Ferrari North America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Russo and Steele’s Drew Alcazar was moderator

“The most common mistake I see is that customers don’t have a complete game plan at the outset,” said Coren.

“That game plan should describe what you want to do with the car. Do you intend to show it at certified shows for points? That means the restoration needs to be done as more of an art piece for correctness than anything else and is a very different process with different materials and hours than for a car being primarily driven, rallied or having the family pile in for road trips.”

Having a total game plan also prevents mission creep.

Approach a restoration as a labor of love because there’s only a small chance you’ll recoup the cost.”

— Alan Taylor

Once you’ve defined the game plan for yourself, the shop you choose should agree to that plan and neither of you should deviate from it. Both parties must agree to the approximate cost and the time frame. All other details about the restoration follow that lead of overall goal and become secondary to the game plan.

Deciding on what shop to use becomes your next big question. The experts agree that you must first do your due diligence.

“Talk to previous customers, ask around at events. Simply do the research on the shop for the type of work you’re thinking about,” said Coren.

“When I visit a shop,” Smith said, “I look for three things. First, I look in the trash. If I see lots of wasted scrap metal or beer cans or materials in the garbage that really seem odd, that tells me something. Second, does the shop have the proper equipment for the type of work you’re considering? Lastly, I look for a system of parts tracking and packaging that’s organized and clearly labelled.

“You can also inspect projects in the shop. I believe in finding a shop that specializes in your type or brand of car. If you’ve got a 1964 Pontiac GTO, don’t go to a shop that specializes in 1950s and ‘60s Ferraris. They won’t know your car.”

When it comes to cost, you must be realistic.

Alan Taylor: “In today’s economy everyone should approach a restoration as a labor of love because there’s only a small chance you’ll recoup the cost upon selling the car.”

Coren agreed: “Are you in this for profit or heart? If your answer is profit, you’ll have little chance of success. If your answer is for the love of the car, the people and for the history, there’s no better hobby.”

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