Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Which Restoration Approach To Take?

I made another bad call with that Studebaker. One of the reasons for shortcuts (like the cab) was my time schedule.
I planned for less than a year (working at a recreational pace) to have the truck in "nearly new" condition so that I could drive and enjoy it. In point of fact, it took three years to make the truck roadworthy, much of that time spent correcting problems that would have been detected in an orderly disassembly/reassembly restoration process.

Aside from possible pitfalls (some of which are inevitable), the nearly new approach does have some benefits. The process is usually shorter, so there's not as great a likelihood of "running out of steam." It's also somewhat, but not significantly, less expensive. From the standpoint of driving the car, nearly new has the advantage that you're more likely to consider and make improvements or upgrades to ensure greater safety in today's often hazardous driving environment.

When restoring a car to factory new, also called a frame-off or frame-up restoration, the project becomes as important as the end result. On average, a complete restoration to factory new will take 2,000 hours--thay's 50 forty-hour weeksd (a year of full time labor), or four years of consistent 10-hour weeks, about the maximum a hobbyist can sustain and not jeopardize work, marriage, and other commitments. If the joy is in the process---offering a retreat into a world of your own ordering, the satisfaction of learning new skills, and the pride of watching an item of beauty emerge from your labor--then the restoration will be self-sustaining, and you'll reap rejuvenation from your efforts. But if the purpose is only a show car at the other end, you're likely to give up before reaching the goal.

A frame-up, or factory new, restoration has other demands besides time and perseverance. It's expensive. For a realistic cost projection you should multiply your original estimate--parts, automotive tools, supplies, work like chrome plating and finish painting you're likely to hire out--by three. Completely dismantling a car also takes space, at least three times the space of a car that's fully intact. Unquestionably, a frame-up, factory-new restoration brings rewards, but it's not to be stumbled into.

Because "nearly new" doesn't require that everything be rebuilt, it's possible to take some shortcuts. For example, the body can be left in place on the frame and the chassis cleaned and refinished as well as possible in its assembled position. Or the engine compartment may be restored by working around the big hunk of iron in its midst. It's possible to produce a very high quality restoration under these conditions--and save lots of time in the process. But there's also the possibility that shortcuts may lead to difficulty or dissappointment later on. For example, I left the cab attached to the frame while doing bodywork and mechanical restoration on a 1949 Studebaker pickup. The cargo box was removed along with the front fenders and all forward sheet metal. When disassembly reached this point, it seemed simpler not to remove the cab. This proved to be a mistake. For one thing, the front cab mounts turned out to be rusted and had to be rebuilt, but their condition wasn't noticed until everything had been reassembled and the truck repainted. Bad call. The cab mounts should have been repaired before repainting. Simply stated, disassembly usually makes damage more visible.

Most collector cars are mechanically obsolete. Although adequate for the highways they were designed to travel, their brakes, for example, may be downright dangerous. If the restoration goal isn't "factory new," then upgrading the brakes to a dual master cylinder, front disc braking system (possibly power boosted) offers a safety margin well worth considering.

While sure-acting, quick-stopping brakes are a first line of defense to avoid crashes, seat belts offer a crucial protection to the car's occupants in the event of a crash. Prior to the mid-1960s, few cars were equipped with seat belts. (Ford installed seat belts, a padded dash, deep-dish steering wheel, and improved door locks on its cars in 1956 as standard equipment--but the public basically ignored these features and the manufacturer concluded that safety didn't pay.) If your collector car was built before seat belts were adopted, and you intend to drive the car, then seat belts should definitely be added.


Considering modern upgrades leads to what I call the hybrid approach. While adopting new brake technology may be a big step  to some collector car purists, there's a bigger step in which all the technology---brakes, suspension, engine, drivetrain---is modern, but the body, trim, and interior (all that's visible about the car) are original. At least one company, Corvette Concepts of Sawyer, Michigan, has combined a modern chassis with anabsolutely authentic (not replica) 1957 Corvette body and interior. The result, which the company calls its Concept 1957 Corvette, is a classic collector design that has the mechanical attributes of a modern design. Building one of these new/old hybrids follows many of the same steps as a restoration of an original car (in fact, an original car may be the basis for the Concept 1957 Corvette hybrid), but the outcomne could be a daily driver.

In recent years other hybrid products havbe appeared, only to disappear when the builders (typically small entrepreneurial shops) lost interest or encountered financial difficulty. One of the more notable was an MG roadster offered by Great Lakes Motor Cars. Like the Concept 1957 Corvette, the Great Lakes TF used authentic MG components (although a substitute fiberglass body was offered) in combination with a modern-engineered chassis. Because a small market niche exists for such new engineering/classic design automobiles, other examples are likely to emerge in the future.

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