We’ve all heard the stories. “I bought this great new restored car and took it in for a minor improvement and it ended up costing me thousands.” Or, “this car looked great in the pictures but turned out to be nothing like what was suggested.” Well, Classic Restoration Enterprises President, Melvin Benzaquen has become many enthusiasts’ first call for restoration services or to assess a possible new purchase. Having been there, he offers the following tips mixed with examples from his real-life experiences to help keep the classic enthusiast aware and on the right track.
Check body panels to ensure dents have been fixed properly — magnets don’t necesssarily work
“One project we worked on was a 1967 Pontiac GTO,” says Benzaquen. “Once we stripped the body down to the bare metal, we found the quarter panels filled with literally pounds of body filler. The right quarter had been brazed together (not welded) in two separate sections. This is an example of one of the most common horrors we find; people just filling dents, instead of working the metal to the original shape and then using the filler as it was originally intended for.” But be aware, magnets aren’t foolproof.
“Another great project we had was on a 1970 Plymouth Superbird,” Benzaquen continues. “Purchased by the customer as a restored vehicle, the seller provided three photos of the restoration: One photo in the weeds, one photo in primer and one photo painted. The customer had the car for about six months when he noticed the paint was bubbling in several areas. At this point, he called us to look at the car. Upon arrival, we could see the body was absolutely straight and we could not see any evidence of anything wrong.”
“We thought that the prep job was not done properly and the paint would need to be stripped and repainted,” says Benzaquen. “When we stripped the body down to bare metal, we were absolutely horrified. The quarter panels had been rusted and filled with body filler. The body filler had metal shavings mixed in it, so magnets would stick when the buyer checked it. The roof had been filled in the same manner to cover an extensive amount of hail damage. The trunk lid and hood were in the same condition. The trunk floor had been completely rusted out and they had placed cardboard in the holes and then fiberglassed over it. They actually took the time to make all the unique grooves and lines in the floorpan to make it look original. We had to remove the hood skin and fabricate a new skin and weld it back on the hood frame since there was so much hail damage. The hood would not stay open when we originally looked at the car. Our thought was that the hood hinges were weak. It turned out the hood would not stay open from the extreme amount of body filler in the hood skin. When we installed the new skin, the hood stayed open as it was supposed to. The nose cone was made out of aluminum and had been the victim of several impacts throughout its life. They filled the dents with an aluminum-based filler. By the time we finished the car, the customer had spent $50,000 restoring it. This was after he had purchased it for $40,000. Definitely not what the customer had originally planned on.”
So, Benzaquen advises, when looking at photos, look for images that show the car sanded down to be bare metal. Sellers, when having a vehicle restored, take plenty of photos or have the shop doing the restoration take photos of every stage of the restoration process. The more photos, the better backup and support they provide to your claims.
Confirm the car being purchased is indeed as it says it is
“Purchased for $30,000 in 2004 as a “body-on restored” car from a dealer, this 1970 Corvette Convertible quickly became a nightmare for the customer,” says Benzaquen. “The chassis had literally 1/4-inch of rust throughout. The rear trailing arms (they hold the rear suspension in) were rusted so badly, the rust was breaking the welds and causing them to literally split apart. The transmission was worn out, the engine had varying degrees of compression, the rear axle third member was worn out, the windshield frame was rotted so bad it leaked. When we removed the windshield moldings, we found the entire windshield had been caulked with bathroom caulk in a poor attempt to stop the leaks.” “The braking system was a mess.” Benzaquen continues. “One caliper was spewing fluid onto the rotor every time the pedal was pushed. This was basically lubricating the rotor when trying to stop. The rear brake calipers did not work at all. The right front caliper was a rebuilt unit and was the only one stopping the car. The main brake line from the master cylinder was put together to what amounted to ice maker fittings. It’s very dangerous to have a low-pressure fitting holding a high-pressure line together. The heater box had such a large rats nest in it, almost consuming the entire box. The dash and console wiring had been eaten in many areas by the rats. The carpeting was laid over the bare floor without any insulation. The exhaust system was rotted and they painted it to make it look nice. The headlamps and wipers didn’t work. This car was an absolute nightmare. It did have a pretty red paint job, a new interior, and a new convertible top. They had also sprayed the engine orange but sprayed it over the grease and all over the engine compartment.” Keep in mind that classic beauty is more than skin deep. A good restoration goes beyond pretty paint and clean fabrics, but deep down underneath what is easily seen.
Road signs are for the road, not for your floor boards
“$12,000 and a trip from Ohio later, this 1969 Plymouth Barracuda Convertible, literally left parts in every state on the trip home,” tells Benzaquen. “We found the whole front unibody clip had been tack welded instead of fully welded. The electrical system was shorted and caused the alternator to fail. The floors were riveted together with road signs (stop, yield, and RR Xing were the ones we found) and then a very healthy dose of filler was utilized to cover up the butchery. We had to remove the entire front end, engine, and suspension in order to properly repair the front unibody section and weld it to the body shell. The floors were removed and new pans were put in. The engine required rebuilding and the suspension required replacement of the bushings.” Benzaquin continues: “Many purchases are made without having the car examined by an expert. The common answer I receive when I ask them why, is that they thought it looked good in the pictures. We’ve always been told ‘a picture tells a thousand stories.’ Well, I say ‘a picture can also tell a thousand lies.’ ” An expert opinion can lend credence where photos may mislead.
Have the car inspected by an expert and check references for that expert
“The seller represented this 1973 Pontiac Trans Am as a numbers-matching car,” states Benzaquen. “The seller had no problem with the buyer having the car looked at. The inspector arrived and confirmed the car as numbers matching. The deal was cemented and $14,500 traded hands. This car needed to be restored but was a driver. We get the car in and within minutes, we could tell the numbers were not right. The motor had grind marks where the block code was supposed to be along with the engine sequence number. (This pad is located just below the right side cylinder head on the block.) The VIN and a new block code were stamped in this place. (The VIN does not go there.) It goes on a pad next to the lower pulley. We looked at that pad and there was a healthy build-up of grease. We knew it had never been looked at. The engine turned out to be a Bonneville 400 instead of a Trans Am 455. The buyer had no recourse, so he decided to dispose of the car, as numbers-matching was of utmost importance to him. So, this was a good example of a buyer that tried to do the right thing by having the car inspected, and still got shafted. It is almost unthinkable that the seller lucked out by having someone who knew less then he did come and look at the car. We can’t stress enough how important it is to not just use a name out of the phone book when choosing your inspector.”
It’s important to look around, check references, and get recommendations from previous clients to ensure you are getting just the expert you need.
Bottom line, no matter how prepared you are there is always the chance something can go wrong. It’s just Murphy’s Law. However by following these simple tips and remembering these horror stories, Benzaquen hopes you will be table to avoid unnecesssary headache or hassle.
Located near New York City, Classic Restoration Enterprises Inc. specializes in total restorations, modifications, and suspension or drivetrain upgrades for a wide range of vehicles.