Tips to Avoid Classic Car Restoration Headaches

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.

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Car restoration showroom slated for former Allentown slaughterhouse

A long-vacant former Allentown slaughterhouse soon could be getting a much-needed face lift.

ACR Development has proposed a classic car restoration facility for the Klein Building, a property at the foot of the Hamilton Street Bridge adjacent to the America on Wheels museum.

The proposal, approved unanimously Tuesday by the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority, calls for a $2 million renovation that would transform the 12,000-square foot Klein Building into a showplace for automotive restoration.

Building renovations, which would be done in phases, would include a first-floor showroom and 12 apartments on the upper floors. An addition would be built in the back to allow for more space to work on cars.

Developers plan to keep the entire historic facade intact, as well as the original architectural concept.

The work at Front and Hamilton streets would be a collaboration between America on Wheels and RB Collection, a Trexlertown business run by brothers Al and Alex Ruozzi. RB Collection restores and services classic, vintage and exotic cars.

“We are excited to take our 23 years of knowledge and passion for classic cars and generate a thematic approach to Allentown’s waterfront redevelopment that will become the ‘Automobile Corner of America’ right here in the Valley,” Alex Ruozzi said in a news release.

Scott Unger, the development authority’s executive director, said the proposal fits perfectly with the Lehigh Riverfront Master Plan, an overview completed in early 2013 that made recommendations for how to revitalize the city’s waterfront. The gritty land along the Lehigh River was once largely industrial and is considered valuable, but it has been difficult for the city to redevelop.

“It’s hard to contemplate a use that would be more in spirit and in step with the waterfront master plan than what they’re suggesting,” Unger said of the proposal.

The Klein Building was last operated by A&B Meats and has been owned by ACIDA since 1996. It was one of several properties given to the authority as a gift from local philanthropist Ray Holland. The authority sank $3 million into cleaning up the site, including its underground tank of lard. Originally, twine was manufactured in the building.

Despite ACIDA’s lengthy ownership, a concerted effort was not made until now to find a buyer for the highly visible building, Unger said.

The property is not in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, Allentown’s one-of-a-kind designation that allows developers to tap state and local taxes. But it is close to several proposed waterfront developments, including a $325 million residential, office and commercial complex slated for the former Lehigh Structural Steel property, and a brew pub proposed for the former Neuweiler Brewery.

ACR Development was the only bidder.

ACIDA member Michael Miller reviewed the financial projections presented by the developers, and recommended the project to the board.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is diversification,” he said. “We’ve seen lots of offices, restaurants. This was something different. It’s a very complimentary addition to what’s going on.”

According to their proposal, developers hope to complete construction of an addition to the property this year. A second phase could be complete by 2017.

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Classic Car, Highway Patrol, Las Vegas, Police Error

Darcy’s line of up cycled fashion will be featured at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles this summer, in an exhibit titled “Recycled, Up Cycled, Re-Purposed Clothing, a Slow Fashion Movement”. To prepare for the publicity of this event, Darcy organized a fashion shoot that would feature her clothing line. While the majority of the shots were planned for a nearby open space reserve, Darcy included her family owned Jaguar Sedan in the photo line up.

This 1963 Jaguar Mark II Sedan (MKII) was purchased new by Darcy’s grandfather. It has been in the same family for 52 years, passing through three generations. In addition, it may be the only MKII to have lived its entire life in two California garages! Darcy and her husband Michael are the current owners of the vehicle.

This particular model was introduced in October 1959, and continued in production until 1967. It was the replacement model for the 2.4 and 3.4 liter saloon, also known as the Mark I Sedan (MKI).

For most of this car’s life, it lived in the detached garage next to Darcy’s grandparent’s 4 story Italian Renaissance home in Napa, California. The car was even precious to them as they took it out only on Sunday’s to attend church or social luncheon activities. When her grandparents passed, the estate was passed on to Darcy’s uncle, who lived in San Francisco. He maintained the Napa estate, occasionally taking the sedan out for a for a drive to town, until his death in 2005. At this time the car had been driven approximately 114 thousand miles in 42 years.

After Darcy’ uncle passed, she and her husband inherited the vehicle and started its restoration in May, 2005. Delong’s Automotive in Campbell was chosen for the initial work, which included rebuilding the transmission, replacing the power steering with rack and pinion style, complete brake job, new exhaust system, conversion to alternator, and rebuilt cooling system.

The next phase included the interior and exterior work. In December of 2006, the wood was removed and taken to Madera Wood Concepts in Goleta, California, where it was re-veneered and stained. In April 2007, the car was entrusted to Images Auto Body, in Campbell, where it was painted English Cream and the interior was finished. Craig’s upholstery, also in Campbell, did the upholstery work. Additional details included new stainless steel wheels and white walled tires. Restoration work was completed on October 5, 2007.

Today the car lives in Michael and Darcy’s detached garage, under a car covering, doubly protected. Michael powers the vehicle up once a week to keep the battery charged, and has entered it in one car show since its restoration, the Stanford Concourse, where it won best in class. It occasionally comes out of the garage to impress the neighbors, but for the most part, this beautiful vehicle remains hidden from the public.

Darcy was particularly thrilled to have an outfit for her model that complimented the Jaguar perfectly, not to mention her model Krysta. “We added the hat and gloves to give the audience the impression that she was the car’s personal chauffeur.” Indeed, the car comes to life (again) as a luxury vehicle through the lens of Darcy’s photographer, Katherine Romano, and illustrates to the world that restoration is a beautiful art on all fronts.

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Shop gives modern makeovers to classic cars

It’s hard to resist taking a close look at the cars parked around Scott Bonowski’s shop. Often, though, what he finds beneath the sheet metal isn’t as pretty. Check out this shop that gives modern makeovers to classic cars.

As beautiful as these classic cars are on the outside, their outdated braking systems, engines and suspensions and their lack of electronics can make them uncomfortable or downright unsafe to drive on a regular basis.

That’s where Bonowski comes in. At Hot Rods and Hobbies in this mostly industrial enclave south of Los Angeles, Bonowski takes old cars and restores them to perfection based on their owner’s preferences, usually incorporating modern components. The result is the best of both worlds: the nostalgia of the original classic car combined with the safety, comfort and reliability of modern parts — items such as power disc brakes and power steering, low-polluting fuel-injected engines, air conditioning and independent-rear suspension.

They are so-called restomods, cars restored with modern parts rather than taking them back to their original condition, like when they left the factory.

It’s a process that’s not without controversy. To some collectors, switching out original components for updated, improved ones is sacrilege. Not to Bonowski. “Some of these cars don’t have much value anyway,” he says. “Some (owners) didn’t like the old pile that could barely make it up the hill.”

With updated components, the restored cars are tough enough to withstand the daily grind of commuting, he says. And they’re less likely to break down.

Bonowski started off with a paint and detailing shop for finicky owners in 1989. Then, he says, owners would ask him to fix a dent before painting. The requests started to escalate. How about new chrome or glass? Or swapping out an engine? Before long, he says he found himself in the full restoration business.

In the early days, Bonowski says he dealt mainly with owners of exotic sports cars. “The hot-rod guys didn’t have the money back then,” he explains. Now, they do. His shop is crammed with old cars of all sorts. Recently, for instance, the array of cars ranged from a 1937 Ford to a 1964 Jaguar.

Pricing depends on what an owner wants done. “Sky’s the limit,” he says. Paint jobs start at $25,000 and up. A full restoration can cost $175,000 and take up to three years. The most expensive ever was a $560,000 for a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country.For owners who find themselves a little short on cash, they have plenty of time to save money: The waiting list to just get a car into hot Rods and Hobbies currently stands at about 18 months.

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How to Restore a Classic Car on a Budget

Learning how to restore a classic car on a budget only requires a few simple steps, but implementing them will take time and budgeting. Time is an important factor in full restoration projects since it can take around 1,000 hours to fully restore a classic car. You’re going to need a lot of parts which won’t always be easy to find and will cost significant sums of money. However, there are ways to accomplish the task without breaking the bank.

Finding Your Car

First of all, you need a vehicle to restore. Talk to other classic car enthusiasts who may be aware of a potential project, look at magazines and check any online ads. Don’t be in a hurry to make a choice. The more work you have to do, the longer it will take and the more you’ll spend on parts.

Finding Parts

You need a number of replacement parts when you restore a classic car. If you’re lucky, you will be able to salvage some of the parts already on the car and in the engine. However, there will still be a lot of items that you’ll need to buy. Contact vehicle salvage centers in your area to see if they have a similar vehicle. If so, find out what parts are available.

Restoring Your Car

The only way to restore a classic car on a budget is to do the work yourself. That means you need a place to do the work, such as a garage, where the vehicle is shielded from the weather. You also need a full range of auto tools, the owner’s manual and plenty of experience. Talk to friends or other enthusiasts who have restoration experience and might be willing to help or teach you. Keep money aside for a professional paint job to finish the vehicle, although you can do the priming of the body yourself. This will save on the overall paint costs.

Expect to take about a year to restore a classic car. Don’t try and rush the project. Always take time to locate the cheapest sources for parts before you buy and do as much of the work as you possibly can yourself.

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