Over the last couple of years, many of us have looked at our collections and asked, "What is really important?" What car or cars really make us smile? Of course, each of us is different. Some have one car, some have more, but we all have one thing in common: We all love old cars! I've found it interesting when I've asked an old car guy which car he drives the most. It is almost always the one that he "made his own." Sometimes it's a color change, adding air conditioning, or just having the right steering wheel, people drive the cars that they feel are a part of their personalities. Another major part of driving and enjoying our cars is the people who helped us and the sacrifices they made, by not taking that vacation, giving us hub caps for Christmas, and working with us nights and weekends to complete that special project. It's more than a hobby--it's a way of life to be passed down to future generations, and it doesn't matter if we completely restore, partially restore, or just detail them. The main objective is to keep the old cars on the road.
I came from an era where we always thought frame-off restoration was the only way to go. The car really just need paint, but, well, let's take it completely apart anyway! That way we'll know it's done right! That sounds good, and can be good but unless there is a definite restoration schedule and budget plan, you might just end up with a rolling chassis and a garage full of parts! I used to have a 10 year plan. If the car was untouched after 10 years, it had to be finished or sold. Now, it's down to 3 years.
There's a lot of talk these days about finding "barn-fresh" cars--and I'm talking about cars that have truly been locked away for decades--not one that has been pulled into the barn after being in a field for years and bogus patinaed by blowing dust onto it with a leaf blower while your buddy makes an "OK" face factory chalk mark on the firewall! A true barn find car can be a really intersting car to own, display and drive. I recently saw a television feature about a guy finding a 1938 one-of-a-kind coupe that had not seen the light of day since 1952! A decision was made to preserve what was good and rebuilt what was bad. Of course, preservation is not just cleaning it up. It is the automotive archeaological art of carefully cleaning, detailing and repairing the car right down to the fragmented decal on the air cleaner. They showed the car before and after, and it was amazing how fantastic it looked after cleaning, buffing and polishing everything. The old engine sprang back to life with just repairing what was needed. It looked and sounded like a car that had always been garage-kept and professionally maintained, retaining its original charm and presence, and by the way appraising for a very high value. It's up to us as collectors to know which direction to take our restorations. Restore it, preserve it, or a little of both. Each has its own rewards. Before starting any car building project, it is important to have a flexible working budget. You really do have to count the costs and consider the car you've chosen to rebuild. Would Granddad's '58 Chevy Biscayne 4-door really justify a $60,000 restoration? Or would it be better to restore "as needed" and put the $60k into Uncle Jack's '58 Chevy Impala hardtop 348! I remember a guy years ago who was selling his 1967 Chevelle. He had done a beautiful restoration, intending to sell it to help his kids with college. He was surprised to find out that he couldn't even get his restoration costs back. Why? He had restored a '67 Chevelle 4-door, 6-cylinder, where either an SS-396 or 327 Malibu Coupe or Convertible would have been a better choice, and certainly more lucrative. Research before starting is always a good idea, and it's a lot easier to do these days with all of the vintage publications, TV features and the internet. Other considerations before buying a car including having agarage with work space, insuring the car with a policy that has value upgrades as the restoration progresses, keeping project notes, detailed pictures, and being aware of any ad valorem taxes that may be annually assessed on your car. (Do they go by what you paid, of a Buyers' Guide?)
In this series of articles, I will cover what we did to three different cars; one featuring a total restoration, one a partial restoration and a well-preserved car that just needed detailing. This month our featured car is one we bought in Boston in 1999. We knew it needed a complete restoration, but being a 1941 Packard Custom Super 8 One-Eighty LeBaron Sport Brougham, we knew it was worth the cost and effort, and I loved the car! The fool proof test for me is when everytime I see it, I smile and get excited, no matter what stage of restoration it's in. Here is a summary of what has been done so far:
BODY DISASSEMBLING AND STRIPPING: The Packard was disassembled, putting everything in bags and boxes and labeling them, with detailed photos taken. The car was stripped to the metal, part media blast and chemical strip in the lead areas. Rust repair was done by cutting out rusted areas and fabricating and welding in new panels. Welds were cleaned with metal prep and the car was primed, then we began the body straightening and finishing.
UNDERCARRIAGE: The bottom side of the car was photographed and notes made, then the suspension, brakes, spring and shocks were removed for rebuilding. Everything was then stripped, primed, rebuilt and painted.
ENGINE: I had worked on these 1940-50 Packard 356 straight 8's before and knew the special 9 main bearing crank considerations. I found the right machinist and we discussed our rebuilding plan. The engine was then disassembled to the block, everything measured, then parts were ordered, the engine was machined and put back together, resulting in a beautifully-running 356. Next month we will continue the series with more on the Packard restoration. Enjoy your cars and restorations, and keep 'em driving!