The Path To Enlightenment
By SAM SMITH
In my life, most of my time is spent either working with, on, or surrounded by British cars, or by my kids, which is a totally different career field and a story for another day.
At work, I witness the costs involved with resurrecting a British car, even one in relatively good condition, and I get to see the resulting value of the completed classic. It's a labor of love that provides tons of enjoyment to the restorer, but for those considering undertaking such a project, I'd love to throw out a few pointers.
To do a really nice total restoration at a reasonable cost, the first important key is the ability to perform the majority of the work yourself. Even taking your free labor into account, the cost of parts and subcontractors can often approach (really big number) the $20,000 range just when you have the end of the project in sight.
Don't laugh. I've seen it over and over. And it’s OK, because it's a hobby and the enjoyment and related benefits you've been having can continue for years.
Second, never add up all your paid receipts, except, of course, to impress the next future owner of your car. Third, pick a car to restore that will have a good value when you're done, and always purchase the best example that you can afford. It is way more fun to dive into the nuts and bolts of the restoration rather then spend the next two years fighting the tin worms, welding little pieces of metal into larger pieces.
Take this into consideration prior to starting another project but also give careful thought about choosing the right car to redo. Do a little research before the purchase and you'll discover that a 1979 MG Midget doesn't quite have the restored value of a 1967 Austin Healey 3000 or even a 1962 MGA.
I certainly wouldn't demean any particular car, in the right circumstances they all have a huge fun and enjoyment value, but think about how long you want to keep the car and how you plan to use it. All these factors can influence which car and model that you choose.
Once, long ago, I worked on an MG Magnette restoration for myself. Fortunately, I decided to do the mechanical aspects before tackling the bodywork, which was going to be extensive and expensive. By pure luck, and I doubt such good fortune will ever strike me again, just as the running gear was getting into good condition I was able to purchase another Magnette with a nearly perfect body but junk mechanicals. I switched out the drive train, gave her a wax job and had at least twice the value of the car for my investment. Had that not happened I probably would have spent twice as much as the car was worth.
I miss the car still and I’m sorry I sold it after a few years of wonderful motoring. A photo of it is the screen saver on my computer and I fully intend to have another one some day, when I've finished a couple of other projects that are in front of it. (I think this is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" times.)
While you can purchase a fully restored British Classic for a bit less than the restoration will cost, and while you get to drive it tomorrow, why would you want to miss all that fun.
On a more technical note, we recently had an early 50's flat-head version of a British sedan in the shop for service. While I’ll keep the specific year, make and model shall nameless to protect the innocent, the car had a really bad exhaust-leak noise coming from the engine, which had been completely rebuilt by a previous owner. We switched out a faulty exhaust/intake gasket with no change in the noise, but then we could feel the air rushing out from under the head gasket. So it was off to the parts department to dig up a head gasket for a car rarely imported to this country. It took about a week to locate one, in Texas, that turned out to be the same vintage in appearance as both the sedan and me — 1953 — but it was still useable.
The question was why did the head gasket let go? After disassembly, careful inspection and a fair amount of nonbillable hours gawking at the tiny little power plant, we discovered that the engine rebuilder had not paid enough attention to detail. A number of head studs were installed upside down in the block. On many engines, these studs have different lengths of thread on each end. With them reversed, the nuts did not have enough thread to properly tighten the head, and trying to torque to head bolts had caused the studs to be forced further into the block, bottoming out and stripping the threads.
Luckily the block was fine and we were able to make some new studs for replacement. That little 800cc engine purred rather nicely afterwards.
But that brings to mind another pointer: When doing repairs — and most certainly during any restoration — notes, pictures, sketches or whatever means of reminders for every little detail are very important. Not only will it save you money in the long run but who wants to do tasks twice? Then again, we had a blast working on that fine LBC sedan and it was great fun to test drive the little right-hand steering beauty.
Now I just hope I can do as well guiding my children to success.