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Car Restoration and Antique Car Collecting Part 6:

Why Does Auto Pain and Body Work Cost so Much?
by Vic Donnell

Ask yourself if you can do it yourself. If you can’t or you simply don’t want to do it, then you are very much in the majority of old car collectors. Once you know this and you commit yourself to make adjustments to your expectations, then all you have to do is find the shop that will do it for you and get a quote.

Based on my experience with paint and body shops, I can tell you this. You can have it fast and cheap OR you can pay a lot more and possibly get what you expect. No matter the quoted price, it will most likely double in both dollars and days before you get it back. Quality paint and body work is an art, not a science. If you don’t visit the work every day, it will never be done to your expectations. And you need to acknowledge that a paint and body shop is in the business of “repairs” not “restorations.” As a general statement, the paint and body shops are in business to satisfy the auto insurance industry’s obligations to their policy holders. They can only stay in business if they have continuous throughput of repairs. They are working against time and a fixed amount of compensation in dollars from the insurance companies. They have neither the inclination nor the time to listen to your specification of the work you want.

Having said that, now I must say that there are exceptions. We recently toured the facilities of Jeff’s Resurrections in Taylor. In that shop, the owner takes great pride in the product he can provide. He personally supervises all his workers to ensure their work is up to his standards. You will get it done right but you must be willing to pay his price, and it will stagger you. These facts, if you accept these statements as fact, will explain why the selling (or the bid) prices you see in some of our collector publications, seem so outrageously high. The bidders have recognized that they can most likely buy the car of their dreams at auction for less than the cost of restoration of their own purchase of a restoration project. And they get to see the result before they spend their money. A former friend (who is no longer with us) would always add $85,000 to the purchase price of any car he was considering for purchase. That was the amount he projected as his cost for restoration to the standard he wanted for his cars. That number would be a little too small these days.

Once you recognize this situation, you can choose how to proceed. My choice was to learn how to do it all myself. I take great pride in being able to look at my cars and say,”I did that.” You should also know that doing it yourself will not make the job cheap. Paint and body finishing products are expensive. But, when you do it yourself, there is no additional cost if it take three months instead of three days to get the job done right.

So, how do you learn about restoration? If you’re young, there is McPhearson College which offers a degree program in auto restoration. If you are no longer young, then there is the school of hard knocks that still works. There are literally hundreds of books on the subject of auto restoration and specialty books on things like metal shaping, molding, painting, sanding, welding, valve grinding, chrome plating, painting and finishing. Try the library and the internet for references. Ask “how do you do it?”questions of other club members. We have a number of highly skilled antique car restorers in this club. And above all, don’t be afraid to try just about anything. Most anything you do is reversible or at least can be done again. There are some hazards that you should avoid. If you don’t know what they are, then you’ll have trouble avoiding them. It helps to ask questions and read labels before starting something new to you.

If you try and your finished product doesn’t satisfy you, then back up and do it again until it does satisfy you. It only takes a little more time and money and maybe some tutoring to get what you want. Believe me, this hobby can be extremely satisfying.