Automotive Restoration: Yay Or Nay?

All those TV programs about classic car restorations just make you want to get out there, purchase a relic and restore it to new. But there’s more to automotive makeovers and the sooner you understand what it entails, the better will you be able to enjoy the fruit of your efforts.

Not just any restored car carries value. Those who determine which do are fickle and only a few have withstood the test of time. The VW Beetle, Ford pickup trucks dating back to the 1950s and ’60s, and mid ’60s Ford Mustangs are a few examples. Other makes include luxury makes like Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley.

Preparing for a restoration project

Prestige vehicles are more expensive

It’s no surprise that prestige cars are more expensive to purchase and restore. The cost goes up even more if luxury components are added or if specific designs are recreated. If you have a fat budget, there’s a lot that can be accomplished by a competent restorer.

Everything hinges on budget

Budget will help decide what the restored car is to be used for. If it’s for display purposes then you’ll have to spend more to recreate it as close to the original as possible. If it’s for your own enjoyment or if you’re running a local entertainment service, you can rest assured that it won’t cost a bomb since you don’t have to get it looking very close to the real thing.

Cost can reduce with self-help

Not everyone knows enough about cars to undertake a restoration which is why professionals are approached. But if there are certain areas you can handle, you can significantly drive down costs. Just make sure you know what you’re doing.

Classic cars are built differently with different drivetrains most of which are not available anymore. Some can be procured from classic car dealers and collectors. They do cost and the rarer the parts the more expensive they are. However, a restoration that comes close to the original not just externally but internally as well will have much greater value and help you recover the cost of the project.

What to expect from a restored car

Professionally restored cars look great and run pretty well. But since the value lies in how well they mimic the original and how well-maintained they are, driving it too often may see damage occur. Show cars, in particular, must be perfectly maintained and indeed can only be restored by a professional. It’s a factor considered by judges.

Classic cars are head-turners and well-restored vehicles even more so. They may be fuel-hungry and not all that great on the suspension but their beauty is unparalleled. While we’ve progressed in automotive technology, design, sadly, is not at par with the cars of old, bar a few. For senior citizens, the joy of witnessing cars popular during their younger days is priceless which is probably why quite a few turn to restoration as a hobby.

On a more practical level, restoration gives us clues into automobile design and how to perfect it so that it combines beauty and efficiency in all respects. Without restored classic cars, we wouldn’t be able to experience first-hand what automobiles really looked like and wouldn’t have much of an idea on what areas to improve for safety and aerodynamics.

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Automotive Restoration: A Frame-Off Body Repair of a 1960 Ferrari

This automotive restoration project began in June 2010, with the client’s sights set on showing it at Pebble Beach. This 1960 Ferrari 250 GT Pininfaria Cabriolet (PF Cab) had been in storage for 30 years in Arizona before being purchased by the current owner. Ferraris during this time were hand built by Italian coach makers and the engines were also hand-built by Ferrari. The 250 GT series was built for the customer that wanted a street legal car that he could also take to the race track. Of course not everyone raced their Ferraris, some customers just wanted the awesome power and beautiful styling of the 250 GT. Pininfarina is still operating and still makes concept and prototype cars for major companies around the globe.

After the Ferrari 250 GT PF Cab was disassembled and media blasted, I set about repairing and reconstructing the body to its original factory state.

This client was particularly concerned about getting the rebuild perfectly symmetrical. I had an idea, born from my experience working in the prototype industry: to build a box with a measuring system to aid the build of the vehicle. The photos below are a brief taste of posts to follow.
The first part of this post covers a measuring device we designed and built specially for this Ferrari PF Cab and the second part explains how it was used to rebuild the tail light area.

The objective of the measuring box is to figure out if a car body was built square to the chassis and is symmetrical from side to side. Before delving into measuring the body, remember that this was a Ferrari hand built body from the 1960′s, so tight tolerances are not expected. The idea is that the Ferrari PF Cab body and chassis sit on a center line inside a 3-dimensional steel framed box. The perimeter of the box acts as a measuring datum so that measurements from the box to the Ferrari PF Cab can be taken on the left and right hand sides and then compared to check symmetry.

The 3-dimensional box is divided into 3 planes representing length, depth, and height. On each axis is 1/2″ machined holes spaced 200mm apart, these holes are locations for the measuring stations. A line runs down the center of the box and the center of the chassis is aligned with a custom stand to the body. The center line only runs length ways, as the body is only symmetrical in one direction. The body is divided into a grid, with the aid of a laser, and numbered to aid recording.

These were the findings of major significance for this Ferrari PF Cab:

1. the front right-hand headlight housing is 10mm further forward than the left-hand headlight

2. the body style line is 6mm higher on the right-hand side than the left-hand

3. the complete rear end of the car is kicked over to the right hand side 50mm from the rear of the doors to the back of the Ferrari. Not from accident/damage, just how the car was built.

4. the left-hand rear tail light housing peak leans inwards 8mm

After discussing the above findings with the client, the first issues to address was the left-hand tail light problem. Now we will show the step by step rebuild and fabrication of the light housing. Why rebuild this area? On first sight the sheet metal housing clearly looked as though the top was angled inwards and second, the housing was too big for the light bezel, which formed the appearance of a step. To be correct in appearance, the surface of the bezel should be level with the surface of the paint. As part of the ‘measuring box’ process, we recorded results showing the top of the housing was 5mm to the right of center. To fix these two problems it was most practical and cost efficient to make a completely new housing and then graft it into the fender.

1. Slice away the original taillight housing from the car body.

2. Make a pattern off the original and cut a fresh piece of sheet metal to match.

3. Shape the new piece, using the old piece and the actual tail light until it fits perfectly.

4. TIG weld the new sections together.

5. Offer it up the car body, again adjusting until it fits perfectly. Cleco into place.

6. Check bottom, top, and sides against the measuring box for perfect squareness and symmetry.

7. TIG weld the new housing onto the Ferrari body.

8. Metal finish and then you are ready for paint!

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