Restoration Revolution

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Sep 8, 2014 | Posted in Features | From the July 2013 issue | Never miss an article

We may live in a disposable society, but we still go to great lengths to keep our classics on the road. Restorations are nothing new, but they have changed greatly over the years—from exactly how they’re handled to the end goals of the project. Here are 30 advances that have altered the world of automotive restoration, from the tools and procedures involved to the forces that send us out to the garage in the first place.

1. Rallies and Yours
Are car shows too static for your taste? Is vintage racing too giant a commitment? There now exists something in between: rallies and tours. They’re moving shows, but they travel at a relaxed pace. Best of all, they’re another way to enjoy some chrome and lacquer. Need a getaway? Check out the Going To The Sun Rally, our Orange Blossom Tour, or the events hosted by Vintage Rallies.

2. Classic Car Insurance
Proper insurance coverage has made it so much easier to own a classic. The days of worrying that a fire, theft or accident won’t be properly covered are long gone. As a bonus, classic car insurance generally costs less than you’d think. Companies like American Collectors, Chubb, Hagerty, Hartland, Heacock and J.C. Taylor specialize in these policies, respecting both the collector value of vintage autos as well as the maturity of their owners.

3. Auction Abundance
Not only has the prevalence of car auctions given us good TV fodder, but it has also made it much easier to turn a classic into cash. As a result, that classic in the garage can also be considered a liquid asset, not a hole in the ground that eats all of your cash.

4. Classic Car Financing
No money? No problem! Okay, maybe it’s not that simple, but today there are several options for financing a classic car. J.J. Best Banc & Co., for example, specializes in financing collector cars. (Similarly, leasing is available through companies like Putnam Leasing and Premier Financial Services.)

5. Modern Conveniences
Go back half a century, and many of today’s comforts and conveniences were just a dream—or just taking shape on the drawing board. Whether you’re doing a full restoration or just performing some upgrades, today’s technologies makes it possible to add overdrive, fuel injection, disc brakes, modern tunes and so much more to our favorite classics, many times without disturbing those great period looks.

6. Production Parts
MG, Triumph, Sunbeam and so many other great names no longer produce parts for our treasured classics, but that doesn’t mean today’s owners are up the creek without a carburetor. An entire network of suppliers—led by companies like Moss, Victoria British, Eckler’s, Centerline and NPD—continues to supply parts that are, in many cases, better than the originals they replace. Firms like Ratco can even provide entirely new frames to give your classic a second lease on life. We also need to thank OEMs like Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz for putting parts for past models back into production.

7. Small Production Runs
CNC machining, water-jet cutting and other high-tech modern manufacturing methods have made it easier for smaller companies to produce specialized parts on a smaller scale. Tooling up for a giant production run is no longer the only option. Plus, they’ve made room for old-school craftsmanship, which several companies have brought back into vogue. The result: If a company has an idea for a widget and expects only limited demand, that part no longer has to die on the drawing board.

8. Home Welders
Joining pieces of metal no longer requires a trip to a dark alley where you’ll have the pleasure of meeting a guy named Snake. Today’s market is nearly flooded with lightweight home machines that have brought stick, MIG and even TIG welding to the masses. Now those fabrication dreams and full restos can become a reality.

9. Classic Car Reality TV
Reality TV shows based around classic cars have introduced our hobby to a new crop of people—hopefully people who want to get off the couch and into the garage, behind the wheel, or on the show field.

10. Ultrasonic Cleaners
In the old days, we cleaned parts in kerosene or some other solvent. Sure, it worked—kind of—but it left your hands stinky for days. Plus, you had to dispose of the toxic waste. Today there’s a faster, cleaner, more pro-environment alternative: ultrasonic cleaners like the ones from Pro Ultrasonics. These cleaners use a water-based cleaner along with heat and vibration to scrub away the dirt and grime.

11. Nationwide Sales and Transactions Made Easy
Online outlets like eBay Motors, Bring a Trailer and craigslist have made it possible to buy and sell on a national scene. Live in a one-horse town but crave an Alfa Romeo Giulietta? Let your mouse do the walking.

12. Industry Trade Groups and Associations
Information makes the world go around, and having open lines of communication between manufacturers, shops, media and even consumers only helps our scene. It results in better parts, better events and better service. Trade groups like SEMA, PRI and the BMTA help encourage that discourse.

13. Home Restoration Supply Houses
A secret handshake is no longer required to buy the tools and equipment needed for a restoration. These days, you can hop online and find everything, from English wheels and powder-coating kits to pinstriping materials and specialty adhesives.

14. Reproduction Wheels
Perhaps not to the same degree as tires or wiper blades, but wheels are a wear item. Each time they’re removed from the car—or have a tire mounted or dismounted—some wear occurs. After a few decades, lugholes become egg-shaped and lips lose their bite. Add in a few curb encounters and it’s easy to see how a wheel may not live forever. But what to do when it’s a prized set of period-correct alloys? That’s where the aftermarket has saved the day. Many of our favorites from yesteryear have been put back into production by companies like Enkei, Rota, VTO and more, meaning vintage looks don’t have to be married with suspicious integrity.

15. Shipping Services
Need to get a car cross-country and don’t have the time, money or patience for a grand road trip? Shipping a car has never been easier. Whether you’re buying, selling or having work done, firms like Passport Transport, Reliable Transport and Exotic Car Transport specialize in transporting classic cars.

16. Powerhouse Clubs
Sure, the country is dotted with hundreds of small, independent clubs, but in the last few decades the major ones have kicked things up a few notches: topflight events, concours and racing series, and beautiful periodicals. Don’t forget the other benefits, like tech lines. In a way, these powerhouse clubs have become lobbyists for their members. It’s hard to list all the biggies, but to see how a major club operates, check out the Alfa Romeo Club of America, BMW CCA, Ferrari Club of America, Jaguar Clubs of North America, North American MGA Register, North American MGB Register, Mercedes-Benz Club of America, Porsche Club of America and the Vintage Triumph Register.

17. Speciality Dealers
Not up for tracking down the car of your dreams? We admit, separating the good cars from the dogs can become a full-time job. That’s where trusted dealers like Canepa and Wire Wheel Classic Sports Cars come in, as they have the experience and nose to deliver just the trusted examples. If you have a good car, you’re going to use it more, right?

18. Classic Car Tires
Our aftermarket is a resourceful group: These companies can bend a new fender from a sheet of steel, fabricate an emblem from scratch, and knit a wiring harness out of thin air. However, producing tires is still a major undertaking, and without those crucial rings of rubber our cars grind to a halt. Fortunately, there are aftermarket firms like Coker and Vredestein who realize that today’s tire world isn’t limited to SUVs and the latest supercars.

19. Home Lifts
A real mechanic’s lift in your own garage? While most of us were growing up, that was pure fantasy. How times have changed. For around $2000 or less, you can now have a real service lift at your disposal 24/7.

20. Cottage Industry Parts and Service
Thanks to the Internet, small shops and businesses that specialize in just one part or service have been able to go national, expanding their reach and helping legions of owners keep their cars on the road. Take Joe Curto as an example. He specializes in just one thing: servicing SU carburetors. However, his client base now extends well beyond his College Point neighborhood of Queens, New York.

21. Car Care
Whether a car just came from the paint booth or still wears its original coat, you want it to look its best, right? Car care companies like Griot’s Garage, Meguiar’s, P21S and Swissvax have been pushing the envelope for years, developing high-tech waxes and other products to keep the paint shiny, the chrome sparkling and the rubber looking just right. As an added bonus, these products meet today’s safety standards, meaning they won’t turn your hands blue.

22. A Restoration Shop on Every Corner
Say you have a car that needs restoration—either a full job or just some touch-up work. These days, you may not need to ship it thousands of miles, as the country is dotted with many restoration shops. As a bonus, the recent financial crisis seems to have weeded out the weaker, unstable shops and left the good ones standing.

23. Modern Paints
Want to have a car painted in California? It’s going to be sprayed with water-based paints, ones that don’t emit volatile organic compounds like the solvent-based coatings of yore. These water-based paints are poised to become the national standard. While it’s going to slightly change how cars are resprayed, On the Road Again Classics, one of the shops that has made the jump, says it’s no big deal.

24. Heat Shield Materials
Modern cars have spoiled us in many ways—one of which is providing a quiet, comfortable cockpit. That luxury isn’t limited to the latest wares, however, as today’s home restorer can easily add lightweight materials that shield the interior from heat, noise and vibration.

25. Modern Oils
Today’s cars call for long oil change intervals, and the lubricant companies have responded with appropriate formulas. Our old cars, however, have very different needs. It’s more than just adding extra zinc: Get the mix wrong, and the results can be disastrous. Wiped-out cam lobes are a popular result. Fortunately, specialty oil brewers like Brad Penn, Driven and Red Line supply mixes that are designed to keep those oil flat-tappet engines happy.

26. Spray-on Coatings
Don’t assume the trim and parts on a classic car are all the same silver or black. The frame rails may be one shade of matte black, while the wheels could have more of a satin finish. The fasteners aren’t simply gold, either; look closely, and you’ll notice that ever-popular cadmium finish. The trunk floor? It has its own neutral shade. It’s now possible to duplicate all of these colors at home thanks to the aerosol finishes offered by Eastwood and others. Prep the part, follow the directions, and spray away.

27. Rust-Encapsulating Paint
We love science. Not only has chemistry given us wonderful medicines as well as efficient lithium batteries, but we now have paints that coat rusty sheet metal to encase it in a hard, stable coating and prevents further corrosion. It’s that simple: Just brush on some POR-15, and let science replace that rust with a hard, durable coating.

28. Home Powder Coating
Powder-coat parts from the comfort of your shop. Just purchase one of the many commercially available kits, spray on the powder, and fire up the oven—ideally not the one found in your kitchen. In a few hours you’ll be rewarded with a tough, durable finish.

29. Brake Compounds
Asbestos made a darn good compound for brake pads and shoes. It tolerated a wide range of operating temperatures and delivered long product life. One negative point: Asbestos causes cancer, so it was banned from brake linings. Now what? It’s hard to enjoy a car that can’t stop. Today’s carbon-, ceramic- and Kevlar-based brake compounds work great without toxic emissions—the ceramic ones emit nearly invisible tan dust, meaning they’re very street-friendly. Moss Motors, Porterfield and others can hook you up. Wilwood can also supply upsized rotors and modern calipers to your classic.

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