I sometimes wonder whether people are put off classic cars through fear of them needing to be “perfect” – concours level examples of their dream classics.
Let’s be realistic for a second. The cars that are usually suitable bases for a perfect restoration are few and far between. When they do become available, collectors fight over them. If you have deep pockets then by all means get involved. If not, rather accept that you need to fish in a different pond.
By the way, if you do buy a perfect car like this, you can expect to spend an absolute fortune on a restoration. Unless you’ve uncovered an incredible barn find with a prancing horse on the front, you probably won’t get your money back.
Some people get to date models. Others get to date the dorky one in the corner. All manage to have fun.
Finding a project car that is sub-ideal is far easier. They live in the backyards of homes in suburbs on the wrong side of the highway. Either owned in the family for many years and ignored or bought as a project with high ambitions but limited funding, these cars adorn the online pages of your preferred classifieds.
Ignore the “I know what I have” clowns who are trying to sell you a modified, incomplete version of what used to be a presentable car, but now smells of broken dreams and cigarette smoke. They don’t know what they have, because what they have is a piece of sh1t.
The best projects are advertised quietly or, better yet, not at all. Word of mouth is the best way to uncover the right project for you. Get to know some of the collectors on forums, social media groups or car club pages. If you show a genuine passion for the vehicles, I can all but guarantee that someone will help you.
The best part about a restoration that can never be a concours winner is that you are under no pressure to spend concours money. The original car was red but you prefer blue? Great, paint it blue. Paint it green. Upgrade the brakes.
Do whatever is going to make you happy. Just don’t ruin what the car is actually about, especially if it’s a bit unusual.
I restored an Alfa Berlina while I was at university. Well, “restored” is a relative term I guess. I definitely saved it from death, because it was so rusted that you could look through the door on the left-hand side of the car and see right through it and out the other side.
The panel fit was poor. I only found out months down the line that the rear fenders had been modified at some point in the car’s life. The seats weren’t original. The engine wasn’t particularly strong. It had a couple of Carello headlights and a couple of…generics.
You know what? A decade later, all I remember is a car that gave me hours of quality time with my dad, my brother and my friends. I learned so much about cars in the process and I felt incredibly proud to be building a classic car while most of my friends were drinking themselves into a coma every Thursday night.
I did get involved in the drinking from time to time, usually because something had broken on the Alfa.
I eventually managed to sell the car for a profit, believe it or not, but that’s a story for another day. More importantly, I built a car on a shoestring budget. I experienced one of life’s greatest gifts – building a car as a family.
It wasn’t concours. It wasn’t even close. I’ll tell you one thing though: it was special.