It strikes me as odd the amount of people with a high level of interest in hot rods, customs, and muscle cars that don’t take into account the investment of labor, cost and time that go into restoring a car.  If you decide not to do the work yourself and hire a shop to complete the job, your costs can easily run over $100K, depending on the depth of your project.

As an example, a 1967 Camaro, with a 327ci engine, 2-speed Powerglide and 10-bolt rearend, needing a frame off, turn-key restoration, would require more than 1,000 hours of labor at a rate of anywhere between $55.00 and $95.00 per hour.  Unfortunately, this car will never recoup the money you would invest in the restoration.  On the other hand, a 1967 Nickey 427 Camaro will definitely be worth the investment because of the added value and potential worth of the restored vehicle.

I wouldn’t consider the first example “wrong,” especially if you can afford the cost and the car has some sentimental value.  Perhaps it just has to be restored, because your grandmother bought it brand new.  By all means have the work done, just don’t set false expectations in getting back what you have invested when you decide to sell.

Consider also modified custom work, such as chopping, channeling, a custom aftermarket tube chassis, modifying floorboards, etc...  This type of labor intensive effort adds significantly to the cost to the build.  When a one-off car is being created, the cost could reach astronomical proportions. In nearly all cases, custom fabricating is billed as time and material, which could be scary for the consumer. However, a legitimate shop is capable of doing the job correctly and that shop usually will have a lot more hours invested in the car than what they are billing the customer for.  Also consider that a trained Technician/Fabricator is not a minimum wage-type employee but a well-paid employee with extensive experience. 

The two examples mentioned previously have a similar build plan when it comes to the restoration process. Proper procedure for a straight restoration would require a total disassembly of the vehicle, “bagging and tagging” every part (even the nuts, bolts and screws), thorough documentation with pictures, and then shelving the parts until a determination is made whether to restore or replace each item.  A custom/modified build requires a different plan of attack. It always helps to have a rendering of the project as a blueprint and of course, the customer needs to be intimately involved in this. A completed rendering will help spawn an inventory of required parts based upon the customer’s wish list:  What type of engine (big block or small block); carbureted or fuel injected; transmission (5-speed or automatic); differential; a one-off chassis or perhaps an Art Morrison or a Chassisworks custom frame; all-leather interior; elaborate audio and video systems; tires and wheels; modified chop top, sectioned or channeled; what type of paint (graphics and/or candies). I think you’re getting my point….

Obviously, many parts have not even been mentioned, not one welder lit, not one man-hour spent, yet the cost is already soaring. Another key to both the outcome and the cost is the fine details. As an example, the type of hardware used throughout the project helps maintain a consistent look. If you’re planning to use stainless hardware, make sure to use stainless throughout the build.  An often overlooked item, brake and fuel lines, will need to be custom bent to fit the project. When you custom build you are actually building the car twice.  Every part has to be installed on the car in a “mock up” stage to insure all modifications are going to fit and work. After the mock up is completed, the car will be disassembled again before painting.

The paint process for a custom/restoration type shop is very different from collision work. Like the whole build of a custom car, the paint process is much more detailed. There are extra steps taken in a custom paint/body job to help insure a flat, smooth, and flawless finish that collision repair specialists like Maaco and Earl Scheib cannot achieve. Of course, it takes hundreds of man hours to achieve a flawless finish, as well. Paint and material can easily reach $3K if a quality brand of paint is being used. You can definitely have your car painted for less if you do the labor yourself and choose a shop that doesn’t invest the man hours. But keep in mind if they “flat rate” the project, when they reach the end of that payment, your car will more than likely sit in the back of their shop because; a) the money has run out, b) they under-bid the job and c) there is no financial incentive to finish the job in a timely manner.

Another consideration if you do choose a collision type body shop is that their first priority is probably their insurance work as that is the bulk of their income. They will take in restoration type work if they are slow, however, the job will likely take a back seat during higher volume times, which could lead to months of your project just sitting there untouched. 

The point I am trying to make through all of these examples is that you should realize up front the significant cost that goes into building and painting a car.  It’s probably become apparent that creating a top-notch project is not a “poor man’s” hobby anymore. I notice in the Auto Trader or see on eBay a lot of projects that never get finished because the money has ran out and now the project is being sold for pennies on the dollar. What a waste of time and money invested.

Know your budget, research the shop and know their capabilities. Once you start, make sure you’re able to keep the project funded so it stays “top of mind” with the shop doing the work. Most of all, know what you are getting yourself into when you decide to build the car of your dreams. With the significant investments of time and money, it can determine whether your kids go to a good university or the junior college down the street.  


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