When Corvette Fever editor Alan Colvin asked me to put some thoughts together on this subject, my first reaction was that most everyone already knows how to go about selecting a restoration shop. But the point was made that there have been many folks who have either had poor experiences, or who are new to the hobby. While directed mainly to people new to restoration work, and possibly old hat to those having gone through a restoration, hopefully we'll touch on a few new ideas for both.
Having been in the hobby for many years, we've had our share of experiences with various restorers and shops for outsourced work-some were good experiences; some we'd like to forget. We've certainly heard of many horror stories, but there are ways to reduce the potential of that happening to you. Some fortunate folks might be able to drop off a car, along with a blank check, and just want to be called when it's ready. Most of us either won't find ourselves in that position, or simply prefer the satisfaction of having done much of the work ourselves. Even if you are trying to do much of the work yourself, there's usually the need to have others involved for things such the chrome work, body work, painting, upholstery or custom machine work. If you do need to find sources to do this work, how can you be best prepared and what are the things that you should look for? Both of those aspects are what we'll address based on our personal experience. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start looking for a restoration shop:
Getting ready for the body...
Getting ready for the body drop on Split Personality. Note the use of a two-post lift and custom mounts for supporting the body when lowering onto the chassis.
What are your specific objectives? Have you thought through what you want as an end product? Having a clear picture will go a long way in finding and working with a restorer for both your sake and theirs as well as achieving the end product you want. Do you have a good idea of the value the car may be worth, once the project is completed? It's not all that unusual for a large restoration project to bring your cost of the restoration work, when added to the cost of the car itself, to a level above the market value. For many folks that isn't an overriding issue, as many projects are more focused on our emotional involvement, but it's a consideration to take into account.
Level of Quality
What level of quality are you looking for? Are you looking for a "workman-like" job, or do you want it at a specific level such as for NCRS events, or a custom show quality job? I remember getting estimates to paint my mother's car a few years ago. It was in good shape, but in need of paint. I first went to several local body shops, and then decided to visit one of the major chain paint shops. In looking at examples of their work, I wasn't very impressed with what I saw. Being unable to restrain myself from pointing out what I thought, I heard words of wisdom from the young shop manager: "Hey, you don't go to Burger King for filet mignon . . . " He was right, and I'll always remember that.
Level of Involvement
How much of the work, if any, do you plan to do yourself? For example, will you be doing some or most of the work to obtain the various parts needed, or will you rely on the shop to do that? There is more time spent in managing a project than you might think. Do you plan to do that yourself, or leave it to the restorer? You could likely reduce your costs by at least handling those aspects. Do you plan to do some of the actual restoration work, such as the upholstery installation, mechanical restoration or assembly work yourself? Many shops will work with you to focus on just those jobs which you can't or don't want to do yourself, which would also reduce your costs.
What is your timeframe to start and complete the project? You may well face the reality that your timeframe and that of the shop does not mesh as well as you would like. Often the best shops will have a lengthy list of projects underway or scheduled. Frankly, shops that don't would raise a question mark in our minds. While there could be other factors at work, the best shops should be in demand, even in a tough economy. It's also a given that the larger projects are likely going to take longer than you thought. When putting our project plans together, I usually double the timeframe for long-term projects, as that has turned out to be closer to reality.