The Project Car Terminators

I am constantly stumbling across car collections. Some are well organized, with the cars in great shape and well displayed. These are a joy to see and write about; I love listening to how and why guys collect the cars that most interest them. From Jay Leno’s amazing collection to Mitch McCullough’s gorgeous new garage filled with mostly Lotus cars, I have been blessed to see some of the top collections in the country.

Most collections don’t look like this; mere mortals usually lack the time, money or space to assemble something so grand. Instead, they gather a mishmash of rough, rusty, incomplete cars and claim they’re going to get to each one of them right away.

It saddens me that so few people seem able to accept reality. Even at 80-plus years of age, when they haven’t worked on a car for over 10 years, some guys still insist they’re going to finish those 10 cars strewn about their property. This situation is even more frustrating when the cars are left out in the elements and the owner simply will not let a few go before they disappear back into the earth.

I have written about this before, but only recently did I fully realize how those words apply to my own life. I did the math: I’m 55 years old, I currently have 11 projects awaiting my attention, and I’ve been finishing one project every two years. That means I now have enough projects to last me until I’m nearly 80.

This scares the crap out of me. Have I become one of those crazy old guys I’m constantly complaining about? Am I where project cars go to die? No, please, not me.

This got me remembering a funny skit I saw years ago on “The Man Show,” that now-departed Comedy Central program starring Jimmy Kimmel and car collector/ vintage racer Adam Carolla. The bit was a fake commercial for the “Rest Assured Disposal Service,” which snuck into the houses of recently deceased customers and disposed of all their embarrassing pornography.

It’s too bad car collectors can’t subscribe to a similar service for all of the stuff we accumulate. Think about how easy it would be to sign up, pay a small fee, and rest assured that our families would be spared all the potential headaches and confusion of being left with our large, untidy assortments of projects and prizes.

I’m halfway serious here. I know that the big auction companies will handle your nice, neat collection, but who is going to handle my buddy J.K.’s shop?

I was there recently, and there are Triumph parts all over the place. J.K. is a bit of a pack rat and has more projects than he can comfortably complete, but he still doesn’t really want to get rid of anything. If someone doesn‘t help him get it organized, this stuff might all be sold for scrap. I would hate to see a real Group 44 Inc. Triumph go this way. Fortunately, J.K.’s wife races with him and knows the value of what’s in the shop, but who helps the many families who don’t have this knowledge?

This type of servce is available for household estate sales, but I’m not familiar with any equivalent catering to low-end car collectors.

Since we probably can’t hire someone to deal with it all after we’re gone, we all need to get real. First, do the math: If you are in your 60s or 70s, pick a set number of projects that you honestly can and will finish–and then get rid of the rest.

If you’re not willing to do that, at least walk around with someone you trust, like your adult child or the executor of your estate, and document what you have and what it is worth. Where are your titles kept? Are they in your name? Can you start signing them over, or put them in a trust and name someone to handle that trust after your death? Put some thought into this now, so that your family is spared the unnecessary hassle. And if you do start some sort of post-mortem car-disposal business, you need to at least advertise it with us. I think it could be huge.

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Gary Dork
2/12/16 3:35 p.m.

I'm 67, and fortunately I only have one project car ... a "ran when parked" '68 Spitfire. I'd like to think that it's been extraordinary willpower and common sense that's kept me from from buying an additional 10-15 projects along the way. But the reality is that I just don't seem to have the 'nads to pull the trigger when another project car presents itself. (And there have been many). I guess that's a good thing. But at the rate of progress I'm making with the Spitfire, I wonder if I'll finish it in time, so to speak. (Not that there's anything other than my age that would cause me to say that). It really is something to think about and to plan for.

It's an interesting concept for a new business, though.

TRoglodyte SuperDork
2/12/16 3:46 p.m.

Most people don't want to look reality in the eye, it's to scary. I have turned some things loose because I know that the new owners had a level of enthusiasm I was lacking. 1958 Chevrolet one ton Panel languished in my prison for 5 years before I turned it over to 2 brothers that now have it roadworthy. My accomplishment was saving it from the crusher.

oldeskewltoy UltraDork
2/12/16 4:32 p.m.

56 now... and having too many projects is a thing....

I still need to finish the one I'm still working on....

racerdave600 SuperDork
2/12/16 6:48 p.m.

I'm 52 and am down to one project. I did realize some years ago that my hording wasn't accomplishing much. I decided to concentrate on one at a time and not accumulate too many cars. It's liberating in a strange sort of way. Is this how normal people live?

A comment on JK. I don't know him personally, but I've been in several events with him and his wife. His TR6 is a thing of beauty, and both he and his wife are fast! Of all the cars I've owned, I still consider myself a Triumph guy. And seeing and hearing the TR6 run is always a joy.

CertifiedLotus New Reader
2/12/16 7:18 p.m.

I've had project cars for longer than I can imagine. Started when I was 17 years old buying sports cars in disrepair because that is what I could afford. I always bought a car, finished it and was drivable before I bought my next project car.

Today, I'm 61 and still follow the same philosophy, build one project car at a time and don't buy another until it's completed.

I'm currently working on a 1969 Lotus Elan S4. It taking a few more months to complete than I originally thought. But I will finish it before I buy another project car.

maseratiguy Reader
2/12/16 8:37 p.m.

Is it best to "not quite finish" sometimes? I spent 15 years and now my Merak SS is really, really good.I found however the better it got, the less I drove it! I used to drive it all over. I used to put 5-8,000 miles a year on it. Then as it got too nice, questions like, "was it going to rain", "do I want to drive THERE with the car?", "Oh, those roads are crap, no taking it there!" (very low and easy to scrape), etc. etc. Now I am selling it, so I can start another project, which I will make nice, but will not make pristine, Just so I can drive it all over! I like driving my cars, not just going to a car show sitting around all day and then home again.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
2/13/16 1:04 a.m.

Too many projects? Not enough time? That's what children are for.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
2/13/16 7:09 a.m.

Jerry, Getting son Tom to work on projects is easy. Getting him to help me with my stuff, less so.

Thanks everyone for the feedback on this column. It attracted many letters when it ran in the magazine. And I took my own advice and pared down a couple and got going on a couple of other projects.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
2/13/16 9:55 a.m.

I will admit I've reached my limit of how many I can handle. I personally feel it's an issue of space. I don't have enough to work effectively one one car, let along the 4 classics and 2 daily drivers I own, all in various states of need.

aircooled MegaDork
2/13/16 10:49 a.m.

Ian is right on with one of my axioms:

"The amount of crap you accumulate is directly proportional to the space you have to store it."

If I had space for three more cars... guess what?

850Combat Reader
2/13/16 1:59 p.m.

I've got a handful of Alfa parts, a bunch of Lotus 7 and Elan+2 parts, and boxes of Cortina parts. I'm concerned that it will go as scrap. I'm 61. I don't have any "project cars", per se, but I do have too many cars. Just keeping them up and decent is a hassle. Mystery ignition problem in 1 Cortina, plus it needs a headliner and fuel tank sending unit. Carbs need rebuild in Lotus 7 again from not being used enough. I have to pull the plenum on the air conditioning from the restored Scirocco 16V because I didn't see the squirrel nest in the cowl when I turned the air conditioning on. It sucked a bunch of acorn shells into the fan. Then there are a couple Nortons in the back bedroom. One I bought new, the other has been in the family since the 70s. They need carb rebuilds, hydraulics, and one needs swing arm pivots redone.

These vehicles were all very usable when I bought them. The Cortina was my daily driver and autocrosser from 1995 to about 2013. Got too many other things going, some different interests, and they all suffered.

Good news though. I work in the oil industry. Due to the loss of jobs in this industry, I may soon have all the time in the world to stop the deterioration and maybe turn it around. Time, but no money. There is always a catch.

Gary Dork
2/13/16 4:06 p.m.

In reply to 850Combat:

"Then there are a couple Nortons in the back bedroom."

That's classic ... beautifully and elegantly stated!

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
2/13/16 4:20 p.m.

In reply to aircooled:

Oh, I've reached the point where I can say "no" although I'll admit to being tempted at times. I'm reasonably content with what I have and I'm not actively looking for anything new. That said, if a '69 Charger and/or '71 Demon were to fall into my lap for a good price, I'd probably find room somehow.

I have to admit some part of me hopes my relocation to NH becomes permanent as it would allow/force me to find a property better suited to my hobbies.

NOHOME PowerDork
2/14/16 7:04 a.m.

The problem with cleaning out the hoard as a business model is that the junk to jewel ratio is too large. Not enough money for the junkman AND the estate.

The wife unit has already declared that if I should leave behind my shop, there will be a sign on the yard that says "Car and contents FREE...Must take ALL or none".

GTXVette Reader
2/14/16 8:59 a.m.

No Doubt It's Complacated. Trying to sell off the Gasser Project to fund the Vette, That should be My last Car, and no one seems to want the ERA Cobra Frame I have so After The Challenge,I may have to do something with it, at the Least I need to stop buying Parts for it,Till the Vette is done,darn cars.

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