Don't overlook the importance of thinking and planning during a restoration

At the end of every evening or weekend work session on one of my project cars, I have a little ritual I follow. Once I have cleaned up my tools and put everything away, I like to just sit on a stool and study what I have done. And while I do not care to drink while I work on cars, in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that at this point I usually have a beer or a good Scotch in my hand.

You see, now comes thinking time. I need this time to look over what I have accomplished and what I need to do next. I usually have a notepad and pen handy; although I see the sense in putting everything into a smart phone, I just like the feel of the pen on the paper–it helps grease the wheels in my head. I write down notes for stories, list parts that I will need next, and kind of get my next session organized.

This time is especially essential after a session of welding, grinding or cutting, since it’s not safe to leave the shop right after I have been doing this type of work–a fire might be brewing in some overlooked crevice. Sadly, since those post-wrenching sessions require a bit more time to make sure everything is safe, I generally require more than one Scotch to correctly complete the process.

Now, here is where it gets a little weird. I often sit there even when I don’t really need to take notes, or think about what I am doing next, or make sure everything’s cooled down. I just like to gaze at my cars. I like learning about the nuances of a new project car, so I kind of drink it in while I sip. I look at what I did particularly well, and I note what I could do better on my next project. This type of thinking time often requires additional Scotch as well.

A recent three-Scotch session brought me the revelation that thinking time is not only one of the best parts of restoring a car, it’s also an absolute must for any restorer. You can’t always be working on the car; you need to think about what it’s logical to do next, what parts you will need, and how the heck you are going to solve the tricky problems that always come up.

Now let’s consider the professional restorer. If I were a shop owner and explained to you that I needed to bill you several hours at $50 to $100 an hour for thinking (and a little drinking), you’d tell me I was a bum and fire me, right? Does that mean you don’t want me to spend any time thinking about how to properly restore your car? Do you not want me to spend any time appreciating its potential beauty and trying to decide how to do a better job restoring it?

Obviously, no one is going to say they don’t want that. So how does a professional bill for this time? Most probably build it in, or just eat it as a cost of doing business. I would love to hear from shop owners on this subject.

If you take this idea a step further–and three Scotches will do that–we should also address the time spent tracking down new and used parts for a restoration. Some cars, like a Mustang, an MGB or a Triumph TR4, require little more than going to NPD, Victoria British, Moss or Northwest Import Parts, just to name a few of the available sources, and simply ordering what you need. What, though, is a professional restorer to do with a rare car like a Tornado Typhoon? It took me a lot of time to find parts for that one. How does a shop charge for time spent searching out stuff on eBay or–as I did with the Tornado—chasing parts all over Europe?

This kind of uncounted, yet necessary, time investment is why I rarely enjoy talking to people who don’t understand what’s actually involved in a restoration. Too many believe that restoring a car requires little more than a few hundred dollars’ worth of paint and a couple of months’ worth of rote body and mechanical repairs. 

I figure I can restore just about any simple sports car in 800 to 1200 man-hours. Yes, I work fast, but this time estimate does not include prep and paint; although I grew up in my dad’s body shop, I just don’t have the time, equipment, or love of tedium necessary to produce concours-level paintwork. 

What this estimate does include is the five to ten percent of that time I spend studying, learning, planning and ordering parts. If you are having your car restored, you need to appreciate that this is part of what you’re paying a professional to do. 

If you are restoring your own car, you need to budget for this time. It’s not only essential to getting the best results, it’s also some of the best time you can spend with your car–especially with the right Scotch.

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