Putting even more pressure on the restoration industry in general is that over the past few years, values of many collector cars have risen dramatically, but the cost of parts and labor have not. So it now makes financial sense to restore many collector cars that would not have been candidates as recently as a few years ago. In other words, if it is going to cost $50,000 to restore a car that will only be worth $30,000 when it is completed, it does not make sense. But it might make sense if the car will be worth $60,000 when it is completed.
There are not that many restoration shops in and around many population centers where classic car owners reside, thus creating a demand for restoration work that often exceeds the capacity in many locations.
Here’s an interesting statistic: Depending on the source of the data, roughly 50% of the nation’s population lives within 50 miles of either coast. If we round off the U.S. population to 300 million, about 150 million live in those two narrow coastal tracts. Included within those 150 million people are classic car owners vying for the attention of restoration shops that occupy those same two small tracts. That’s not good news.
The good news is that in between those two narrow tracts lies roughly 2900 more miles of United States for the entire other half of the population to share, including classic car owners. Dispersed across those 2900 miles are plenty of qualified restorers and shops. And many of those shops still have excess capacity.
There are many variables to consider when deciding whether it makes sense to ship a car to a distant location for a restoration. Some of these considerations, in no particular order, are: Do you want to visit the car regularly to check on progress? How does the cost compare to a local restoration shop? How will the quality of the restoration compare to a local restoration shop? Is time of the essence? What exactly does “restoration” mean to me?
The last is perhaps the most important. Some people consider a paint job and a new interior a “restoration,” while others consider a car “restored” only after it has been completely disassembled and every component restored, refinished, or replaced. The more restorative work that needs to be done, the more it might make sense to ship the car to a distant facility.
But this is a double edged sword. Because the more restorative work a car needs, the more different disciplines will be involved. These might include paint & body work, interior work, drive-train re-building, electrical work and much more. An out-of-state shop may have the capacity to complete your car in nine months, whereas your local shop can’t even schedule it for a year. But you had best have a high level of confidence in that out-of-state shop because you won’t be visiting the car every weekend. You should plan on making visits every few months just to make sure that things are progressing as planned. I am always managing a few out-of-state restorations for customers, and that is what I always do.
Some of my customers want a full restoration done in a short, finite period of time. Others are willing to wait up to a year, with a spectacularly restored car being their only criteria. In many of those cases I work with very small shops outside of major metropolitan areas where the owners do most of the work themselves. These people are not your run of the mill restorers. They have restored cars that have won major shows all over the country. Sometimes they have a waiting list, but it is worth it. One of them, in the middle of a corn field in the mid-west is completing a 1970 Oldsmobile 442 for me right now. It will be done in the next month and I have no doubt that there will not be a finer one anywhere.
All things being equal, keeping your car local during a restoration might be in your best interest. But things are not always equal. Shipping a car out-of-state for a restoration is simply something that you should consider if a restoration is in your future and you cannot find a local shop that can satisfy your needs.