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Why You Should Not Do a Car Rebuild or Restoration Project

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Not all old vehicles make good projects.

One question I have to ask myself from time to time during a rebuild/restoration project is this: “Knowing what I know about the project today, would I still do the project if the Wayback machine could transport me back to the day before I started disassembling the vehicle?”

For those readers unfamiliar with the TV cartoon "Peabody's Improbable History," the Wayback machine was literally and figuratively the plot vehicle behind a time travel-based recurring feature of the 1960s cartoon series “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. It featured a time-travelling dog (Mr. Peabody) and his pet boy (Sherman) who together would travel through history ensuring that historical events in progress would come out "right" when it looked like history might change, thereby saving the day just in time, back in time. Each episode ended with a dry humor pun so bad that they were actually good.

Here is a clip of the season 1, episode 1 origin story for your enjoyment if you wish:

Answering a Question with a Question

Despite the reality that the Wayback machine does not exist, the "...would I still do the project?" question is a fair one that should be revisited monthly during any project to ensure that you are on the right track and that an end is in sight. If you are not on the right track, nor can you see an end to the project, the sooner you recognize this the better. Modifying your goals is an expected and reasonable part of any project…and preferable to junking a project and having to swallow the costs.

However, a better question to ask before starting any project is the simple interrogative “Why?”

The Realities of a Car Project

Case in point: There is a simple reason why there are so many “For Sale” ads for partially disassembled and assembled project cars in magazines like Hemmings Motor News: The owners of the project cars ran into difficulties and are now trying to recoup their losses and move on by unloading their problem car onto you.

Those difficulties are the realities of what can and usually does happen during a rebuild. Ten that come to mind off the top of my head include (but are not limited to):

1. Your estimated cost and time of the rebuild needs to multiplied by 3.

2. You are very unlikely to make money selling the vehicle after the rebuild is done.

3. Original or replacement parts are difficult to obtain.

4. The actual condition of the vehicle is much worse than earlier assessed.

5. The tools needed are beyond your budget and your skill set.

6. Special services needed (such as machining of the block) are not available locally.

7. You discover that you need a second vehicle to hold you over until the project is done.

8. Your garage is too small to support both a long-term rebuild and the family car.

9. The project owner loses interest in the project.

10. The spouse loses interest in the project owner.

The Least You Need to Understand and Know about Rebuild Projects

To discover whether or not you should even entertain the idea of rebuilding or restoring an old car or truck, here are two article links containing three videos I found that were informative and true concerning Avoiding Car Project Hell and what often happens with a Barn Find Car. The video hosts' offer some useful insight that should help you determine if a car rebuild or restoration project is the right decision for you, as well as help you define why you really want to undertake what is more than a project and closer to becoming a journey...if not a trip down the Highway to Hell.

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