Here's a family project: restore an antique car

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Restoring an antique car is a good project for the entire family. It's interesting to the kids, parents, and grandparents alike. Simply, there's something in it for everyone.

Owning an antique car is also an excellent way to fight inflation because the supply is getting scarce while the demand is higer then ever.

Because of the demand, prices are climbing more each year.

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One antique-car buff, Fred Montgomery of Church Hill, Tenn., has restored several models through the years. By trading up, he now owns a rare 1932 Ford three-window coupe which is valued at $15,000. His wife and sons have helped him in doing the body work and upholstery as well as "rubbing out" the paint.

The Montgomerys began their family project by redoing a small antique truck that won a national first-place trophy. Then they sold it to buy the 1932 Ford. Their total investment is about $7,000, they figure, but the money was put in the car over a period time to prevent any strain on the budget.

My husband not long ago bought a 1931 Ford coupe in a rough state for $1,350 and we were offered $2,000 without improving the car a bit. That's not a bad profit but we don't want to sell.

Our car needs paid, body work, upholstery, and minor engine work which we estimate will cost around $1,000. This will make the total outlay around $2,500 but the car will then be worth roughly $5,000 on the market.

A car must be at least 25 years old to classify as an antique. The most popular models, however, begin around 1935 and go back from there.

These early cars are hard to find, but there are several ways to get one. Want ads are a good way to start. Or try checking with your local hot-rod association, visiting car shows, or driving in the country to spot them behind old barns.

Prices for an antique car in the rough state range from a few hundred dollars (without an engine) to $3,500 (with an engine and body that need very little work). Some cost considerably more, of course. The price depends on what make and model of car you want to restore: a Ford or a Rolls-Royce.

If you want to restore a car to its original state, plan on investing at least $3,000 in fixing it up. Your total outlay could run to $5,000 and up, but it will be worth more this way than if you turned it into a street rod and altered it.

"Five thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money to spend on a car project, but remember, the car will never depreciate like the new cars selling for thousands of dollars more," says Mr. Montgomery. "In fact," he adds, "its price should go up continually over the years."

Mr. Montgomery's 1932 Ford coupe has won many trophies and a museum has tried to buy it from him. The car is a very rare model and is a missing link in the museum's collection.

"I may eventually sell it," he says, "but I'm just not ready to give it up yet. I started out with an early Ford body and fixed it up. I've done a lot of work and a lot of trading to own the car I now have. It's not easy to part with something that special."

In looking for an antique automobile, there are a few basic guidelines, but above all else, you must really like the model and style of car you plant to restore.

After all, you will be working with it for sometime.

The body of the car is the most important part. Without a solid body, the car is only good for spare parts. It should have little or not rust.

Examine the fenders and look underneath the car to check the soundness of the frame. If the car has an engine and is drivable, take it out for a trial run and listen carefully to the engine for smoothness.

"If you plan to restore the car to its original state, make sure it is as original as possible when you buy it," Mr. Montgomery emphasizes. "Don't buy one that has the top chopped or one that has been lowered on the frame (channeled) unless you plan to turn it into a street rod.

"The best condition you can find a car in is one that basically needs paint and upholstery. This way, all the hard work has been done and you can begin to make it beautiful right away without spending weeks and months on engine work and fixing up the body."

The value of an antique car will stay high if it is kept under a carport or in a garage and is treated well by the owners. If you don't have a shelter for your car, buy a large canvas or plastic cover to put over it.

One major thing to decide before you begin to restore a car is whether or not you want to drive it. If you do plan to use it on the road, you'd better off to turn it into a street rod.

Restored antique originals are basically show cars and are best protected when sitting in the garage. Many owners do drive their cars on occasion, however; perhaps on a Sunday afternoon when the roads are dry.

There are numerous magazines published on antique cars that will help you decide what to look for, where to buy parts, how to begin your project, and almost anything else you'll need to know along the way.

Spare-parts catalogs are on sale at many newstands, especially the larger ones.

"Restoring an antique car is an art that you can learn as you go along," explains Mr. Montgomery. "I'd advise people to visit car shows and join an antique-car club. This way, you've got expert guidance from others who've been in your shoes before.

"Restoring an antique car is one of the most enjoyable hobbies around," he concludes. "It's a great way to invest your money, make new friends, and own a work at art -- all at the same time."

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