Choosing Restoration Candidates
I’m really not in a place to give advice, but I’ll do it anyway. Especially if you’re new to the old car hobby, choosing restoration candidates, or to be more specific, picking the right car for restoration is a crucial step in the process. Because it’s a hobby of passion, rarely do beginners think through how difficult and/or costly a restoration will be, but they probably should.
One thing that will make a restoration difficult, and usually by extension costly, is a lack of parts availability and enthusiast support. Almost anything is available for the right price, but it can take a year or more to locate some hard-to-find parts, and you’ve pretty much got to be willing to pay whatever the seller is asking once you do find it. I know this first-hand…remember, I own a Packard.
The Packard hasn’t needed much, and while new-old-stock (NOS) parts are scarce, I’m lucky that there are two main vendors who specialize in reproduction and rebuilt Packard parts as well as a bevy of graying enthusiasts who also dabble in supplying good-used parts. In contrast to the Mustang, where I have a choice whether to rebuild or replace a worn part, with the Packard I have to try to save what I have or pay dearly. New brake shoes? Unavailable…you’ll have to have the old ones re-lined. Starter solenoid? A 1951-1952 Patrician-only piece, they have to be disassembled and rebuilt by a specialist. Valve lifters? You’ll have to separate the hydraulic take-up units from the cam followers and re-use some of the parts because complete lifters aren’t available. The list goes on. But the really tough times start when what you have is not salvageable. Try finding a front u-joint for a 1951-1954 Senior car…they don’t exist. You’ll either have to change the drive shaft to accept something else or hope you stumble across one.
With the Mustang, all I have to do is open the NPD catalog, pull up the CJ Pony Parts site, head to eBay, or for maintenance items call up the local NAPA store. Everything is available, overnight if I need it, and at a reasonable price. For example, the battery tray for the Mustang I mentioned in my post yesterday costs around $12 and is a very good reproduction. The battery tray for the Packard? Unavailable. New reproduction hold-downs for the Mustang run under $20 for a complete setup. For the Packard, they’re $105…and they’re used.
When choosing restoration candidates, consider how easy it is to get parts, advice, and how much you’ll pay. There are myriad other variables to consider as well, including how much trim will need to be re-chromed, how much body work you’ll need, whether the car will be reliable when you’re done, and of course whether you actually like the thing, but from a cost standpoint, a main criterion should be parts availability and enthusiast support.
One reason early Mustangs are so well supported is because Ford made literally millions of them. Even if the cars hadn’t seen the eventual support they received, there would still be millions of donor vehicles sitting in junkyards if nothing else. Packard made somewhere south of 4,000 ’52 Patricians. There aren’t many left, and since they aren’t worth anything, no one really has any incentive to repair them (except for those of us with a certain illness).
Picking cars for restoration that sold well when they were new won’t guarantee you’ll be able to find everything you need, but it certainly can improve your chances. Even early Mustangs experienced a period of decline in the parts supply– when Ford had obsoleted many parts and the enthusiast community hadn’t yet stepped up– but maintenance parts (fuel pumps, brake shoes, clutch components, engine parts) have always been available thanks in no-small-part to Ford’s corporate part sharing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t restore a rare car, in fact preserving history is vital, but rather that a novice restorer should at a minimum survey the landscape of parts and suppliers before diving head-first into a restoration, if for no other reason than to set proper expectations. All of this advice on choosing restoration candidates goes out the window once you’ve got a few restorations under your belt. At that point you should know what you’re in for, and you probably have the skill and the network to source or remake anything you need.