10 October 2005

Tips From a British Restoration Shop

Fourintune of Cedarburg, Wis., specializes in restoring cars made across the big pond. The shop is most famous for its work on Austin-Healeys, but has also restored several Jaguars, Aston Martins, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.

Fourintune has finished several cars with special historical significance – like the Austin-Healey 100S once owned by famed child actor Jackie Cooper. The car was built in February 1955. Cooper ordered it so he could compete in the 12 Hours of Sebring race. The car was fully researched prior to restoration.

1. Don’t take the car apart yourself. The company advises to never disassemble a car in the hope to save money if you intend to take it to a resto shop. It’s easier to assess an assembled car. If the restorer has to spend hours looking through boxes for parts that hopefully weren’t lost, it can add time and cost to a restoration.

2. Get a good quote before contracting for any work. To quote a restoration, Fourintune suggests using a quotation form that covers all aspects of a restoration project. Diagrams similar to those in the factory service manual can be used to detail all work. Parts that can be saved and rebuilt should be noted, as well as parts that need replacement. A labor cost should be written down for each operation.

3. Not every aspect of a restoration can be accurately quoted “up front.” At Fourintune, jobs like an engine overhaul are given an “allowance.” After the allowance item is disassembled and rebuilt, an itemized bill is made up. Check to see if your restoration shop of choice will do this.

4. Know what type of restoration you want. The type of work is based on how you want to use the car: for concours events? Occasional use? Fair-weather driver? Club events? Each owner's personal preferences will help determine the work needed and the level of originality adhered to. Some owners prefer a reliable street car and others want to win trophies.

5. Spread out the costs. With a quote filled out, you get a good idea of the cost of all parts and labor. Changes or additional work may be approved and should be recorded during the course of the restoration. Some shops require a small down payment to start a project, and then “stage payments” are required to keep the job going as work progresses.

6. Document the restoration. Fourintune suggests keeping a photo album of the car being restored to show to future buyers and insurance companies. The quote and restoration photos usually become attachments to an appraisal and help prove the car’s value. Some shops will supply the photos to its customers.

7. Your project plan should provide for the car’s safe return. We’ve all heard the one about the man who was anxious to drive his freshly restored car and had an accident a block from the shop. Seeing the finished car is likely to cause a distraction or high level of excitement, so driving it home probably isn't the best idea; a transportation company will make sure it gets home safely.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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