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By Phil Lapin / Technical Coordinator

Part 1 of a Series - Overview

We are going to try something new, exciting and different in this column!  The main objective will be to cover all of the steps and considerations involved in purchasing and restoring a vintage automobile.  This begins with basically asking a number of questions as to why you are considering a purchase, and moves on to issues such as prices, your technical skills, family support, garage space and so forth. It will move through various steps of restoration, concluding with the memorable day of taking your first drive - or entering a car show.

What is most exciting about this project is that YOU - the members of CPPC - will have a major impact on this series, through your combined input.  We will send out an Email blast every couple of months.  It will ask you for comments on your experiences or thoughts on various specific topics.  I will then take your input and build them into the various parts of the series.  Where needed, I will do further research to enrich the topic.

One major objective is to keep the newsletter installments at reasonable length - somewhere around the length of this Overview which you are reading.  This may completely cover some topics, whereas others will require more information. Where more detail is needed, it will appear on the Club website and be cross referenced with the newsletter.

With over 100 members in our Club, I believe we can gather a wealth of knowledge and information. The outcome will be not only to help "newbies" consider their first classic car purchase or inheritance, but also to help our existing members with issues on their own cars. My thanks goes to Randy Ealy, who first conceived the "Off the Hook" column - and who envisioned the step by step journey we are now beginning.
I am looking forward to working with everyone on this.  PL

Part 2 of a Series - Basic Considerations on Owning a Classic Car

Why?  Why does one get into the world of classic cars.  For most people, it seems "love" is a key word in the equation.  Loving old cars, family history with a vintage car from long ago, appreciation of the technology and craftsmanship from certain decades, saving something historical from being destroyed, and just plain loving working on older cars are all common reasons.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is the possible idea of owning and restoring cars for profit - which is rarely if ever the motivation behind this great hobby.  The CPPC Technical Committee has worked with many club members and far flung non members - all of whom share this common theme of love and passion about working on vintage cars.

Getting back a return on your investment: Don't go there!  It is extremely rare to recoup anywhere near the total costs involved in restoring a vintage vehicle. Breaking even is typically not even realistic, especially when factoring in labor and outsourcing. In the world of rather exotic classics, purchased as completed cars, there may be potential for profit, but typically only after holding a car for many years.

In the CPPC community, there are many stories of individuals who have done complete ground up restorations - spending $50,000 and well upwards of that - never to even expect getting back the time and money invested over typically several years. We also see this in club tours of private car collections - where passion and appreciation always outweigh the profit motive.  It is amazing to me personally how many private collections exist which are completely unknown the the public. These are collections with literally dozens of vintage cars. D.J. Freeman said it all: "Restoring old cars is like lending money to a family member - never loan more than you can afford to give away!"

Why Plymouth Classics?  Very often, this goes back to an early experience in a family with a Plymouth. In my personal case, it goes back to my coming home from the hospital as a baby in 1945 - in a Plymouth! Plymouth vehicles have a reputation for being reliable, solid and economical - this is how they were marketed. They were also very affordable, had good parts availability and were easy to work on. (that still applies today).  The other two common "vintage vehicles" in the mid-1900s were Chevrolet and Ford - but Plymouth often had improvements before those other two brands.  Thus: many people were exposed to the cars from childhood. CPPC member Dennis Mowery has owned his 1948 Plymouth since he was a young sailor courting his future wife! Great memories.

Club members have owned all kinds of cars - but their favorites are often Plymouths.  Bill Call, who was instrumental in founding CPPC, has a magnificent collection of primarily Plymouth automobiles.  When I first joined CPPC, I asked him why he liked Plymouths so much. Even with Bill, it went back directly to his experiences with Plymouths when he was very young. Phil Hall and his wife bought a 1973 Plymouth Belvedere as a young couple.  That same car has over 300,000 miles on it today, and has had duty of many kinds in his family.

Within the Cascade Pacific Plymouth Club, we have over 100 members who own a combined 160+ Plymouth Vehicles. (the total is over 200 cars of all makes)  These cars range from the late 1920s through models in the 2000s. The largest percentage of owner's Plymouths are in the post WWII 1940s through 1950s models.

Restoration versus completed classic?

There is a wide range of options for getting into a classic car.  One can purchase a pristine fully restored "show car", or a reliable "daily driver" - both of which are ready to roll.  Then there is the question of restoring a classic - either with moderate repair needs, or a full redo.  We are talking high initial cost, to the lowest initial purchase price in the order listed above.  Here is one example from a car valuation book: A 1946-1948 Plymouth 2 door Club Coupe is worth around $18,000 if it is a "show car" and not driven regularly. The same model in good to very good condition, and fully drivable drops to $8,000 to $12,000. (this is a "daily driver"). If it needs complete restoration the value drops to $2,000 to 4,000.

So, initial cost is typically one-half of the decision making process.  The other half is the willingness, interest in and ability to undertake various levels of restoration.  Some people are completely capable of undertaking a major restoration - usually with considerable mechanical/technical background.  Even here, there are aspects of a restoration which are better jobbed out to a specialist.  More people will be comfortable with a vehicle requiring only partial restoration. Initial budget allowing - it is far easier to purchase an already restored vehicle - which in the long run will probably be the least expensive option! Reasonably priced cars are available if you look and are patient.  If you are not mechanically inclined, this is the best way to go for most.

In all restoration situations, Cascade Pacific Plymouth Club members can draw upon a huge base of technical and practical knowledge through the Technical Committee.  This insight can guide you as to the proper decisions on what work is required, and can even provide on site help in certain restoration or repair situations.

Focusing upon cars needing restoration at some level, do not underestimate what will be involved.  It ALWAYS takes more time, energy and money than one would envision. Removing the chrome on the front of a 1940s Plymouth should take a couple of hours.  Rusted screws, frozen fittings and hidden rust can stretch that simple task to a full day or more.  I know! Then, you find out your headlight buckets are rusted beyond repair - and you search for and purchase a serviceable used set for another $100 out of pocket.  These are very common situations.

Special Thanks to Scott Whiteman, Pat Krake, D.J. Freeman and Phil Hall for their input on this article.

Part 3 of a Series - Restorations - Work Space, Tools, Jobbing out Work, Time Investment

Work Space!  If you plan on doing any type of restoration, or even serious maintenance, a decent place to work is essential.  For many people, this is a garage of some size.  For the more fortunate, an actual shop may be the choice.  In any case, the more space the better. Consider the case of a garage - which is the smallest "zone" to work in.  A 1 1/2 or 2 car garage is what I would consider a minimum.  You simply need space to work in, move parts and tools around, and to sort and store parts.  In addition to floor space, height is important in many cases.  Pulling out an engine requires an engine hoist ("cherry picker") of some type - and low ceilings interfere. If you do not have a garage or shop, an outside carport or cover is certainly a possibility, but not a good one.  Weather, dust, dirt and moisture will all affect your progress.  In all cases, a concrete floor is something I would consider essential.  Working on gravel, dirt or wood planking makes undercarriage chores very difficult.

Family Support and Commitment. If you plan on using a garage, what is parked in there now?  If it is one or two family cars - pretty much expect to have at least one of them parked outside ( and for much longer than you might expect!).  This fact touches on the issue of immediate family support.  Spouses, kids and other close relatives need to be on board with these projects.  They should be aware of the expected length of the project, and the inconveniences it may create.  Additionally, every hour of your spare time spent restoring a car is an hour less that is available for other chores around the home. Life gets in the way of restorations, and time stretches out.

Creature Comforts.  I use my 2 car garage for lots of projects and purposes.  Here in the Northwest, that means considering both cold and hot working conditions.  I installed an overhead space heater years ago - which allowed me to comfortably work during the winter months.  I also installed a used window air conditioner which I had, which allows for working on very hot days.  These are small but very worthwhile investments, and greatly increase my performance year round. The more insulation you can achieve in walls, ceiling and garage doors the better!

Tools.  You will do nothing but get frustrated unless you have good quality tools, and a variety to cover most situations.  A tool chest to store them in is also essential. Although perhaps not a "tool" by definition - a solid workbench is necessary, and with good lighting over it. Your workbench should be outfitted with a sturdy vise.  Tool basics will include a socket set with regular and deep sockets, combination wrenches, breaker bars, a good torque wrench plus screw drivers, adjustable wrenches and "vise grips".  Hammers, punches, wire brushes and chisels should also be available. A power drill is invaluable - as is a drill press if you have the space. I have found a good impact wrench and sockets indispensable, as well as other air tools such as grinders and sanders. A small sand blasting booth is also a great asset.  The use of air tools (as well as paint equipment) calls for a good sized compressor, hoses and filters.  If you already have a compressor - but not large enough to run air tools, consider buying a second one and coupling hoses together when you need maximum air output. Another area is that of lifting and supporting a car - you need a reliable jack and solid, safe adjustable jack stands.  I use up to 6 at a time, doubling up where I am working to provide extra safety.

Depending upon the extent of restoration, you may also need a "cherry picker" hoist to pull out an engine, a transmission jack, an engine stand and a hydraulic press.  Most of these tools are available to CPPC members through the Technical Committee (or members may allow you to use theirs). 

Sheet Metal. If you have body restoration or repair to do, there must be a decision whether to do it yourself, or subcontract this work out.  I happen to prefer doing my own work, so I have a small wire feed welder and basic power grinding and metal cutting tools.  This requires a skill set not everyone has, but I guarantee a small welder comes in handy for lots of repairs around a property.

Painting equipment may or may not be necessary depending upon what you plan on doing.  A full auto paint job obviously will require specific equipment.  Underbody painting, parts and undercoating can be done pretty well with spray cans.

Cleaning and polishing parts is another area where equipment may be needed.  Parts cleaning (grease and dirt related) can be done using a metal tub and wire brushes.  Simple paint thinner works well in most cases and is safer than many other solvents.  For really tough grime, I have used oven cleaner - but the fumes and caustic nature of the stuff requires care.  After basic cleaning, power wire wheels are very good for final cleanup - either in a hand held grinder or on a bench grinder.  A tabletop sand ("media") blaster is also a great tool, but not essential.

Your need for tools will be dictated by the extent and type of restoration you undertake.  The usual scenario is that you will purchase various tools as needed, but do start with the basic tools up front. 

Subcontracting work out. There are many tasks involved in a restoration which can be subcontracted out.  The balance is between costs, budget, your skill sets and time. Members of the CPPC Technical Committee can help you work through these issues and decisions.  With regard to acquiring skills, the Internet and YouTube are also a great asset.  Just remember that not everything you see will be correct - check multiple sources and ask around before trying something new!

Special Thanks to Scott Whiteman, Pat Krake,  D.J. Freeman  and Phil Hall for their input on this article.