8 April 2016

Too Far Gone: When is that Corvette beyond restoration?

While thoughts of finding a long-neglected ’Vette for a bargain price may keep legions of enthusiasts awake at night, making that car whole might cause nightmares. Should it be restored to factory-original spec or turned into a nice weekend driver – or perhaps given a restomod makeover?

The solution to that multi-dimensional puzzle depends on many factors. Condition is a primary concern, including how much of the original equipment, perhaps now rare and costly, remains. The finished car’s potential value bears consideration too.

Werner Meier, of Masterworks Automotive in Madison Heights, Mich., is attuned to the tradeoffs involved. Having resuscitated countless Chevy Corvettes, Meier has a dozen or more restoration projects underway in his shop on any given day. He has hard-earned and well-informed opinions when it comes to making an old ’Vette whole again.

“You will usually do best by going back to stock,” Meier said. “If you put a crate motor and aftermarket wheels in a classic Vette, it will be worth less to the purist.”

Meier notes that prices paid for restomods — customized and hot-rodded cars with visual appeal — can be misleading.  “Restomods that sell for $200,000 may be the result of a $400,000 investment,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean that a concours restoration is the only solution, Meier added. Often, a completed car’s finished value doesn’t justify the work’s price, and a well-worn Corvette can often be resurrected as a stylish cruiser for far less than the cost of a full restoration.

Meier recommends that when considering restoration, start by determining what the restored car’s estimated market value would be using an online price guide or a reputable, often-updated print publication. Then determine the car’s unrestored value and do the arithmetic to see if the difference – the gain in value for the finished car – would justify a restoration’s steep price. It’s unusual that all costs would be covered, but for some it’s a price worth paying. Others may decide that a thorough re-commissioning service making the car safe, presentable and drivable is a smarter choice.

Upon visiting Meier’s shop, there were two cars clearly illustrating the choice. The first was a one-owner ‘72 Vette with the base 350 ci V-8. Its restored value wouldn’t greatly exceed its current worth. The owner just wanted to get it running, and Meier obliged, giving it a modest makeover, including a tune-up, brake work and paint restoration.

The other was a fuel-injected 1961 Corvette, inherited a few years ago by Chris Wibbleman. The ’Vette was his father’s pride and joy, and though Wibbleman is not, in his words, “a car guy.” But he recalls riding in it half a century ago and his attachment is strong.

When Wibbleman pulled it out of his father’s garage, it had been parked nearly 30 years. Most parts were in place, but one cylinder head and the air cleaner were missing, the interior and paint were trashed, the original wheels were missing and the body had been altered. An $80,000 restoration could turn this classic into the machine it had been, and done flawlessly, the car could be worth $100,000 or more.

Meier explains that for many Corvettes, worth is dependent on original equipment. This car’s value was higher because it was built with the rare and desirable fuel-injected engine option. It was a no-brainer: restore it. The ’Vette is a now beautiful, and it was displayed at the Autorama car show in Detroit over the winter. But that will be this classic’s last show; Wibbleman plans to drive it.

Due to this car’s high-performance (read: value) credentials, restoring it made sense. Without the desirable fuelie engine, that might not have been the case. Or for a different owner, one who had paid a current-market price, the decision would have been far tougher – essentially a bet that the car’s value would one day appreciate enough, covering a full restoration’s fee. Ultimately, the family connection and memories clinched the deal, and a historically significant Corvette was saved.

10 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David moore Grand rapid April 10, 2016 at 16:20
    Beautiful restoration of the '61 vette. Great article!
  • 2
    Bryan Klitz North Carolina February 6, 2017 at 09:00
    I agree with this article. As a NCRS member I understand the importance to keep them all period correct. It really comes down to the owner and how they intend to use the car. If you want to really drive and enjoy your classic Corvette then restomod it. It's hard to beat a LS3 fuel injected engine backed by a Tremec six speed. For those of you looking for a good Corvette Restoration and Performance shop we are located in North Carolina. Many of our Corvette restorations come to us from all over the country. We do period correct restorations and custom restomod builds. Transport is available from anywhere to our facility.
  • 3
    ken santa cruz, ca. April 11, 2016 at 18:08
    The personal stories about the owners and their cars are interesting.
  • 4
    james muhlitner palm coast, fl. April 14, 2016 at 09:34
    any advice on restoring a 62 vette? thinking about an aftermarket frame, if still available.anybody out there who does this work? not original, but have almost all the original parts.
  • 5
    Bill Nagle Lincroft NJ February 3, 2017 at 18:54
    A 200k restomod that might have cost 400k? Do the math.A complete rolling chassis from Morrison includingc Wildwood brakes is 17k an LS-3 and 6 spd Trans is about 11k,misc parts another 8k or so plus a donor car and paint.Building restomod is a money making endeavor.
  • 6
    S Cee NY February 3, 2017 at 18:57
    Q/Mile in NC do not appear to spammers to me! He prefaced his comment with very sound advice from an NCRS member. Q/Mile has an A+ rating from BBB, and they are a Hagerty Preferred repair center! Give these guys a break, they are on our side!
  • 7
    Steve roth Tennessee (TN) February 4, 2017 at 14:32
    I agree having done and owned many corvettes. Really have to evaluate what you have. Rare color, engine Horsepower, how many numbers match, any paperwork? I have two examples in the shop right now. 1967 Coupe, 350HP/4speed with only power brakes, Low option and not the original motor. Car is being restored as close to original, no body mods, original red leather interior instead of vinyl, add air, ZL1 BB and slick paint to cruise, upgraded tires and shocks for safety but will be hard to tell from stock BB Car. Example two is a numbers matching 1971 LT1 coupe with high options, Leather interior, am/fm/ power windows, power steering and tilt /tele wheel. Only the transister ignition has been replaced all the numbers match and has the tank sticker. Low miles one repaint to sunflower yellow, car was originally Steel Cities Gray which looked like primer new, but highly collectable now since few cars were ordered with this color originally. No brainer all original and slick original color. Just my opinion.
  • 8
    ls777z central ny February 4, 2017 at 02:47
    Yes, the comment is self promoting but at least it isn't about how someone made lots of $$$ sitting at home from their computer. Now let me tell you about....But really, a restomod in my opinion is going to cost the most with the least amount of return when you try and sell it.
  • 9
    Jill Holloway Scottsdale, AZ February 4, 2017 at 21:47
    much to think about on a 76 corvette stingray. sentimental attachment. but I don't want to get robbed in the parts.
  • 10
    Roland Radinski Southfield February 6, 2017 at 10:53
    Werner Meier, of Masterworks Automotive in Madison Heights, Mich. has accomplished more in restoring my 1964 corvette in a few months than another shop did in 6 years. Great place for corvette work. They are also working on my 1967 vette.

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