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.