Restorers Weigh In: Where to start with your salvaged classic car

A storm caused extensive damage to your beloved classic, and you’ve opted to purchase the salvage. Now what? Two restorers offer their best tips for preparing your baby for the shop.

Should you go back to the shop that restored the car initially?

John Tokar, of Vintage Restorations in Union Bridge, Md., says: “It’s a good idea if it is possible … they would have notes, pictures and documentation of the restoration already and be most able to recreate what they originally did. If you go in completely blind, there’s a learning curve that goes along with it. The restorers often become kind of attached to the projects they do. They become ‘one’ with the car and restoration.”

Ryan Mahoney, of Coastal Classics in Jackson, N.J., disagrees: In a pinch, “any restoration shop is suitable. The only difference would be if there are paint issues, as the most recent restoration shop sometimes already has paint codes to match.”

Though Tokar and Mahoney are split on whether to go back to the original restorer, if you already have a strong relationship with a shop, that should be a good incentive to stick with them. Additionally, a restorer with experience with a given make or model can often save you time and money as they’re not learning on your dime.

Are there any special skills needed for storm repairs?

Tokar advises that “water can cause two major types of damage in cars. One is mechanical — all of those parts that have fluid will be contaminated and will need to be flushed and cleaned. If the repair process is started early enough, hopefully the parts will be salvaged. The other is interior and upholstery as they will have an almost immediate problem with mold, which usually forms within 24 hours of the incident. Cars that suffer the greatest from water damage are pre-war cars and some post-war cars that that have a wood skeleton under the steel body. Water damage can create an extremely dangerous situation because the wood soaks up everything, including all of the toxic fluids (i.e., oils, gasoline, etc.) that have been suspended in the water from the damage to everything else.”

If your preferred shop is backed up, should you wait or pick another shop?

Mahoney says you should act quickly. “People take care of their houses first, and then they look after their cars. Any type of repair and restoration work should be done fairly soon – the sooner the better, really. If there’s salt water damage, you don’t want it to sit in the car any longer than it has to – especially if it has gotten into the engine or other mechanical areas of the car.”

Tokar agrees: “This depends on the severity of the damage. If it’s water-related damage, it’s important to get the repairs done as soon as possible to help minimize the effects. If it is body damage (i.e., a fallen tree hit the car) it’s not as pressing of an issue as far as minimizing further damage.”

If the car will be waiting a while, what should you do to protect it or store it?

“The best thing to do is drain the fluids, flush out the system with what you can get from a local auto parts store, fill it back up with oil or the appropriate fluid, and vacuum the interior with a wet/dry vac to remove as much water as possible,” Mahoney says. “You don’t want water sitting in there, as salt water is extremely corrosive and quickly causes damage.”

Tokar adds: “Putting the car in the sun or a warm area to dry it out as quickly as possible will help minimize a potential mold situation. Anyone doing any of this work themselves needs to remember to take care of themselves because of personal health effects — breathing in mold and other toxins that have contaminated the water.”

Bringing your classic back to life can be a daunting prospect. But Mahoney urges car owners to remain positive: “Just remember, hope is not lost. These are old cars and they can be fixed in nearly every situation. They aren’t like new cars with all of the electronics, so they are a lot easier to clean up, repair and get back on the road.”

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