Customers ask us about restorations all the time, usually in the form of "how much will it cost to restore my car?" Before we can answer that question we need to agree on a definition of the word "restoration" as it applies to cars in general, then as it applies to the car in question.
The "full concours restoration" is the expensive end of the scale. A lot of potential customers think that this is the kind of restoration they want until money is mentioned. This is generally understood in the industry to be an unlimited reconstruction of an automobile to 100 point perfection. We have read of restorations on very rare cars that have cost more than $2 million dollars, not including the purchase of the car.
These cars are perfect. They are the result of thousands of hours of skilled and painstaking work. They have been restored to complete originality, usually much better than original in terms of fit and finish. Every individual part on the car is refurbished. All assemblies are completely dismantled and rebuilt to 'as new' condition. Metal body panels are straightened to where there is no need for any plastic body filler and a minimum of lead filler. Perfect hides are used for the interior in exact colors and styles as original. Obviously, these are cars with very high monetary value or to which the owner has placed a high personal value. These are the cars that win in international competitions such as The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance or the Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance in Paris.
While we also know of restorations on Special Interest cars that have cost the proud owner well into six figures, more common in our shop is what might be called the 'local concours winner'. All deteriorated steel is replaced, door and panel gaps would still be nearly perfect and the use of minimal plastic body filler would be appropriate. Components that function would be refinished but not necessarily rebuilt. This kind of job may involve the use reproduction parts and interior seat and panel kits. This type of restoration takes hundreds of hours and costs in the mid to high tens of thousands of dollars. The car would do very well (usually winning) in local shows and at car club functions.
What we are often asked to do is a 'street restoration'. These cars are mechanically sound and cosmetically attractive. Everything works as it is supposed to and the owner can be confident of returning home after an enjoyable day. The car looks good and an appreciative audience will always gather around wherever the car stops. Costs here are very dependent on the condition of the car. If the car is currently resting on four flat tires in a field, the prospects will be much different than one which has been garaged and pampered.
There is no hard and fast rule as to where one type of restoration stops and the other begins. Most cars are done to a mixture of all three described above. Some areas will be done to a higher level than others because a particular car needs more work in one area. Often the owner will spread the costs out by doing part of the car to a less demanding extent. If the engine runs fine it may be cosmetically refinished but not rebuilt. If the existing paint is in good condition it can be used as a base for the new paint rather than stripping the car back to bare metal.
Before we start any job, whether it's a full restoration or just a tune-up, we spend time with the customer defining the extent of work that is desired. We want to be sure that we understand the customer's desire and that the customer understands what that desire will cost.