Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Don’t Let Restorers Go to School on Your Car

I would stop in at lunch to check on progress. It was entertaining at first, but it became quickly apparent that they were over their collective heads

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—October 2006 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

Finally finished—at least twice
Finally finished—at least twice

Thanks to this column, I’m often the Dear Abby or Ann Landers of the Ferrari world, and I get many emails about restorations gone wrong. Unfortunately, by the time I’m contacted, it’s usually too late. The most frequent problem is simply overeager Ferrari owners picking the wrong shop for the job.

There is no lack of top restoration shops specializing in MGs, Austin-Healeys, or Jaguars. Parts are cheap and available. Click on www.victoriabritish.com/icatalog to order a new Healey 3000 hood for a mere $999.95, a new front fender for $1,299.95, or a new door skin for only $499.95.

Restoring a Porsche? Click on www.stoddard.com for a new early 911 hood for $2,157.48, a new front fender for $1,281.21, or a new door skin for only $480.36.

Every part you need for your Jag, Healey, or Porsche, from body and mechanical parts to trim items, can be found—at prices that don’t require refinancing your house.

MAKING, NOT CHANGING, PARTS

Not so in the Ferrari world. Parts usually don’t exist, and when found, they don’t fit. Restoring a Healey or Porsche requires lots of parts fitting and changing, while restoring a Ferrari requires parts making, and if your shop can’t make a perfectly fitting new hood, a new door skin, or a new fender, you’re in the wrong place.

In October 2003, I received an email that started with “I am in the process of restoring my 1971 Daytona and have a rusty right rear wheel arch that needs a lot of help. We can probably build it up with plastic and new panels but it would be much stronger and cleaner if we could find an original section to weld in. There has to be a few cars lying around somewhere that are being parted out.”

I replied, “You will probably have to buy a new rear fender and while you are at it you will also probably need two new door skins. There are metal fabrication shops that can make up new panels for you that are a perfect fit to replace the original, but… not cheap.” What I did not say was that if the shop working on his Daytona couldn’t make the panels, he was at the wrong shop. What I did advise was that the owner needed to visit Wayne Obry at Motion Products in Neenah, Wisconsin, as Motion Products is a Ferrari specialist only a few hours from the Ferrari Daytona owner’s home.

THE WORK WAS DONE TWICE

Three years later, the Daytona is almost done, and the owner has now spent $350,000 to have the work done twice. To quote from the owner’s correspondence:

My only request is that you do not associate my chassis number, my name or location in anything you write. I am embarrassed by how stupid/naive I was and do not want this to cast a negative pallor over my car. That said, some thoughts on my experience these last four years.

Having a restoration shop close by geographically is hugely attractive. The shop that did my initial work was literally one mile from my office. I would stop in at lunch to check on progress and help with part procurement. It was entertaining at first but it became quickly apparent that they were over their collective heads…then the nightmare began. Moral? Find the best shop specializing in the marque regardless of location, establish a plan, and let them do what they do.

It will always cost at least twice what you expect to restore a car. There will always be parts that are unavailable or available at only obscene prices. Unknown problems will surface, usually from shoddy prior work.

MY MOST EXPENSIVE MISTAKE

Specific problems associated with my restoration:

1. NOS parts will not fit in the Ferrari world. Case in point, my door frames. The original doors had been reskinned a number of years earlier and had virtually no rust. Unfortunately the frames were severely rotted. I elected to have them dip-stripped, which revealed a worse condition then expected. A set of NOS door frames were sourced from Ferrari U.K., which at first blush seemed perfect. When it came time to fit them it was obvious that significant re-engineering would be necessary. In retrospect, fabricating and fitting new areas to the old frames would have saved me $40,000. It was my most expensive learning mistake.

Ferraris require parts making, not just parts buying
Ferraris require parts making,
not just parts buying

2. Windshield surrounds need to be removed with care. They are easily distorted and cannot be bent back to shape. I was able to quickly source a used rear for $1,500 but the front eluded me for six months. Finally, I found a NOS front surround for $3,500. At that price you would expect it to drop into place but here again another $2,500 of work was needed for it to fit properly. Total labor and parts cost to properly reset my front and rear glass was $10,000.

3. Finishes. Not knowing the proper finishes for the engine bay, underside of the car or assorted plated parts was a difficult issue. Fortunately, Wayne Obry of Motion Products was able to correct the majority of these sins when he refinished my car. Fasteners were also a problem. Modern stainless steel screws or improper hose clamps detract from an otherwise welldone restoration. It’s all in the details. The Internet can be a wonderful source of these details (such as The Daytona Registry, www.daytonaregistry.com), but nothing can replace the experience of someone who has seen and restored hundreds of cars.

Details such as hose clamps can make all the difference
Details such as hose clamps can
make all the difference

4. Time. Had I brought my car to Wayne initially it would have been completed years earlier and at less cost.

INSTANTLY OVER THEIR HEADS

There is a simple moral to this story. The owner’s first shop of choice was geographically close, did excellent work on British cars, and was enthusiastic about adding Ferrari experience to their repertoire. The British specialists certainly believed they could do the job and did their best, but as parts changers, not parts makers, they were instantly in over their heads. Their estimate of $100,000 was attractive, but impossible. The Jaguar shop didn’t have the years of experience or the expensive and very specialized metal forming equipment to fabricate the wheel arches or the door frames, didn’t know how to remove the front and rear glass surrounds, and used the wrong finishes, fasteners and plating.

The multi–year learning curve of knowing the right fasteners, the right finishes, the right sources for everything—battery cable ends, underhood decals, fuse box trim, ad infinitum—is gained only from dozens of concours shows over many years. The right shop has the reputation, the experience, the equipment, and half a dozen other Ferraris underway when you walk in.

Resist the temptation of instant gratification and the low price of an eager but inexperienced shop. The few top Ferrari shops have long waiting lists, so be prepared to take your place in line; after all, you have other cars to drive. Unless you want to pay for your local restoration shop’s learning curve, go to an experienced and reputable Ferrari specialist

MICHAEL SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari dealer for 30 years as well as a race car driver and exotic car broker.