Restorations in Reverse
A well-defined plan avoids the creeping — and ultimately astounding — costs of incremental restoration
Sports Car Market—December 2011 issue
by Michael Sheehan
In May 2010, we were offered a 365 GTC/4, s/n 15197, in a restoration shop with new paint (not yet rubbed out) and boxes of N.O.S. parts needed to complete a nice “driver” restoration. It had one owner since 1984, but the owner died during the restoration process. We purchased the car and had it finished over three months by F.A.I. in Costa Mesa, CA.
We offered the car for sale in September 2010, described in part as, “gorgeous new Rosso Corsa red over a mirror-straight body… very nice black leather …. just treated to an engine–out service… gearbox has new seals… carbs and water pump rebuilt… a/c, cooling and heater system rebuilt… new brake master… calipers rebuilt… shocks and rear self-levelers rebuilt… new ball joints and suspension bushings… new Pirelli P tires… engine compartment and chassis steam cleaned, painted and detailed… new paint color sanded and buffed to perfection… wheel wells and under-panels texture coated….” The invoices totaled $34,492.08.
We summarized our advertising text by saying, “The best running and best driving 365 GTC/4 we have had in many years, would require little to be ready for the show circuit.” The car was sold in days. It was probably a high 80— to 90—point car.
But I don’t like red
The new owner then had F.A.I. take the car apart for a color change to dark blue ($18k) and re-assembled it for another $6k. The buyer also sent it out for new tan leather at $12k. The just-rebuilt suspension was taken back apart for all-new plating and powder coating, adding another $12k. The total cost of these four steps? About $50k for the paint, leather and suspension, which is “why not?” money in the world of Enzo-era Ferraris. The added work made it a low 90-point car. Total time of this work was about four months.
A few steps forward, another step back
Once the car was painted and back for assembly, the owner added another step, and the engine was once again back out for detailing to a higher level, adding another $7k–$8k to the cost. The owner then decided he wanted the engine hardware re-plated and the block painted, so all accessories would have to come off, apart and sublet for new plating, adding another $8k–$10k. These additional two steps added another few months to the process and another $20k to gain an extra point or two — if the car were ever shown.
Once the engine was out and stripped down, the owner added a seventh revision and had the frame painted, adding another $5k. With the transmission out, the owner wanted it rebuilt for another $5k–$7k. The owner then added yet another step: re-sealing the diff and painting the diff and torque tube, which added another $5k. This added a few months to the total time and pushed the total re-restoration cost close to the price of the car!
We’ve done this before
The all-new leather interior had been sublet to a shop of the owner’s choice, but it was badly done. The car was sent out to a second upholstery shop for a second, all-new leather interior, which added $12k–$15k and another few months down time. All-new wire wheels have also been ordered. This C/4 just had a birthday at F.A.I., and the owner has spent the purchase price of the car in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back restoration. In retrospect, the car should have been stripped to bare metal and the engine rebuilt in the process. Hindsight is 20/20, but a more sequential and budgeted restoration plan going in and/or starting with a project car would certainly have been a better — and cheaper — decision.
Same story, different car
In June 2010, we sold a 330 GTC, s/n 11279, in Fly Yellow with black leather. It had been very nicely restored in 1992, with the engine rebuilt at a well-respected shop, and had only 3,100 miles on the clock, but it had sat for many years. It was well-sorted and described as “as close as one will get to a new 330 GTC.” A pre-purchase inspection found leaky head gaskets from age. It was sent to F.A.I. for an engine-out service and new head gaskets for about $6k–$8k. While the engine was out, it got a valve job, and the engine and engine bay were detailed for a total of about $10k.
I don’t like yellow
Someone had cut a hole in the firewall for a clutch cable, so while the engine was out, the car had a firewall repair and engine compartment repaint, which was about $2k.
The engine was re-installed and ready to run when the owner decided he wanted to paint the car. The engine came back out, and the body was sent out for new paint in dark blue, adding another $25k and another three months to the process. Once back from paint, the car was sent out for all new leather in a medium-dark blue, which is a very pretty combination. Add another $15k and another two months of down time.
The instruments were sent out for a rebuild while the dash was apart, but that was only $1.5k. The new owner wanted to add a/c with a modern rotary compressor. Wisely, this was done while the engine was out and the dash and interior were apart for upholstery, so the cost was a modest $8k and a few weeks down time. The transaxle was also resealed and repainted, so add another $4k.
Déjà-vu, all over again
Once the car was back from painting and the interior finished, the engine was ready to be reinstalled. The owner was called to confirm that he didn’t want to add anything extra to the list. The engine was fitted, the fluids were added and it was ready to start. The owner then called and said he wanted everything in the engine compartment detailed to “platinum level.” The engine came back out again, the accessories came off, and the engine, bolt-on accessories and engine bay were replated and repainted to the next level. Add another $8k–$10k and another month waiting for parts and plating.
A birthday in the restoration shop passed as the engine went back in place. It was then sent out to have a powerful stereo installed and a second pair of door panels made and upholstered to match, with big speakers installed. This story ends with the owner’s decision to have his almost-finished 330 GTC sent out to have the original wood-faced dash redone with a custom-made metal panel, which ended any hopes of ever showing the car at any of the major Ferrari concours events.
We need a plan
We have no lack of other examples of restorations in reverse. In every case, the work expands far beyond the original plan and ends up costing more and taking longer than if there been a definite, sequential plan, coordinated with the shop, from day one.
When one wants to do a total restoration, starting with a project car and committing to having everything done from the start is less expensive than buying a ready-to-go Ferrari and then adding the creeping costs of an incremental restoration. From the shop’s point of view, dealing with restorations in reverse is frustrating and crazy-making.
Everyone is a winner when we all start with the same well-defined plan. Only the shop comes out ahead when an action plan looks like a herd of gerbils on the loose.