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What to expect when restoring a classic

Near where I live is a self-storage place. Out front there is a 1968 Pontiac Firebird Convertible that has been sitting there since I moved here (nearly 5 years ago). The body looks straight and clean but the top is caved in so I assume the interior is destroyed and all 4 wheels are flat and rusted. I can only assume that the engine is in just as bad a shape. I’ve become obsessed with this car and would like to get it restored. I would like to make this a daily driver and do not want to get it restored to perfect car show level. I’ve never purchased a car in such a condition and do not have the mechanical skills to do the repairs myself. I’d like to get some information on such a venture. What should I expect to pay for the car and restoration? (I know it’s kind of hard to estimate the restoration cost but a ballpark estimate will do for now) Where do I go to find a shop that can do the work?

It will cost enough that you should buy one that has already been restored. Almost no one ever gets their money out of even a mild restoration, and this looks like an expensive job. You have to get under the car to look for rust. Count on the floor boards being rusted out, and the trunk floor probably has holes it it, too. Hemmings has several 1960s convertibles with asking prices mostly between $18,000 and $30,000. Even if you got it for free, it could easily cost all that and more to make a driver out of it. If you are still interested in it, be careful. It probably needs everything replaced or refurbished.

Signed, Major Buzzkill

It would be impossible to say how much a repair would cost without seeing the car. Just because it looks straight, does not mean it is. It likely has hidden rust that will need to be dealt with, unless you live in a rust free state.

Restoring a car can be fun but requires a lot of dedication and time.
You get frustrated and you need to walk away from it periodically. I like doing my own work and the process is fun but others, like yourself, like to see the finished product - and that’s fine.

Having a car restored I’m sure is fun when you pick the car up but less fun when you see the bill. Good craftsmanship is expensive!
You’re not looking for a cruise night car that requires some tinkering just to get it down the road- you’re looking for a daily driver. That’s a lot of work.

Driving a rear wheel drive 68 car on a daily basis will get old. It doesn’t drive like a nice clean quiet Honda, for instance.
I love my old truck but it rattles your teeth. To change gears requires the double clutch dance. It is slow, makes noise, smells bad, pollutes and ticks off the soccer moms behind me.
I drive it to Home Depot for giggles to get looks on a nice day but nothing beats the reliability of my Tacoma for quick home depot runs.
I’ll drive my Bug or Rambler to get ice cream or cruise night but wouldn’t dream of driving it in heavy traffic to work on a day to day basis.

Since by your own admission you don’t have the mechanical skills to do that work yourself, why not buy a nice 68 firebird already done. Maybe find one that sits on a modern chassis but looks old.
You’ll be off way cheaper and you’ll enjoy it a lot sooner and quite possibly more.

Long story short: I don’t mean to discourage you. The car hobby is great. Whatever you decide, just go in with both eyes open.
Restoration is not for the faint of heart and/or empty of wallet, those with lack of time, lack of patience, lack of understanding spouse, those with a life, etc.

As far as finding a good restoration shop, go to any cruise night when the weather gets better and talk to the guys. Many there do not do their own work and can point you to good craftsmen.

First, this car is for sale? Or, you just feel sorry for it seeing it sit there? Second, find the value of a decently restored '68 Firebird convertible. You likely will never get more for the car than one that is already restored.

Now, if the car is for sale find out the price and see if you really want to get into owning this car. If you are a good mechanic you might have some luck getting it running and road worthy for about $5,000. If you pay a mechanic or better yet a qualified restoration company, then you could get into the $10K+ range very fast.

If your desire is to bring this car up to show car quality, be prepared to open the wallet let the money flow freely.

This will be more expensive than you can even imagine. My guide shows a rough price of about 4-5 grand for the car assuming there’s nothing special about it and value can also depend upon what it means to the owner rather the buyer. Ram Air, factory air, power whatever, etc. all runs the price up.

Bare minimum costs even doing all the work yourself will add quickly. Mechanical things can be worked around but interior and trim parts are obscenely expensive. Even reproduction parts are godawful high.

Start pricing a few interior and trim parts through Year One or Original Parts Group. Ow.

Convertible with a bad top, outside for 5 years, is a convertible with a rusted out floor pan. This sounds like a disaster of a car to restore. You will spend 2-4X what the car will end up being worth. If you want this type of car, buy one somebody else sunk the money into.

This would be different if you were mechanically adept and wanted to restore a car. In that case, I’d say find a different one to restore.

And '68s make poor daily drivers for folks not used to them.

As the former owner of several different classic cars…I can attest to the other comments. About the only thing you can really expect is to spend money. I have sold a few of them to other restorers without finishing them because the expense had my wife fuming. You would be better off finding a vehicle that only needs a mild restoration. I can see the attraction of this 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible to any car guy but I’ve learned my lesson and would never seriously consider buying it.

When convertibles get left outside and the top fails, they are DONE…The floorboard and foot-wells fill up with water, everything rots and rusts…There is not much left to restore. The only value this car has is as a parts car to someone restoring a similar car…As everyone agrees, you can buy one cheaper than you could restore this one…

You can spend $20,000 resoring the car yourself. If you have to pay someone to do the work for you forget it, the labor will kill the project.

You can buy the results of someones investment/labor much cheaper.

Come up with a what you think you be a reasonable amount of money to spend on repairs, and then triple it. That’s how much it’s going to cost.

I’m currently restoring a car that started out in much better condition than the one you described. It’s nearly perfect mechanically and has no rust. When I’m done, I’ll have spent more than the car would be worth if I sold it.

For what you will spend restoring that car, especially paying someone else to do the work, you could buy a new Porsche. And a garage to keep it in.

Hey bustedupbird,

Wow everyone’s opinions are decidedly against you buying the car and they suggest it will be a money pit and a worthless investment…Actualy they are usualy right BUT please keep reading this. Truth be told I also have a project vehicle im working on now which is a 1970 dodge D100. It was running before I started and even with a very decent body I have found myself about $3500 out of pocket with upgrades and repairs to-date. Now that said… Who says you cant work on your own vehicle??? Its never too late to teach a old dog new tricks, (pardon the idiom and trust me I am not insinuating you have a craving for buttermilk bisquits nor any age discrimination) But hear me out. In most cases what you can do is if the vehicle has not been registered for an extent of several years, you can apply at your local DMV for a salvage title. The cost varies but is usualy less than $100 so very little investment to begin with. JUST make sure you dont step on any toes by doing so if you catch my drift. Next with so little invested go to your local parts store and buy a “Hanes” manual. After that sit down and read through it on a weekend and see what you feel comfortable doing by yourself. Tools are usualy easy to borrow or perhaps already have around the house and just a little common sence as well as time and elbow greese will go perhaps a long way for you here. You can choose exactly how much $ you wish to spend on the project and if you hit a wall and decide to sell…hey you only have $500 more or less invested so you can turn around and sell it to another individual who needs a new project. Maybe even for a decent profit!

Well anyway something to think about, best wishes

P.S. if you do invest on the car and find yourself stuck on something and need help give us another shout :slight_smile:

Hey all sry for the incorrect name on the earlier post, Ment it to be in reply to bustedupbird.
Oops ><

@THATONEGUY - You’re right, he could learn restoration and mechanical work, that would be fun. But he said he would need someone else to do the work, which guarantees a money-losing experience. If he did want to try, he should get something like you got, a rough running car, not the one he described, which sounds like it’d be good for the VIN plate and a few parts, at best.

@bustedupbird - what do you think? Any questions? These discussions work better when we hear back…

I agree.
If you’re doing it yourself, you will still spend more money you’ll ever get back but you learn something new and have fun in the process. What he needs to do is find someone that is done and is looking to sell his baby to make space in his garage and finance a new project.

I think everyone is assuming that the OP has never done this before and would like a feel for how expensive it would be to have it restored. Not to do it hiomself, but to have it restored. My sense is that if he has any concerns about the price whatsoever he’d be better off to just leave the dream as a dream. Having a car restored is a bottomless pit. Restoring it yourself is expensive, but you can do it a bot at a time. Having it doen, you’re tying up someone’s resources, you really need to be perpared financially up front.

I’ve read several accounts of folks having their dream car restored…one thing led to another…led to over $100,000 spent…OUCH! Of course, these are folks that could afford it, but it wasn’t for an exotic classic. One was a Desoto, IIRC…

I also fully agree with your as well as everyone elses posts. What you think will be a simple restoration 99.9% of the time turns out to be more capable to put moths in your wallet than miles on the road. I had no idea I would sink $3500 worth of parts into the truck of mine before I started, but hey thats how it turned out. Do I regret it? Heck no! Every time I look at the Dodge I love her all the more because she instills upon me a sence of achievement that no teacher of mine ever did through grade school…hmm well thats another story. Anyway, I know I could never get that money out of her today but to me, that bares no difference I wouldnt sell her for $7k I like her way too much. I only meant to give bustedupbird some options other than “Forget that rusted piece of junk and move on with your mid-life crisis”. After all im sure it has an engine that parts are very available for on He says the outside body condition is acceptable, so gut the interior search the scrap yards for some older seats and grind off the rust. Without doing at least that I have to say that no one here can say beyond a reasonable doubt that its not a worthy project. Now if he sits in the driver seat and falls through the floor then thats a whole nother subject but till then, as you said I leave it up to bustedupbird.

Back in 1977 I bought a 1948 Dodge to restore so it could be a daily driver. I had the car running well, but the body work (rusted floor pan, for example) was going to be a problem. Also, the upholstery was shot. I didn’t have much invested and was driving it down the street when a person pulled up alongside and asked if I wanted to sell the car. He followed me home and offered me $100 more than I paid for the car. I sold the car to him immediately.
I bought a new Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon with the 4-4-2 package back in 1978. I drove the car until October of 2011. The rust was taking over the floor pans. I had patched the floorboards, but the rust persisted. Even though the car was unique, it wasn’t a real classic and I realized that I would pour about $15,000 into a car that might fetch $10,000 if I wanted to sell it. I found a buyer for the car in as-is condition and I haven’t missed it at all. My Oldsmobile had the ordinary 260 cubic inch V-8 engine, an automatic transmission and a single exhaust. Had it been a 1968 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 muscle car, it would have been worth restoring. I bought the car at a good price because it wasn’t a muscle car and the dealer had had it in his inventory for 5 months. I drove it 240,000 miles. The heads and pan had never been off the engine.I had a $400 transmission job done, but no other major repairs. I got my money’s worth for 33 years of service and decided to quit while I was ahead.

The founder of Papa John’s Pizza tracked down his first car and had it restored. Of course, money was no object.