What type of “ride” are you interested in building?

Over the years many different names have been used to describe the art of rebuilding, restoring and modifying automobiles.  It probably started with the term “Hot Rod”.  In the 40’s, 50’s and even the 60’s, thanks to Mr. Ford and his mass production ideas, Model T’s and A’s were plentiful and cheap.  It was not too difficult to find an old “A” for $50.00 - $100.00 and then add mechanical parts from a current day car. Do a little engine work and one had a fun ride for little money.

In 1964, as a high school senior, I purchased the 1931 Model A Ford Coupe pictured here.  During college I restored the car to original condition.  The car was purchased for $500.00 and I probably spent another $1,000.00 to restore it to original condition.  I still own this car today.

A natural extension of the hot rod was the Pro Street or Street Rod.  This involves doing some of the same modifications that were done to the Model A or Model B but using a closed car of the 40’s or 50’s.  At this time this is not something that I have been involved with, but I am interested in experimenting with a pick up truck body that I have located.

The reality of this business today is that the kind of car you build  is a function of the condition of the car or car parts that you start with.  If you are lucky enough to find a complete car then you should give serious consideration to building a Classic, that is restore it to its original condition.

Currently we are restoring a 1964 Corvair Monza Convertible.  The car was purchased complete for $800.00.  The floor pan was rusted but the rest of the car was solid and all the parts were included except for the driver side outside door handle.  Corvair’s are easy cars to restore, the cost is reasonable, parts are readily available, and a complete car can still be found at a fair price.  Given the uni-body construction and the general design of the car there is not a lot that can be done to the car except restore it to original condition.

Cost should also be considered in the decision on what to build.  Restoring a car to classic condition where large portions of the car are missing can be very time consuming and expensive.  If you are doing the work yourself it might not be too bad, but trying to work with a good shop is next to impossible.  Image getting daily calls about approving the cost of endless parts.  A Custom car is your only logical choice.  The result is a car that “mostly” “looks like” the classic but drives and has many of the “creature comforts” of a modern day automobiles.

We are currently working on a 1958 Corvette; actually all that we have is a fiberglass body from the firewall back.  No matter how much I might want to restore this car it just is not in the cards, however, we have an interesting game plan.  A custom frame has been built that will accept a C-4 generation Corvette drive transmission. Think about it, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel power disc brakes, power steering and a LT1 engine.  And we can add accessories like, air conditioning, power locks, and a modern sound system.

Closely related to the custom is the Lead Sled.  The real difference with these cars is that you can express your own creative styling flare.  The car still resembles the original car but may also share parts of other cars. Bodies have been lowered, tops have been "chopped," and chrome or stainless steel has been removed or added.  Paint and interior become an extension of the owner or builder.

Again money (cost), or in this case resale value, is a factor in the decision on what to do with a particular car.  One reality of this business is that once you stray too far away from basic muscle cars the value of the finished product goes down.  You should face the reality that a Classic 1957 Buick is just not going to have the same value as a Classic 1957 Chevy if for no other reason than the size of the market.  I am sorry, but you will find a whole lot more people interested in a “Tri-Five” than a Buick.  Even if you go the Custom route the value of the finished product might not justify the expense of building the car.  Of course, personal preference, past experiences should always be considered, and remember this is suppose to be fun, which is why I own a 1958 Buick..

After you purchase a car, develop an overall game plan. Start with your own personal prferences, consider resale value, and don't forget safety and reliability. When I purchased my 1953 Buick 2-door Sedan, someone had already taken the original straight eight out and inserted an LT1 engine with an R-700 transmission.  An aftermarket computer had been purchased.  Their game plan was to leave the original front end, rear end and factory brakes.  Can you imagine trying to steer this thing without power steering not to mention bringing it to a stop.  We are scraping the front end in favor of an off the shelf Mustang II unit that will allow us to add power steering, power front disc brakes, and just for fun air ride.  A rear end out of Chevelle is being used that will give us a favorable gear ratio and large drum brakes.  We will strip off some the stainless steel, chrome, and add a great interior with lots of air conditioning.  20-inch custom wheels in the front and 22-inch in the back should make this quite a ride.

Another reality of this business is that it does not cost much more to restore a hardtop or a convertible than it does to work on a sedan.  So, if your choice is to purchase a sedan for $1,000 or a convertible for $8,000 the best “money” decision is probably the convertible.  Of course, that assumes you have the extra $7,000 and both cars are in the same general condition; just look at the advertisements for a 1957 Chevrolet.  If you assume equal cars and compare the asking price for a Sedan, a Hardtop, and a Convertible, the results will be something on the order of  $20,000 for the sedan, $35,000 for the hardtop, and $50-60,000 for the convertible.   We are currently working on two 1957 Chevrolets:  a 2 door and a 4 door hardtop.  The 2 door required a lot of bodywork, new top ($400.00), complete new floor pan ($2,400.00), front clip ($600.00), and a trunk lid ($150.00).  With other assorted body parts and labor, we should have a solid car for about $7,000.00.  The 4-door hardtop was originally purchased ($2,500) as a parts car for the 2 door.  As we tore it apart we realized that it was a solid car that would make a nice Saturday Night cruiser.  We should have a solid car for less than $4,000 to start our restoration process from and a four-door hardtop should have better value than a “post” car.

Enjoy your visit to my web site, but most of all enjoy the ride!!!

John Halbirt

Jaeger Classic Cars and Hot Rods
1611 Peachleaf Street · Houston, TX  77039 · 281.449.9500 ·  281.449.9400