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Restoration Shops in DE/MD/PA area


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Hello,

My Uncle and I have a 1956 Ford Thunderbird that we would like to have restored. The car has been in our family since the early 1970's and is complete, but is in need of a total restoration. It is located in Northern Delaware. I was hoping that with the wealth of knowledge from the members on this forum, soneone in the AACA would know of a good restoration shop in the area. We are not really looking to show the car, but would like a reliable and correct car that we can drive and enjoy. I have already tried to contact the local chapter of the AACA but did not receive a response.

Thanks in advance,

Curtis

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Join a few of the Thunderbird clubs. They specialize in a wealth of resources for your Thunderbird. I don't know how much restoration you need, but dust off your wallet. Engine rebuild, chrome, paint and NOS parts are expensive. Body work is cheap by comparison, and may be done by just about any body shop. A frame-off restoration will bring the body and chassis to bare metal. Usually, nothing is attached to the body, and all the components are restored separately before re-assembly; just like at the assembly plant.

Many of the restorers here do their own work, or they send parts to specialty places, like chrome plating shops or classic engine rebuilders, paint booths, etc. Your T-bird isn't that old, and parts are VERY obtainable. Many go on 'sale' at different aftermarket stores. Start amassing parts that you know will need to be replaced. eBay is a good source, too.

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Hi- I'm not actively in the auto upholstery business. I'm an engineer with a day job. I've done antique/classic car upholstery professionally, and actually apprenticed under a German trimmer for two years. Besides working on my own cars, I occasionally do an upholstery job for others, to get hobby money to work on my cars.

I have also bartered upholstery work. I did a complete upholstery job on a 1923 Buick, in return for rebuild on two engine, 1910 Model 16 Buick and 1910 Hudson 20.

I only do leather and early tops. My definition of "early" is pre-WW2, and preferably wood body cars, wood bows, and tack friendly cars. I have done later cars. 1937 Cord phaeton (I have one too, and had excellent original to follow), 1941 Darrin (what an experience, hard car to work on), 1915 Hudson touring (huge, tall car, installed new top), Cunningham, 1910 Babcock (now in Watertown museum, NY), 1934 SS (later Jaguar), early 50's Allard, and others.

Being a trimmer is a great job. One can get into it with low dollars (walking foot sewing machine and some basic tools), and, if one knows the tricks and how to manage work, a great profession. It takes a lot of patience, and, as my mentor told me once, "trust your mark." It also takes a certain feel, or "eye", to know what looks correct, and what looks out of place.

My plan is to retire in a few years from Engineering, and do a couple of upholstery jobs a year to pay for my disease, ummm, hobby. thanks dc

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Curtis,

For starters the thing that you need to decide is how much you want done on the car, and how much you want to spend??

To some a simple paint job and doll up is considered by them as being a 'restoration' where most shops a restoration involves doing a full frame off restoration where you're rebuilding and replacing paint, engine, interior, chrome, glass, electrical, etc.

Many good and reputable restoration shops will not touch your car if you have any intentions of 'cutting corners' on certain areas. There was a shop near me that had the opportunity to do a full restoration on a car, the owner wanted them to do the restoration, but when the owner wanted to cut corners, the shop owner refused the job. No restoration shop is going to jeoparize their reputation by cutting corners in areas that others will see.

If you were to have a full frame off restoration to show standards, and you're going to hire all the work done, I would budget $50,000 plus materials. At that price it may be enough, it may not be enough, but at that price it'll put you in the ballpark.

I'm not trying to scare you in any way, but before you send your car out to get 'restored' think about how much you want done to the car, and how much you're willing to spend. I don't want you to take the car to a shop and have you expect to have the car restored for $10,000. The day of the $10,000 restorations are over.

My father and I have been approached by four fire departments to restore their antique fire trucks, we've refused every one of them and we've told them all that unless they've budgeted at least $100,000 for the job, to not even put a wrench to the truck.

I know of an individual who had a price of $80,000 to restore his car, he took it to North Carolina to a guy who would do it for $23,000 and after nine years, got fed up with the guy and had the car shipped to another shop very close to me. He's run up another $10,000 to 15,000 just in labor costs, the car still isn't done, and that doesn't include materials and parts. By the time everything is added up, and he drives the car for the first time, he will most likely have spent $80,000.

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Two years ago I was in the position of looking for resto shops to get a classic car that had been in the family for decades "up and running," and here are a few quick thoughts looking back on it:

1) Get a sense of the costs, and whether you even want to go through with it in light of those costs. As some of the posts above suggest, the costs of even modest work on a classic car at a professional shop quick get up in the stratosphere. The killer is labor costs: You're paying $50 an hour or so and every little job seems to take somewhere between 10 and 30 hours. It's not at all hard to start getting bills on the order of $10,000 per month, for a number of months, depending on what you want. Unless it's a particularly rare or valuable car, or you just HAVE to have that one, it is almost always cheaper to sell the car you have and just buy a nice driver in the same condition.

2) In light of the costs, if you *are* going to go to a professional shop, go to the best shop you can find rather than the best one in the area. If you're shelling out $50,000, your delivery and/or travel costs for the one or two times you visit the shop are a very small piece of the over all costs. Don't feel you need a place nearby.

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First, I've built five (I feel like I'm forgetting one) cars into National prize winners and I've never taken a body off of the frame. I strongly feel that the kinds of cars I enjoy can be done without that step. Second, it is a long and laborious thing to take the car to individual craftsmen who are not necessarily restoration people but are truly talented and willing to take on some "side work" at home. As for parts, and getting the chrome done, I assume the responsibility to supply all of the parts and most of the materials. From the standpoint of the ability to pay, this is the only way possible for a non-talented person such as me to do any car. Even at that, it can run up quite high today. The most recent price I have seen for restoration work in a restoration shop was $65 an hour, an impossible fee for me. All of that said, because of costs I have come to my last two restorations, both of which have dragged on a very long time. The reason is a combination of my age plus the cost and time lag. The best restoration man I've ever known is now 72 and he's calling it quits too, so the game is over for me. But, for younger people, I still believe if you become the "contractor" and you "sub-contract" out the sections of the restoration and move the car from place to place yourself, you can still do it for 30-50% less than if you put it in a one-shop-fits-all restoration facility. Several restoration facilities I know of are terrific, but in 1981 we far exceeded one that was very well known, doing it our way...and yes, that's a long time ago, but the car still won a Grand National in 2000. Twice I've had the money to send a car out, but the shop refused if I refused to take the body off of the chassis, just like exdrill said. I didn't use them, and ended up building a Senior car my way. So, in the end, you have to look at your wallet, your patience, and go from there. And yes, some of my friends call me "tight", which I consider a compliment, haha

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Good input Earl - your cars are great (yes, I'll have to admit, Buicks are nice cars!) and the work you've done or had done is top notch. If you farm it out just be a good supervisor and insist on the kind of quality you are paying for.

Terry

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Thank you all for your input so far. It has been a lot of help to me!!

My uncle and I had considered farming out parts of the restoration and doing some of it ourselves, but we decided that it would just be too difficult to do considering our current schedules. I am a full time college student about 4 hours away from home and he still works full time and so neither of us feel we could devote the time necessary to oversee the restoration properly. Because of this, we decided we wanted to find a shop that we could trust to do a complete restoration.

Again, I appreciate all of the help! I will be on Christmas break in a few weeks and my uncle and I plan to go and visit the shops then so that we can make a decision hopefully by springtime.

-Curtis

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I always hesitate to recommend anyone, especially because of my position as a Past President. Paul Rose has never done any work for me, so I can't speak to that, but I do know him, and know him to be a first class indivisual personally. I also know he started out with a highly well known Restoration facility when he was very young and learned the business from the ground up. Other than that, you are on your own and have to be your own judge.

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Got an email from Paul last night with a three page detail of all the stuff they have to offer. Quite an accomplishment for this young guy to go from working in a shop to operating such a huge operation. I hope it's a testimonial to AACA's "youth building program." I remember when he bought that old original Super Six...I'd just forgotten it for awhile.

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