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The Rust Bucket Debate


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One of the members recently sought advice on how to handle recurring rust on his first edition Riv. Some said, fix it as it appears and enjoy the car. Most said that the price he was given for a "down to metal strip and paint was way too low for a good job. Some also said, get you a "rust free" car and use this car for parts. I kept thinking after this exchange. So is it the nature of our hobby to only pick low hanging fruit and leave the tough fixes to be crushed or parted out. Admittedly, I am working on a 63 Riv. that I was advised not to start, and I have had second thoughts, at times. But just last weekend we welded in a patch panel, which went amazingly smoothly, and the joy of being a part of that accomplishment, will stay with me for a while. My friend and I talked afterward about the patch, but we talked more of the fun we had working together and the fellowship we enjoyed. After all isn't that what the hobby is all about, restoring something that is part of history, and enjoying the process. I am 70 yrs old, had two open heart surgeries and my body is "rusting out" more quickly than I care to talk about. By some standards fixing me is a losing battle, and constant repairs is going to cost more than I am worth. I hope my family does not adopt the low hanging fruit practice, if they do I'm a goner. I may not even live to see my car completed , but I am still enjoying "the ride". Just sayin.

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I found some surprises under the old paint when starting my 65. Some of the common issues and some really bad previous work. I never considered getting rid of the car and starting over. Working on those tough issues with my Uncle was part of the fun. I think it gives you a certain bond with the car at the same time. I'm with you on this subject.

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Mike,

I always enjoy your colorful and common sense perspective as seen through your own eyes. It gives those in different situations something to ponder. I think you are right on the money. There will always be a faction out there where fixing a rust bucket is the only way a person can afford to get into the old car hobby. As long as a person has the time, patience, and motivation to do it "themselves" its a very good learning experience with little investment. I've done my share of them over the years especially in my teens, twenties and early 30s when I didn't have a dollar in my wallet to stop at McDonalds. So long ago that braze welding was the common method used to do weld repairs. I can only imagine what I'd have gotten myself into if I had a MIG welder back then! There is a great feeling of accomplishment and gratification one can get by doing the undesireable and downright miserable work and beating what seems like insurmountable odds to spectators. I'm sure your efforts are inspirational to others.

I sure hope to live to see the 63 completed and keep us updated on the progress.

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In my opinion, anything you want to do with your car is entirely your prerogative. This whole hobby should be about enjoying what you are doing, whatever form that takes and being proud of it. As Sheryl Crow says "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad". Really all restorations, concours level or beater, are about the experience. Who's to judge what a successful restoration experience really is? Over the years I've learned the most and had the most fun with some of my biggest restoration failures. I think that spirit exists in most cars guys. What you will find though in forums like this is well intended advice. Because many people under estimate the challenges some restorations create, seasoned people like the guys on this forum tend to rush in with cautionary tales and advice. It is very well intended and not meant to scare or be critical. What I love about this forum is the candid nature of most contributors. Also, they are typically supportive. Wether you are planning to bring back a car from the dead, or just change the wiper blades, they are anxious to jump in. Go ROA! PRL

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My eyes are brown and I have always been told it is because I am not a quart low; full as a pot of Mrs. Murphy's chowder.

I have been generally happy with all my cars since I got into the hobby in the summer of 1959. I was guided into my choices by my Grandmother O'Brien, who was the supreme head of a very matriarchal family. All the son's in law strove to buy a Buick and win her favor.

Dropping down one generation, a woman once told my mother that she left her headlights on and her battery went dead. My mother replied that if she had a nice black Buick like hers, she would always look back and admire her car; and would have noticed the lights on.

My garage is full of stuff they liked or would have liked.

Twenty years ago I stopped by my Uncle's with a '66 Toronado, he sat in his big chair by the stone fireplace with half a stuffed Elk hanging over it and said " You always drive a nice "road car" don't you."

Sure, were we expected to do less?

On fixing up the rot boxes, I have farted around with a couple and I have been trying not to buy one for over 2 years now. It is not the car, or the work, the expense, or the viability of the project that has affected me. It has been the whining of the owner when they take the car somewhere or try to sell it. A restored car has errors and omissions that are obvious compared to an original car. The patched up car usually shows inferiority at some level and often enough so people walk past them, hardly noticing. The car is fine for what it is, its the whining owner that is the downfall.

Bernie (turely, not a quart low.)

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I am in the same boat with a 64 Riviera. Rust is everywhere. I think everyone has a different breakover point on what they choose to undertake. Heck, i wasn't even a Buick enthusiast when i found my rust bucket, but it screamed " save me!" when i first saw it. Taking something that is not working or is in bad shape and getting it back into running/working condition just seems like a logical step to me. I don't have a problem with people only working on profitable/easier cars to fix, but there has to be some satisfaction with bringing some cars back to life that you know are destined for scrap or eventually turning to dust on the spot.

I'm a mechanic by trade, so fixing broken stuff is in my nature to some extent as well as gaining knowledge of new or older information. Saving an old car provides plenty of both. I took on my 64 Riviera with zero thoughts on profitability. I assume i will be driving the car. If i sell it in the future it will not be numbers correct, matching battery tray, whitewalls, etc. I hopefully will get it to the point of being a nice safe car that looks good and that i enjoy driving to work every day. I have no vision of it sitting in a museum or some hoarder's garage collecting dust. With my level of experience in body work that shouldn't be a problem. I'm a total noob in body work, but i'm looking forward to learning on the fly. Everyone has to start somewhere right? Just trying to do my part to be a positive instead of a negative in life i guess.

I salute anyone fighting the fight against rust and decay on these old cars. Seeing other people post their trials and successes helps the rest of us and keeps me plugging. Hell a few of these day zero to finished posts have convinced me to go all the way and pull the body off, try electrolysis, etc. As i have heard often, there are two ways of doing something - right and again. Hopefully i get it right the first time, but if not there is always again.

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Thanks for all the comments guys. I agree that the broad spectrum of advice from this forum is needed. I would not expect or want everyone to agree. We who are less practical need level headed guys, who have been there done that and got the T shirt, to keep us somewhat on track. We still get to decide what "on track" is, but we do need to hear about what derailing the train can be like. Interesting comments. Mike

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I have had this debate myself. I am lucky and have 2 old cars, kinda 3. My first car is a 1970 Chevelle that has all most all it's original sheet metal. I have had it for 35 years, since I was 14 years old. I NEVER have driven it in snow and only a few times in the rain. I don't drive it to work and I never took it to school. I have added 22,000 miles in those 35 years to bring the odometer to about 67,000. I love it and baby it ALOT!

When I was 17 (1983) I got a 1971 Formula Firebird. It was an Ohio Rust Bucket, I knew it but loved it anyway. I drove the wheels off of it. I put 60,000 miles on it in the first 3 years. Snow, no problem, donuts and studded snow tires on 14 X 7 Pontiac rallys! It had no floors, rust in the rear frame, bondoed quarters, rust around the windows under the vinyl top. After about 3 years of everyday beatings the floor was gone. The rear valance under the bumper fell off in the high school parking lot. First patch job, then I fixed the frame by welding in new portions. I fiberglassed on some fiberglass replacement quarters around 1985-86. Painted it in my garage with a rented compressor. Fixed the floor again in the early 90's. The trunk dropoffs don't exist. I pulled the top off and patched up the window frames and replaced the vinyl. I stitched up my own seat covers with a needle and thread when shop told me how much they wanted to do the job. I have had both the Firebird and the Chevelle for all these years. They have never sat idle for more than the winter season. They have been in working order and driven every year, no hibernation in a garage or barn for years. I love both cars but feel more bonded with the Firebird. I have always tried to preserve the Chevelle and learn on the Firebird. I guess what I am saying is I have done it both ways and both have their merits. I feel more connected with the Firebird because of all the time I have spent sanding, grinding, wrenching on it. It has been a patch job for 30 years and still provides all the pleasures of owning an old car.

One of my Favorite automotive quotes is "Never let perfect get in the way of good, perfect is only worth so much of your retirement account". Keep saving those beaters, who else will do it???

As for my son's Riv. It is a cross between the 2 styles and hopefully is teaching my son about the value of the old car hobby and pride in a job well done, with your own hands!

Kaber out

Edited by Kaber (see edit history)
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My opinion is that it really depends on what you are buying the car for. If you are going for a high-dollar auction car, it does probably make more sense to start with as rust free of car as you can. To some, a stock rust free car is the most important thing. The buyer may not want to spend $100k on a Riv with patch panels. But that doesn't seem to bother people buying '69 Camaros that have every panel replaced even the roof and still get top dollar. Have you seen Tri-Five Chevys that have been restored that have all new floors firewall to tail panel along with quarters, doors, and front sheetmetal? There were more of both of those cars made than Rivieras.

I look at my Riviera and know that it needs new floors, and that just means it needs new floors. Not that it is a parts car until I can find a Rivi that only needs new stuff bolted onto it. Bringing it back from the dead is a huge part of why I love working on them. (sorry for that reference Mike) It needs the seats reupholstered, should it be junk because of that? It needs the power steering box replaced, should it be junk because of that?

Rusted sheetmetal is just that. Easy enough to replace and do right (or wrong) depending on who does it. If you can't weld and have to farm it out, do it. If you can't rebuild the engine don't you do the same?

I converted my '55 Chevy from a 4-door to a 2-door. I had to get the b-pillars and inner/outer quarters from a couple junked cars along with doors that I had to re-skin. For all intents and purposes my '55 is a 2-door now. All the glass/door panels/carpet/sill plates/trim/etc. are 2-door pieces. Sitting next to a stock 2-door you couldn't tell the difference. Is it that much different than a '55 that had new floors/doors/quarters put on? Not in my book.

More Rivieras should be saved even if they are destined to be 'just drivers' (which is what all of mine will be). Concourse restorations are nice and should be done if that is your goal (and ability $$$$). I get just as much of a smile if I see one at 7-11 or the Concourse d'Elegance in Forest Grove. Either way someone likes the car enough to keep it going and have it out in public.

I'd rescue them all if I could afford to.

Mike

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I worked on wooden boats for a long time . I`ve actually seen small boats with some historical significance restored by saving the registration number and reinstalling back in place on the "restoration" .As long as the registration number is original, it was considered to be the original boat with a restoration. I`m glad that carry on is over! I think I`ll go out and hug my Riv...rust and all.

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