Rocky 72

Restoring cars for a living

Recommended Posts

11 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

As someone who goes through A LOT of cars, I am constantly on the look out for someone who can solve problems. "Restored" cars are often just cosmetically nice, but mechanical nightmares, and no offense to the guys around here, but most collector car owners don't realize how bad their cars are because they have no basis for comparison. I drive a lot of different cars and the good ones quickly separate themselves from the bad ones. It is VERY hard to find a shop willing to turn a bad one into a good one, because it involves a lot of diverse jobs: wiring, cooling, gauges, alignments, rattle abatement, drivability issues (fuel or ignition), and things like that which get overlooked during the restoration process and everyone just lives with them because the fix is a pain in the neck. I know one young kid who works a day job as an engineer for an aircraft parts supplier, but his night/weekend job is fixing rattles and odd noises on old cars. Brilliant!

 

I think there is a great demand for a jack-of-all-trades who can solve real problems. Forget bodywork and spraying paint, doing upholstery, and replacing chrome, there are a zillion shops that do that. There are plenty of engine builders and machine shops. But what every hobbyist needs, whether he knows it or not, is a guy who can solve little problems that every car has and most of us simply live with. The horn on my '29 Cadillac doesn't work because the insulation crumbled off the wire in the steering column and it honks constantly so I disconnected it. I can fix it myself but I don't, partly because of time and partly because it's a pain in the ass and partly because it's no big deal living without a horn, so I do. But I'd happily pay someone a few hundred bucks to fix it. That's the kind of thing that has a huge untapped market and I bet you could stay as busy as you wanted to once you earned a reputation as a problem solver, tackling jobs that would take a big shop weeks to get around to doing and which they're not properly geared to do. Better yet, do it better than they do, get the stuff exactly right, and make the cars work better than before. People will think you're a miracle-worker.

 

Just a thought...

 

You hit the nail on the head Matt. I've made a decent living doing just this for years. It does not matter if it is a Car, Tractor, or a Bulldozer. Most of the fixes are common sense fixes. Trouble is, who has commonsense nowadays??? Not many. Use to fix a lot of stuff for around $100 Bucks 25 or 30 years ago and the results would last for years. Sometime I would not hear from anyone for years and when I did hear from them I would say, " I thought you were mad at me, I haven't heard from you in a long time. There reply would be,. No, it's been working fine up until now. Yuppers. Dandy Dave! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

Working on cars is a tough way to make a buck and hard on your body. Restoration work even more demanding and unless you have a big name, no one wants to pay what the job is worth.

 

I went from working on cars to working on houses because it was so much easier and paid better.

 

If there is no demand where you are for a good carpenter there will be a hell of a lot less demand for expensive restoration work.

 

The best thing to do is move somewhere else. I don't know what you can do to make a living where there are no jobs and nobody has any money.

There is a demand for good trim carpenters but they want you to work for next to nothing ($12 per hour $15 after a few years) and that is if you supply your truck , tools , and fuel and they expect you to let the crew to use your tools  , been there , done that . The prices of the jobs have not gone down the prices are up , way up and a lot of people here do have good paying jobs , not as many as before but still they make money . That's why my plan was (if I could get it to work) was to buy unfinished projects for a good price and finish and sell , or like some of the guys suggested do repair work on older cars . I really never planned on anyone in this area to buy any cars from me if they do that would be great but I wont hold my breath . If all else fails I do plan on selling out and moving .  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

Working on cars is a tough way to make a buck and hard on your body. Restoration work even more demanding and unless you have a big name, no one wants to pay what the job is worth.

 

I went from working on cars to working on houses because it was so much easier and paid better.

 

If there is no demand where you are for a good carpenter there will be a hell of a lot less demand for expensive restoration work.

 

The best thing to do is move somewhere else. I don't know what you can do to make a living where there are no jobs and nobody has any money.

 

I agree 100%, 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The thing about the restoration business is that the whole model is doomed from the very beginning.  The reason is the math never works.   A reasonable, knowledgeable owner brings his desirable car for a full restoration to a very competent & skilled shop.   When the project is done,  the restoration costs are more than the value of the car (not even including original purchase price).  This tends to put even the most reasonable and knowledgeable owners in a bad mood.  

 

If you are building a house,  the cost of carpentry or electrical or plumbing or anything else does not exceed the value of the house (usually).

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, a couple of comments.

 

Matt, you're correct.  We have a fairly local restoration ship, was a one man operation but now 2 or 3, and the owner is an absolute master at fixing the little and sometimes bigger mechanical or electrical issues that make owning an old car a pain at times.  I don't often pay other people to work on my cars, but don't hesitate to pay him when it's an issue I can't deal with, great value.

 

As far as a "flawed model" of a restoration business, what you're leaving out are the people with lots of money, or a sentimental attachment to a car, and in those cases cash expenditure and final value become meaningless. 

 

I again point out that some of the same people who would complain about having $50K in an old car valued at $40k are the same people who might buy a $50K new car that's worth $20K a few years later, but you never hear a complaint about that.....

 

This is a hobby, and it's not all about the money.

 

The best way to be in the old car restoration business is to find your niche market.  Paint, upholstery, mechanical....do one thing very, very well, and you'll have business at  $40 to $60 an hour for as long as you want it......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

As someone who goes through A LOT of cars, I am constantly on the look out for someone who can solve problems. "Restored" cars are often just cosmetically nice, but mechanical nightmares, and no offense to the guys around here, but most collector car owners don't realize how bad their cars are because they have no basis for comparison. I drive a lot of different cars and the good ones quickly separate themselves from the bad ones. It is VERY hard to find a shop willing to turn a bad one into a good one, because it involves a lot of diverse jobs: wiring, cooling, gauges, alignments, rattle abatement, drivability issues (fuel or ignition), and things like that which get overlooked during the restoration process and everyone just lives with them because the fix is a pain in the neck. I know one young kid who works a day job as an engineer for an aircraft parts supplier, but his night/weekend job is fixing rattles and odd noises on old cars. Brilliant!

 

I think there is a great demand for a jack-of-all-trades who can solve real problems. Forget bodywork and spraying paint, doing upholstery, and replacing chrome, there are a zillion shops that do that. There are plenty of engine builders and machine shops. But what every hobbyist needs, whether he knows it or not, is a guy who can solve little problems that every car has and most of us simply live with. The horn on my '29 Cadillac doesn't work because the insulation crumbled off the wire in the steering column and it honks constantly so I disconnected it. I can fix it myself but I don't, partly because of time and partly because it's a pain in the ass and partly because it's no big deal living without a horn, so I do. But I'd happily pay someone a few hundred bucks to fix it. That's the kind of thing that has a huge untapped market and I bet you could stay as busy as you wanted to once you earned a reputation as a problem solver, tackling jobs that would take a big shop weeks to get around to doing and which they're not properly geared to do. Better yet, do it better than they do, get the stuff exactly right, and make the cars work better than before. People will think you're a miracle-worker.

 

Just a thought...

 

This is reality. I specialized in servicing preserved original and restored cars as a part time hobby-job from about 1991 until 1999. I would restore components and fix the details of restored cars to make them steer, start, and stop. Believe me, you wouldn't want to throw the keys to the wife and send her to the corner for a gallon of milk in a freshly restored car.

The great part was that I didn't have to deal with any virgins. The restoration shop took care of that for me. In the early '90's most owners had about $30,000 tied up in a typical car. I did a few very non-typical as well. I would tell a new client that if they stacked up all their receipts, even the hidden ones, they were probably about 90% home. And, on an average, I would say a car needed about $3,000 of mechanical work to make them reliable. I serviced about 35 cars regularly and averaged about $1,000 each annually. That's a pretty full plate when you add 8 hours of power plant operation on top of it. But it is a long way from making a living.

There are about 200 working days per year. If you can schedule work for 75% of them you are doing real good. If you work 10 hours at $50 per hour you get $75,000 BEFORE you start paying for stuff. It doesn't take long to get back to that $12-15 per hr and provide your truck. $200,000 to $250,000 with one helper is a sweet spot. Your risk is just under $1,000 per working day. Take five days off for a vacation, deduct five grand.

 

If the only thing you are selling is labor there is a finite supply. And you need to score about $100 per hour to cover expenses and have a few bags of groceries.

 

There is a lot, lot, lot of restoration rework out there and it is good work with appreciative customers. But it has to flow quickly.

Bernie

 

 

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is more bs tossed around on these forums than at a Texas rodeo. We have been restoring professionally for 37 years and have more work right now than we've ever had. All of our customers know going in that they will likely spend more than their car is worth, usually much more. The secret to making a living restoring cars, other than developing the obvious skill set etc is to establish a following with those folks who measure "worth" in  other ways than just by "price". We were basically broke when we started. We've managed to make a decent living and have had one helluva lot of fun along the way. The hardest lesson to learn is that you MUST work time and materials. Sell your services by the hour, be good at what you do, don't be greedy, and you'll do ok.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dave,  Not fair to compare with a new car who's purpose is to get somebody to and from their job - not be a piece of rolling art work.   I've seen enough frazzled restorers and unhappy customers in situations where nobody did anything wrong to realize it is not a great business to be in.  I might be too hung up thinking about high dollar complete restorations and perhaps there is a happy niche to be found somewhere doing sorting and mechanical work. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I still believe it's a valid comparison.  There are  a lot of new automobiles bought for reasons other than getting back and forth to work.  If that was the only requirement or desire, everyone would drive the least expensive car available that was able to get from point A to B.  But people don't do that, they buy expensive vehicles to either satisfy their ego or be showing off, and don't even look at overall cost, but "how much per month".  A lot of disposable income gone, victim of depreciation.

 

  People look at things differently.  The unfortunate thing that happened in the old car hobby, in my opinion, is that cars changed from being a hobby and labor of love to an "investment".  It's supposed to be a hobby, and as such, usually costs more to be

involved in than it will return.  Ask a hunter or a golfer about how much their passion has "returned", and the only answer is pleasure from the activity.  They have no asset, other than, respectively, duck feathers and a set of clubs. The cost is never recovered, yet for some reason people are thinking that the same should not  be true of collecting and restoring antique cars.

 

And yes, there is a very nice niche for sorting and mechanical work.  A lot of cars are "restored" to be visually pleasing, yet are dogs to drive.  The AACA is a great club, but just look at the judging guidelines.  All cosmetic, and as long as the car can limp on to the show field, it can be a high point car.  I saw a beautiful Model A at Hershey a couple of years ago, it was struggling to make it on the field, hitting on 3 or less cylinders, yet that isn't even considered in judging.  Someone who can take a car like that, sort it out, and make it a pleasure to drive, is an individual who will be busy quite a bit...

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I first started doing work for other people, and I don't anymore, I had a client who owned all the icons but didn't have a car to drive. All were restored. If anyone thinks TEXAS has BS try some restorers in western New York. You'd swear Niagara Falls is a big toilet being flushed.

He had a '55 T-bird but it barely ran. The first time he called me his '59 Caddy convert had stalled in the driveway and wouldn't start after driving it home from purchasing. The litany on their condition would even bore me. After about four years of my work his biggest problem was choosing the set of keys rather than which car might run. Tip: If you pressurize the cooling system of a 1959 Caddy you shouldn't hear water running into the engine. And the white smoke that was diagnosed as a lean carburetor works for boilers but not cars.

Body shops do make pretty restorations. And mechanics restore cars that run good. We visited an auction together once. The only criteria for evaluating a car on walking up was the finish of the window fur strips and door edges at the window channel. Boy! Did we save time.

I own a car right now; it's in my garage. I bought it two years ago and it has receipts from a well known shop for a brake job, new fuel and brake lines, a new clutch and a few incidentals. I have been working through a redo of the shoddy work. The car is a looong time neglected project that was the old man's dream. It is not pretty. If they were capable of better work the only other reason for what I find is that they were trying to dissuade him from bringing a car that did not meet "their" "standards". Every time I work on it I ask if they did these things just to make him go away. It is hard to imagine but it is all I think.

 

It is really hard work to redo all the systems and cosmetics of a car. I know body shop guys with really nice paint jobs and they admit it took two or three applications. The trouble with time and materials is only being able to afford one paint job.

 

Bernie

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, trimacar said:

Ask a hunter or a golfer about how much their passion has "returned", and the only answer is pleasure from the activity. 

They have no asset, other than, respectively, duck feathers and a set of clubs.... 

 

Well said, David!  There's more to life than

money, and you have a way with words.

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, trimacar said:

I still believe it's a valid comparison.  There are  a lot of new automobiles bought for reasons other than getting back and forth to work.  If that was the only requirement or desire, everyone would drive the least expensive car available that was able to get from point A to B.  But people don't do that, they buy expensive vehicles to either satisfy their ego or be showing off, and don't even look at overall cost, but "how much per month".  A lot of disposable income gone, victim of depreciation.

 

  People look at things differently.  The unfortunate thing that happened in the old car hobby, in my opinion, is that cars changed from being a hobby and labor of love to an "investment".  It's supposed to be a hobby, and as such, usually costs more to be

involved in than it will return.  Ask a hunter or a golfer about how much their passion has "returned", and the only answer is pleasure from the activity.  They have no asset, other than, respectively, duck feathers and a set of clubs. The cost is never recovered, yet for some reason people are thinking that the same should not  be true of collecting and restoring antique cars.

 

And yes, there is a very nice niche for sorting and mechanical work.  A lot of cars are "restored" to be visually pleasing, yet are dogs to drive.  The AACA is a great club, but just look at the judging guidelines.  All cosmetic, and as long as the car can limp on to the show field, it can be a high point car.  I saw a beautiful Model A at Hershey a couple of years ago, it was struggling to make it on the field, hitting on 3 or less cylinders, yet that isn't even considered in judging.  Someone who can take a car like that, sort it out, and make it a pleasure to drive, is an individual who will be busy quite a bit...

David, you are right on the mark. I've followed this thread for a few days just rolling my eyes at some of the comments.

This is a hobby and everyone I know in it expects to spend more then they get back on a car. I don't hang out with the investor crowd. Most like to say they've come out ahead but my quess is they are like that British show where they buy a car and tell you how much they made on it but never count the labor. HA, that is funny.

The pleasure of owning, driving and for me, working on my vehicles is the payoff, and I have never found a decent wrench, body, upholstery or paint person for anything south of $50 an hour. Maybe in Sri Lanka but not in the US of A.

Like most businesses, and it's already been mentioned, if you have the talent, the drive,  the business sense and the capital (or other job) to get started you will succeed working on other peoples cars.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎6‎/‎24‎/‎2016 at 3:33 PM, Rocky 72 said:

Isn't it really cold there ? I thought about moving to Tennessee  where its warmer .   

Rocky,

Depends on where you are. Denver is a mess, so forget that one, Colorado Springs has about the same weather as St Louis, bit a lot less humid and a lot fewer bugs. Pueblo is HOT.

Off the front range Grand Junction out west gets a bit hot in July, but the winter is very mild, and there is a good car community there.

Lots of building in the Springs and lots of car clubs too.

If I ever come down out of the mountains, C/S is for me......

 

Mike in Colorado

Where if you want to shovel snow, you have to get up early.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2016-06-25 at 7:36 AM, Rocky 72 said:

There is a demand for good trim carpenters but they want you to work for next to nothing ($12 per hour $15 after a few years) and that is if you supply your truck , tools , and fuel and they expect you to let the crew to use your tools  , been there , done that . The prices of the jobs have not gone down the prices are up , way up and a lot of people here do have good paying jobs , not as many as before but still they make money . That's why my plan was (if I could get it to work) was to buy unfinished projects for a good price and finish and sell , or like some of the guys suggested do repair work on older cars . I really never planned on anyone in this area to buy any cars from me if they do that would be great but I wont hold my breath . If all else fails I do plan on selling out and moving .  

You already explained that you live in an area with a failing economy where nobody has any money. I don't know how you can make money where there isn't any. I could suggest you go into business on your own as a carpenter or handyman but if there is no money there is no money. I found there is lots of demand for a home repair person or handyman and you can make good money if you charge by the job not by the hour. If people can't afford to have their kitchen taps replaced they can't afford a full restoration on an old car. I live in a fairly prosperous area but found nobody wanted to pay what it was worth to fix their old car. They had some phantasy that I could do 2 weeks work in a day and charge $500 for $5000 worth of work. They want you to take the bread out of your children's mouths so they can have a play toy. It may be hard to find a good mechanic but it is even harder to find a customer who can tell a good mechanic from a bad one, and is willing to pay what the job is worth.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another thought if you are a good carpenter would be antique speedboats. I restore both cars and boats. When I get tired of saw dust, I move to working on grease! The antique speedboat community always needs a good carpenter or you could restore a boat on spec.

 Just a thought.

wayne Elsworth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been working on classic cars since I was 16. And have owned a custom car shop for about 13 years. And have walked a line between restored classic cars on one side, and street rods and customs on the other. And I can tell you for a fact that if you do a really good job. You will find yourself in the cross hairs. The AACA has a email that is sent out called the speedster. In one a few months ago a person was asking for people to speak at the fall meet. While I am not a public speaker, if my story was told your jaw would drop to the floor. Like so many things in this country, some aspects of this "hobby/industry" are pretty messed up. I am in it for the cars, some people are in it for different reasons. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Xander Wildeisen said:

that if you do a really good job. You will find yourself in the cross hairs.

Would you please explain that statement?

 

Do you mean you'll find yourself in demand, or that you'll find yourself in trouble?

 

I do know, from being involved with one well known restoration shop, that there sometimes are disgruntled customers, which makes the gruntled customers all the more pleasurable.  I also know that lawsuits aren't uncommon, and are often won by customer, even with contracts and checks signed willingly by customer.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, trimacar said:

  I also know that lawsuits aren't uncommon, and are often won by customer, even with contracts and checks signed willingly by customer.....

 

That's the scary part.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Business owners have been in trouble since the first movie showed a landlord tie a young maiden to the railroad tracks. Pick up a movie, any movie, you won't see a business owner in a white hat.

Ask that "other" Bernie. He'll tell you.

 

I had my own nephew do a major job on my convertible. I was trying to teach him the importance of communication and timely billing. It was a fight to get a weekly itemized invoice from him, the point I tried to impress. Trouble starts when men do work for men and men pay men. Men are too easy about handling money and letting things slide. What seems small grows and turns into big problems. Anyone who has a woman taking care of their accounts receivable knows how aggressive they are.

 

But that is a legal, licensed, code meeting, tax paying shop. The side garage home hobby shop IS in the cross hairs. It didn't happen to me, but I know of a casual shop that racked up about $5,000 against a car and the owner just refused to pay. He said he would turn in the hobby shop and the couple of under the table helpers. Period. That's leaving yourself open. And the general public has already been indoctrinated that the business owner is a bad guy.

 

Well, break is over, back to work.... not fixin' cars!

Bernie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, 60FlatTop said:

Business owners have been in trouble since the first movie showed a landlord tie a young maiden to the railroad tracks. Pick up a movie, any movie, you won't see a business owner in a white hat.

 

Bernie

 

Bernie, being you mentioned it I can think of one business owner in a white hat portrayed in film we can't forget Don Fanucci in "The Godfather Part II"? I think he was in the "protection business"  

Don_fanucci_gf2_.jpeg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're fairly safe with the guy above. He's predictable.

 

With the Irish, you gotta be careful.

Hi.jpg A hint of larcency and lace curtains.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bernie, I don't think Don Fannuci, was concerned about being sued, although Don Corleone (Robert DeNiro) sort of did a hostile takeover of Fannuci's business.

 

LOVE those Godfather films!  I remember when they were filming them my Dad took his 39 Pontiac to a hanger at Kennedy Airport where the cars were selected, It was taken out three times but we never found it in the movie, ended up on the floor,

sorry to go off topic, but just make sure that there are no Don Fannuci's selling glass insurance when you open your business

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not really sure what people are taking away from  my post. I think my story is not much different then a lot of people in this hobby/industry, mine having a few more twists and turns. We have all seen the movie Tucker a man and his dreams. What happens in the movie is alive and well in this part of the country. If you are good at what you do, yes you can be a target by people wanting you to do their work. That is how it should be, do a good job and the word of mouth carries you. But the flip side of it is, do a good job and you can be seen as a threat to other shops, or people who want to lock you down and try and own you.  And then you get into how far will people go? If in a big city people get harmed over a pair of tennis shoes. Is it a stretch to think that people will not jack with other peoples stuff? I am a legal tax paying shop, I am a dealer for aftermarket parts, I have built cars that have been in shows. And what I can tell you for a fact is that some people seem to know no limits in what they will do. And I think it is reflective of where we are at as a country. No matter what your own personal opinions are , I think we all agree that a free and fair market system that we can compete in, works best for us all as a whole. Great work, customer service, fair price. These are all things that made our automotive industry the envy of the world. But in my opinion we have been taken down a road that has turned the work environment for small businesses in to a battle ground. For a small business owner in any field, in this country you and your assets are viewed as fair game to a run away legal system, and people who actively set out to bring harm to companies. It is called predatory capitalism. I could not imagine how bad it would be on a large scale corporate level. People have put a lot of effort in to dividing shops around here by say one thing to one person and another to some one else just to create division, so shops do not talk to one another. That way people can get one shop to think this and another to think that. I am sure that what I am saying, people will just say. Well that is just hard ball business. I guess I understand that part??? But when people pull the rug out from under companies to try and take them out, and drive people into thinking harm will come to them if they do not drink the kool aid and play ball. Then we as a country have let things go to far. It appears to me that there are people who think that you can make good money with small businesses. But not from owning the Business, from owning the owner of the business. If our goal is to pass the torch on to the next generation of car builders and restorers. Then fixing the way some things are done in our "hobby" would be a good thing for us and for the youth wanting to get involved. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Xander, you might want to consider the services of someone like Don Fannuci to "talk" to these other businessmen (just joking) All kidding aside things are tough on small business's

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...