How much does a classic car restoration cost?

A lot of people want to know if an auto body restoration shop like ours will give a classic car restoration cost estimate over the phone. It is almost impossible to give an estimate over the phone. That’s because several key areas influence classic car restoration cost:

Estimating classic car restoration cost is even difficult when we see the vehicle in-person. That’s because several things we’ll cover in this guide aren’t possible for us to know until we start taking things apart. That’s the only time we know the actual condition of your restoration project. And, to answer a commonly asked question, bringing us a disassembled vehicle doesn’t make it easier to estimate – in fact, as you’ll read, it makes the restoration more complex and costly.

We’re an auto body restoration shop. We can coordinate a full restoration with our vetted partners for mechanical and interior work. Since our main focus is on the body and paint restoration work, everything in this guide is focused on the body and paint work required to perform a classic car restoration.

Pre-restoration Condition of the Classic Car or Truck

Side view photo of a green 1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SL at Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC before a concourse level restoration.

Side view photo of a green 1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SL at Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC before a concourse level restoration.

Even though most cars and trucks are mass produced, no two cars are the same by the time they’re ready for a restoration.

Let’s say you had two identical 1969 Mustang Mach 1 cars. They both have 75,000 miles and have both been kept under cover for their whole life. The only difference is that one car spent its entire life in northern Ohio and the other car spent its entire life in North Carolina. The Mustang from Ohio will cost more to repair because of the salt and extreme temperature swings.

More realistic examples

That example is much too simple. Beyond salty roads, here are some conditions that can significantly raise your classic car restoration cost:

  • Cars and trucks stored in a shed or barn with a dirt or gravel floor, moisture usually require extensive frame, floor pan, and structural support repair or replacement. Moisture from the ground makes its way into the underbody of the vehicle and causes deterioration from deep rust.
  • Incorrect repair from a previous accident may require a lot of manual labor to correct. In some cases, these repairs must be completely replaced and cannot be repaired for safety reasons. This includes both structural and body panel repairs.
  • Modifications to the frame, mounting points, and other structural parts require many hours to correct. This often occurs when a previous repair or restoration shop used aftermarket or modification parts.

Even a survivor car can require a significant amount labor to restore based on its history.

Disassembled classic car restoration cost

A stack of classic Ford pickup truck parts that have been chemically stripped and delivered to the Automotive Collision Specialists restoration shop in Fuquay Varina NC.

A stack of classic Ford pickup truck parts that have been chemically stripped and delivered to the Automotive Collision Specialists restoration shop in Fuquay Varina NC.

A previously disassembled vehicle almost always costs more to restore.

Auto body restoration shops like ours follow a specific process. That means we know exactly where things came from on your specific vehicle. It also means we know which parts we have, which parts we can re-use, and which parts are missing or need to be replaced.

Most of the time, important things are missing like fasteners, connectors, and even major parts. Believe it or not, we often see parts from other vehicles in the mound of parts we receive. Your restoration shop will spend a lot of time (and your money) figuring out what’s in the mountain of parts they receive.

Restoration Level

Before we get started, you’ll need to know the level of restoration you want. Our shop offers three levels. The one you choose has a big impact on your classic car restoration cost.

Here’s a quick summary of the three levels:

  • Daily Driver
  • Show Quality
  • Concourse

You can find out more about our Restoration Services page as well as links to some of our work in the Gallery.

Daily Driver Classic Car Restoration

A daily driver classic car restoration means your vehicle’s frame and structural parts are safe for normal use. This level of restoration usually also includes basic body, paint, and trim work to make sure safety systems like lighting and bumpers will meet the standards for the specific vehicle.

You can be confident that your classic meets the minimum standards for safe operation on the roadway. Of course, the kind of car or truck you are restoring may not be suitable for today’s traffic. For example, a 1929 Ford Model A should not be driven on an interstate highway. Because of this, you should always be mindful that your daily driver restoration means you can operate the vehicle safely in conditions that are matched to its performance.

Other than classic care collision repair, this is the lowest level restoration service we offer.

Show Quality Classic Car Restoration

If your restoration goals include taking your car to meets and shows, you’ll need to plan for a restoration that’s a little more expensive. You’ll still require everything in the daily driver category but with a higher level of quality.

Body Panel Fit and Alignment

If your show goals include competitions, judges often evaluate panel filler, seam gaps, and offsets. Filler is a normal part of classic car repair and restoration. The amount of filler a shop uses can be an issue in some restorations (restomods have different standards). We’ll need to evaluate how much filler is present on your vehicle before we start. We’ll also need to pay special attention to body panel alignment and any structural adjustments we need to make so everything lines up properly.

Paint and Finish

Paint work is another great example. In some cases, an auto body paint restoration shop may offer different paint quality levels depending on your goals. Our shop only uses top quality automotive paint finishing products from BASF. For show quality restorations, you can expect higher paint costs based on both the quantity of materials and the amount of labor required to give your restoration a color depth and shine that you’ll be proud to display.

The Classic Car Club of America is an example of an organization that provides standards for competition judging. You should always let your restoration team know what your goals are before they start. The type of shows you want to participate in will have a significant impact on your classic car restoration cost.

Concourse Quality Classic Car Restoration

Front three quarter view photo of a green 1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SL at Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC after a concourse level restoration.

Front three quarter view photo of a green 1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SL at Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC after a concourse level restoration.

A concourse quality restoration is the most complex, time consuming, and expensive restoration option. They’re also some of our favorite projects. Some of our concourse work has been displayed in museums and crossed the auction block with strong results for the seller. Many people enjoy some of our other projects both in their private collections as well as at various concourse shows and events.

For a concourse level restoration, we have to source the exact parts used in the original build. This includes every part you can see as well as the parts that are no longer visible once everything is put back together. Our parts team has to find and acquire everything from bolts and fittings to body panels and trim. In addition to parts, concourse standards often mean we are required to follow different practices so the finished vehicle looks *exactly* like it did when it was brand new.

For these reasons, a concourse level classic car restoration cost will usually be at least a six-figure investment. Body and paint work alone can be more than $100,000. You’ll want to consider the vehicle’s actual market value as well as it’s sentimental value when contacting a restoration shop for an estimate.

Parts Availability

Parts availability is an important part of any restoration project. Based on your goals, you’ll need to work with your auto body team to decide when to use new old stock, salvage, or aftermarket parts.

Each of these options can have significantly different impacts on cost. For example, a salvage part will likely be cheaper to buy and ship than new old stock parts. However, they almost always require repair and adjustment before they’re ready for your project. Once that labor is added, the part might cost more than a new one.  In some cases, the salvage option is the only viable one.

Supply and demand

In restoration projects, supply and demand for parts can make a big difference. A restoration shop will do the best we can to help you find reasonably priced parts. However, market pricing changes based on the number of available parts and the amount of restoration projects people all over the world are doing at the same time as your project.

Customer supplied parts

We generally do not allow customers to source their own parts. That’s because we have reliable sources who provide the right quality parts. There are many scammers in the parts supply chain and if you don’t know how they work, you’ll be at risk of spending a lot of your project budget for parts we can’t use. Sometimes, it can take us longer than expected to locate parts. When this happens, we’re able to adjust the schedule in ways we can’t if our customer is trying to source their own parts.

Restoration Budget

In most cases, budgets are set based more on what owners think they can afford to pay than on an informed evaluation by a person doing the work. As we’ve discussed in this guide, it’s not safe to use a similar restoration project to set a budget for your specific vehicle. It’s also not a good idea to set a firm budget based on an initial (pre-disassembly) estimate.

Throughout the course of your project, you’ll be in regular contact with the shop. The team will inform you of things they’ve found and work with you to make decisions that are in line with your restoration goals.

How pricing works

You should find an auto body restoration shop you trust so you can be open about your budget up front. Restoration projects can range widely. When the shop knows your budget, they can help you plan accordingly.

Few credible auto body restoration shops will give you a fixed price for your restoration. In addition to the things we’ve already covered (vehicle condition, level of restoration you want, and availability of parts), the amount of time required has a big impact on overall classic car restoration cost.

Labor related factors

The cost of skilled labor can be expensive for a restoration shop to recruit and keep around. Many shops feel forced to hire low cost body and paint shop workers to meet customer budgets. Inexperienced workers require higher levels of training from more experienced shop hands. If they don’t get it, many problems will surface with your restoration in the years after you have it done.

The shop you choose will likely quote a shop rate (usually a price per hour) in addition to the cost of materials. Labor rates can change over time. If your project won’t start for several months, there’s a good chance the cost of labor may change between your initial estimate and the time you lock in the project. Once you’ve locked the project in, you should expect the quoted hourly rate to stay unchanged for the duration of your restoration project. If you have to stop work for a long period of time (see the section on Transportation and Storage Costs below), your shop rate may also change.

Transportation and Storage Costs

Photo of a blue Volkswagen Vanagon at the rolling body stage after auto body repair and custom paint by Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC.

Photo of a blue Volkswagen Vanagon at the rolling body stage after auto body repair and custom paint by Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina NC.

If you are not local to your auto body and paint restoration shop, transportation and storage costs could be significant.

In most cases, you can send lots of high-quality photos to your shop. They can use these to give you an idea for whether or not your budget range is reasonable for your restoration goals. The shop will not give you an initial estimate based only on photos.

Pre-project Transportation and Storage

Restoration timelines can be long. That means when you are ready to work on your project, the restoration shop will likely have a list of people who are waiting for the projects ahead of theirs to finish. If you need an estimate before you secure a place on the list, it means you’ll need to plan a two-way transportation trip or plan for separate storage near the shop of your choice. The shop will generally not store your vehicle while you wait to begin a restoration project.

Post-project Transportation and Storage

Most auto body restoration shops do not offer payment plans. You should expect to pay for materials and labor on a regular basis (often bi-weekly).

If you start a project and then stop work in the middle, you will be responsible to pay for storage costs. That’s because most shops will need to move your vehicle to storage in order to make room in the shop for the next vehicle coming in. The shop may require you to pre-pay a higher amount in order to get your project back on the calendar.

If you fail to make payments during the process or after the job is completed, your vehicle may require a more expensive climate controlled storage option. In some cases, you may be subject to a mechanic’s lean which, if unresolved, can lead to the sale or auction of your vehicle. These are conditions nobody wants to deal with so be sure you’ve planned your restoration budget well in advance of starting your project.

Do you offer payment plans or storage services

We’re much better at fixing cars than we are at offering financial services to customers. If you need financing for your restoration, we recommend talking with your financial advisors prior to starting your project.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer storage for vehicles while customers make payment arrangements.

About Automotive Collision Specialists in Fuquay Varina, NC

We’ve served some of the best auto body shop customers in and near Fuquay Varina NC! Our work has been featured in magazines and museums. We’ve also done concourse level restoration work on cars that have sold at auction for more than a million dollars. That’s earned us a local reputation – and one that reaches to customers in other states as well as Canada.

The Automotive Collision Specialists team has the experience to help with your collision repair and classic car restoration needs. Why not give us a call today at (919) 552-0333 and find out how we can help?

Comments are closed.