Classic Cars: Should You Buy Restored Or Buy To Rebuild?

Father and son with classic car

Dash Cain remembers the moment well. And it’s a painful memory he wishes would go away forever.

During a weekend in July 2018, he had his fully restored, 1970 Camaro Z28 disappear in Columbus, Ohio.

The car – which was technically a 1970½ since that year’s model was late because of a General Motors strike – had a 350-cubic-inch motor that generated 360 horsepower. It was forest green, with a green interior and white stripes.

On the Friday night of that weekend, he parked it at the hotel that he and his son were spending the night at, to rest up for a classic car show they were attending the next day. That’s the thing about these classic shows – only those fully invested both in the cars and the culture attend, and they’re dialed into all the surroundings. People get attached to these cars.

Classic car shows are must-attends for patrons and participants but, unfortunately, they also capture the attention of the criminal element.

Cain, who is the father-in-law of the writer, woke up that Saturday morning to find that his prized Camaro had been stolen from that hotel parking lot. It was a shock from which he has never fully recovered. He has worked on vintage cars since, but nothing compares to that Camaro.

“It’s not the same. I still think about that Camaro,” he says. “It’s engraved in my mind.”

Photo of Dash Cain's 1970 Camaro Z28
Pictured 1970 Camaro Z28 Photo Credit: Dash Cain

The biggest advantage of buying restored: It’s cheaper and faster

Cain is currently restoring a 1932 Ford two-door sedan, putting in a modern suspension and drivetrain so that he can drive it on the highway. But he’s saving money because he’s been able to work in his home garage. Plus it’s a smaller car, and he’s been using parts accumulated over the years. But parts are hard to find because of the pandemic and many businesses have shut down.

The car Cain really wants is a 1965 Buick Riviera. But he says he won’t be buying one to fix it up.

“The most cost-effective route is just to put down the money and buy one that’s refinished,” he says.

No one knows that more than Steve Plunkett, who for 16 years ran the Fleetwood Country Cruize-In classic car event, the largest in Canada until he shut it down in 2019. Plunkett owns 78 classic cars now, including many with a story attached to them, such as a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham that was originally owned by American singer and songwriter Johnny Cash.

For him, the question of which route to take in terms of buying restored or not is a straightforward one.

“The cost of restoration is astronomical now,” Plunkett says. “The person who writes the cheque for the restoration takes the real hit, I tell people.”

Plunkett just wrote a cheque for $19,000 for bright metal work on a 1960 Cadillac he is having re-stored. And that’s for just some of the work on the car.

You could pay $79,900 USD for a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss, or $89,900 USD for a 1967 Ford Mustang GT – cars that are similar to Cain’s Camaro Z28. But prices vary of course – one 1971 Dodge Challenger is going for $295,000 USD.

If you do buy restored, do your homework

If you are planning to buy a restored car, you want to know as much about that restoration as possible, says Saqib Saeed, market development manager at Hagerty Canada, an insurance company that has partnered with Allstate Canada to offer coverage* for classic cars. He advises that you should get as many photos and as much information detailing the restoration as you can.

“If it was a do-it-yourself restoration by the owner, check out their credentials or hire a professional to inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing,” Saeed says. “Still, this could potentially end up being the more convenient option as someone else has already done the hard part of sourcing parts, hiring skilled labour or doing the work themselves.

“You’re dealing with a finished product for the most part, so you’ll be able to feel how the car drives and sounds and determine if it’s for you,” he says.

If you are looking to purchase a restored car, RM Sotheby’s (formerly RM Auctions) and Legendary Motorcar Company are two recommended places to go.

The biggest advantage to buying a car that needs to be restored: You get to determine the finished product

Plunkett is currently spending $100,000 to restore that 1960 Cadillac, a rare Eldorado Brougham, of which just 101 were made, in Turin, Italy. He expects the car to be worth much less than that when he is finished – between $30,000 and $40,000.

“I just shake my head at it,” he says. “But this is a very rare Cadillac, which had been purchased new by Robert Paxton McCulloch,” the American entrepreneur who is best known for McCulloch chainsaws and for having moved the London Bridge to a city he founded in Arizona.

If you don’t have the know-how to restore the car yourself, you can hire someone who can do it for you.

“By doing a true, full restoration yourself, you are getting it at the quality level you want, the colours you want, the options you want,” Plunkett says. “So, there is an advantage to doing full restoration yourself if you know you are not going to find another one and it has an incredible history that you can’t find with another car.”

Saeed agrees. “You have control over the outcome of the finished product,” he says. “If the project is to build your dream car, then this may be the choice for you as the sky is the limit when it comes to cost and time. It won’t be complete until you’re satisfied but you’ll need to be patient until that happens.”

In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Owning a classic car is a passion project more than anything else – and you may find that owning the car of your dreams can be achieved by finding it restored. Or your perfect car may need to be rebuilt or refinished to make it truly yours, especially if you love the labour of bringing it back to its former glory.

*Hagerty Canada, LLC policies are underwritten by Elite Insurance Company, an Aviva Canada company.

This information and the opinions expressed in this blog are based on research and interviews with the authorities identified, conducted on behalf of Allstate Canada. They have been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as legal or insurance advice.