Few things have done more harm to the old-car hobby than “reality” car TV shows. You know the ones, where a shop has to build or restore a car in a ridiculously short length of time.
Seemingly unaware of the concept of time management, the guys at the shop waste a day roaming a scrap yard, or firing off guns at the local desert rifle range, and then stay up all night to get the car done by the deadline.
It’s crap, plain and simple. It’s crap because it gives people the impression that you can put together a custom car/rat rod/restored muscle car in a week, or two weeks, or at the very most, a month.
Now, truth be told, it can be done. You can take your car to a huge team of high-power professionals, who will coordinate and simultaneously perform all of the work that has to go into it, and then charge you a minimum of six figures to do it.
Or you will end up with a half-assed car that will be poorly done, possibly unsafe to drive, and which will have to be completely pulled apart and redone if you want it to be right.
The reality is that good cars can take a long time to build, for a number of reasons. They’re very complex, the work is naturally time-consuming, and no old car is ever better than you think it is. Just as with renovating an old house, the deeper you go, the more problems you find.
And while you might not realize it, those down-to-the-wire deadlines—and most of the arguments—are cooked up by the producers, to give the show the goofy drama that’s sadly so popular with audiences today.
Here’s what really happens when you start to restore or customize an old car. First, you take it all apart. That’s when you find the hidden rust, substandard repairs by previous owners, and all the other issues you weren’t expecting to find.
You start working on it, and you replace a broken part with an aftermarket part. Be warned: these are not always made to original standards. There’s a very good chance you’ll have to modify the part, or the area where you’re attaching it, or both.
Or maybe you bought a used part. If it was online, it could very well be in worse shape than the seller claimed, and you may have to fix it first. You may also discover that while it looks very close to the part you’re replacing, it’s a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, or has the slightest curve where the old one was straight. That’s because automakers frequently used to make seemingly identical parts just oh-so-minutely-different from one year, or one model, to the next. So…there’s a very good chance you’ll have to modify the part, or the area where you’re attaching it, or both.
You will discover it can take a very long time to do seemingly simple tasks. Installing a window regulator, running a wiring harness, or putting in gauges can chew up more time than you ever believed it could take.
It won’t take that long to spray it, but a paint job is only as good as the prep work under it. The mirror-finish cars happen because someone sanded the surface, applied a skim coat of body fill, sanded it, primed it, and then sprayed a trace coat. They then sanded it, applied a skim coat of body fill, sanded it, primed it, and then sprayed a trace coat. Then they sanded it, applied a skim coat of body fill, sanded it… That might have been done a dozen times to get that ultra-smooth surface.
Try to rush the job, instead of following the recommended drying and curing times, and you run the risk of the paint peeling or cracking.
The upholsterer, chrome shop, engine rebuilder, and wheel refinisher will all probably need more time than you expect. If you’re having something custom-built, you’ll undoubtedly wait even longer.
And then you have to put the car together, without chipping the paint, and without scratching the chrome. It’s no wonder cars can take months or even years to build, especially if you’re working on it primarily in your spare time.
Of course, I don’t mean all this to keep you out of the old-car hobby. It’s a lot of fun, and it can be very rewarding. But you need to be realistic. If you’re looking at a junker and figuring you can have it finished in a week, you’re going to be very disappointed. Watch the TV shows, but enjoy them strictly for entertainment. When it comes to reality, they’re all just full of crap.