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At Peace with the Pieces

Maybe it?s fueled by the allure of PBS?s Antiques Roadshow. Perhaps the luddite in all of us is rolling at high tide. Or it could be a simpler explanation, like the theory of humans evolving into pack rats. Whatever the reason, auto enthusiasts are restoring vehicles like never before. What was once a male-dominated pastime is now embraced by women as well. As far as I?m concerned, the more, the merrier. Whether women or men, all newcomers to the hobby have a decisive advantage over the veterans: newcomers can learn from past mistakes and enjoy a much better likelihood of a successful project.

To put things into perspective, a lot of restorations are like relationships. People enter them with the best intentions of success and long-term happiness. Inevitably though, many fall prey to money woes and unrealistic expectations. If only our eyes were as wide open as our pocketbooks, we?d spare ourselves a lot of heartache and misery.

So before beginning your search for a restoration candidate, seek the invaluable advice of those who know the vehicle?s care and feeding requirements. Folks who can recommend parts suppliers and trusted technicians. Join the club?literally. Find an enthusiasts? club that specializes in the make or model you?re looking for. It may take some time to locate a chapter in your area, but it?s worth the effort. No matter how obscure the vehicle, a couple of enthusiasts probably got together once upon a time and decided to organize. I wouldn?t be surprised if there?s a cadre of pristine street sweepers being judged somewhere at a club meet this very moment (?Aftermarket bristles? 10 point deduction!?).

Then there are the monetary considerations. If you only have enough money to buy the vehicle, you simply don?t have enough money. Homeowners, this is familiar ground for you, because you?ll recognize the loud sucking sound and you won?t be alarmed when your purse begins to float. Even the best case basket case?one that runs and drives?will incur upfront costs when you register and insure it. The costs only go up from there, like the yodeling mechanical mountain climber on The Price Is Right. You can defray some of those costs by picking up a comprehensive repair manual. It will soon become your new best friend. Unlike a garden variety minivan or SUV, older vehicles demand more maintenance, often using odd little tools and fittings unique to an era?or even a specific model. Buy them before you buy the car. Sneezing within 20 feet of a vintage Jaguar has been known to throw its carburetors out of sync.

Where expectations are concerned, be honest with yourself. Your project must accurately reflect the level of skill and commitment you?re able to dedicate. I once bought an MG that needed little more than a thorough tune-up. My recently rescued Mercedes, however, needs that plus brakes, suspension work, paint and some sheetmetal. In both cases, I bought based on what I?m comfortable with. I also have more time and interest than I used to, not to mention garage space. That said, you must establish a realistic timeframe to complete the project and stick to it. If you bring home a car in boxes one fall and expect to drive it the following spring, you?re either kidding yourself or are blessed with the time, money and gumption to make it happen at such a feverish pace. If the latter is true, you?re welcome to drop by and help me turn a wrench on the Benz.

Finally, let?s not forget the family. The support, involvement and participation of your husband or significant other?and even kids?can make or break a restoration. You may not realize it now, but the endeavor will alter your lifestyle. Be prepared for the changes by talking with anybody directly involved in your life. The classifieds are filled with half-together cars and lonely hearts. Don?t join that club.

Of course, all the advice in the world cannot completely prepare you for the leap you are about to take. The advice I?m offering is from my own experience and from many other enthusiasts. Some aspects of the hobby hold true regardless of the vehicle, its condition or its owner.

At the same time, you must expect the unexpected. At least once per restoration, I discover something that either defies the laws of logic, physics or gravity. My technician friends are always skeptical until I bring in the evidence and they join me in puzzlement. If there?s a mechanic?s equivalent of a medical journal, I?m sure I?ve been a regular mention (Man Replaces Headliner and 2nd Gear Synchro Crunch Disappears). Despite all the logical steps and preparations you can possibly cover, you will still face plenty of obstacles along the way. Be patient and at peace with the pieces. Focus on the long-term goals you have for the project. It?s a relationship you?ll cherish.