What to do, what to do? A muscle car, a street rod, a resto rod, a rat rod... the list goes on and on and on. An easier question may be what condition to get one in. I have done rust repair and panel fabrication for years upon years and hate rust with a vengeance, so does it hate me I'm sure. You can remove it but it ALWAYS comes back! I've had customers pay $10,000-20,000 for an "Arizona car" which is as clean as they come. No salt=no rust... in theory. Let's say a customer wants a '64 Mustang. A clean car for $15,000 to start, or a rust bucket P.O.S. for $1000? I guess it all depends on the dude's time frame for completion because it could take at least 3 months to rebuild the P.O.S. with replacement parts. 3 months x $8400/ month adds up quite quickly for quality panel replacement... and that's just labor expenses by the hour. Not only do parts cost money but "re pops" are NEVER right. NEVER. Just a good starting point. They always need some sort of attention, just like a woman. And it's always more than you ever thought.
- If you already have the car it may be worth it... only if there is some sentimental attachment to the pile of turd, otherwise cash it in for scrap or sell it to Joe Schmo down the street to tinker on. Then again, there is always the chance that you are Joe Schmo and that you could actually give this vehicle new life. Only then should you consider keeping the turd. Remember that beauty is only skin deep and the skin is the easiest thing to fix. Kinda like the whole build your house on stone and not sand thing.
- Has it been restored already? Did somebody do a frame off on 'er? Dig deep. Some guys want a car for 15 grand and they definitely get what they pay for. I have seen new floor pans (paid for) on top of rusted pans. I have seen new quarters (paid for) put on top of rusted quarters. It mind boggles me because the removal of the junk is the easiest part... too bad it's the dirtiest. There is no doubt in my mind that people get screwed over on this; I have seen it happen first hand. I would always say to start with a fresh base than rebuild a train wreck.
- I knew a fella that built a T-bucket from scratch. Got tubing and sheet steel and junkyard parts and started welding. Even put a blower on a junkyard motor. It looked pretty neat just sitting there. Kinda rat roddish... actually it was very rat roddish. I am one to really check out cars since it's my profession and I didn't need to dig very deep to see that that trailing arms and "bushings", or lack of, were made of black pipe. Yep, the stuff in the walls of your house for natural gas and propane. No rubber bushings, just a bolt through the pipe welded perpendicular to another pipe. Scary! A death trap. Well, we debated it and it ends up I was wrong... suuure. I won't be riding in that thing. The blower was another story... the lips to seal were toast and that was fine cuz they didn't want it running a ton of boost.?. Huh? Good way to feed the motor shrapnel. Some people got it and some don't.
- Sometimes everything looks great, even after stripping, until you so much as touch the metal. It could just be thin and not swiss cheese. Surprise! Not weldable either. Then there is always the chance that you will want to build the rarest car out there which has no repops available causing you to build your own parts which is always cool... just time consuming (assuming you know how to do it correctly). The above pic is from a Buick 81-C trunk pan. One of those rare but memorable cars well worth building one-offs for.
- If starting from scratch and you are open minded, see what is hot on the market right now. I think that old hot rods are always hotter when compared to muscle cars depending on rarity. It's just the age group though. In ten years muscle cars will be just as hot, but doubtfully as hot as the older cars still. Just my theory. If you want one of those old T-buckets or a 3-window coupe there is a variety of starting points to choose from. Vintage tin, new steel body, or even a budget minded fiberglass shell. As a lover of anything metal I would choose just that if I had a bottomless pocketbook, but alas... I do not. Fiberglass would have to do and there is nothing wrong with it, just remember that you most definitely get what you pay for.
- My first hot rodding job was in a shop building, spraying and laying fiberglass for aftermarket bodies. All sorts and styles which were very cost effective. Cost effective for good reason. They were thin bodies with pinholes in crucial areas. They also did rolling chassis' which is a great idea as a starter project. You get a frame with a rear end and suspension components as well as the body. This certain shop would narrow their own rear ends without the use of a jig to keep things straight and it didn't pan out all that well. All this corner cutting to keep costs down and money in the company gets you a cheaper (literally) vehicle. Not good. You get what you pay for. Same goes for those one-piece bodies. Cheap but scary. I have repaired these one-piece kits after collisions and the spiderwebs reach far into the body so if you are to repair the car correctly it must sometimes get painted further into the body than the damage actually shows.
- Also consider customer service with all companies, but especially the low cost ones. Being in that glass shop, even if it was only a few months until I wised up, really opened my eyes. I had never seen or been instructed to do such shoddy work. I would also see the owner cursing over the phone at pissed customers on a daily basis. You get what you pay for. A good fiberglass body can be gel coated a certain color and buffed to a glossy sheen with few, if any, noticeable imperfections. Right there you save money and time on bodywork to straighten a cheap body. The stronger the body the better. Especially if a turbo or a cage is in your future. Now that's hot! And if you can't see it. Sleeper! This Chevelle has the largest turbo on the market (at that time) and is far from a sleeper, but with a turbo that big you need to plan, plan, plan. The radiator ended up in the back.
- You must know when to call in the reinforcements though. Sometimes you can't do everything yourself. That goes for some shops too. To do specialized S.S., aluminum, and even plain mild steel a good TIG welder is, by far, of great importance. A top notch set of S.S. headers looks horrible with a MIG bead around it when compared to TIG seams. Sure, you can do it but that it what separates the classes of pro's who know and Joe Schmoe. There is function and there is fashion. You can go fast and look like a turd, but you can also go fast and look slick.
- I knew a dude who used all junkyard parts and his motor was quite a spectacle. He had two T-Bird blowers mounted atop a carburetor body used as a throttle body with some sort of homemade injection system. Looked crazy and it ran. I think it ran fairly well too. Then again, he was an engineer with some know how. His parts weren't pristine but he got what he wanted and on the cheap. Now, for people with too much green, there are aftermarket kits and custom builders to do that work. Just be careful who you choose. See how to choose a shop.