Don't let a shop bill you for the time it takes them to gain experience on a complex set of pressed-steel stampings
We got plenty of mail on McKeel Hagerty's 1967 911S restoration story (December, p. 58), including this letter from Pete Zimmermann, longtime SCMer and author of The Used 911 Story. He writes:
I had to scratch my head when I read about the $150,000 restoration of a 1967 911S. I have so many questions I'm not sure where to begin, so here are my off-the-cuff responses to the amounts billed, and why I think you could do the same job for half the amount, based on my experience.
According to the article, $31,000 was spent on one of the simpler engines Porsche ever put in a 911. I can only understand about half the cost; the parts needed don't have to be custom-fabricated, so prices are still reasonable. A fresh engine can be built, including all needed machine work, for between $12,000-$14,000. A displacement increase to 2.2 liters would be possible for less than $1,000 more.
Combined miscellaneous costs are listed but not detailed at over $13,000, so I'm going to arbitrarily lop 75% off of that.
Rust repairs to the chassis are about double the cost of what I think they should be. The worst 911 "rustoration" I ever saw was $15,000, not the $30,000 for the Hagerty car. When a 911 tub reaches that level of rust, it would make sense to buy a solid tub as a replacement.
The cost for bodywork, paint, and trim is completely over the top. It says $38,000 went to paint, body, and trim, but many of the body parts are bolt-on, and quality used replacements are available at reasonable prices. Give me nearly any 911 that is a complete car, and I'd say a first-rate paint job, with excellent trim, can be done for $15,000.
And then there are the seats. Not many of us will spend $7,000 in labor to resurrect two seats. In fact, used seats/parts can be found for a few hundred dollars, and one of the finest shops in the country will completely redo them in German vinyl for $2,000-including rechromed hinges.
A restoration must be approached with logic, so here's how I would cut costs, but not corners. I would start by making sure there was no double-billing involved.
For instance, in a total restoration, the engine and transmission are slated for overhaul and removed; the same for the rear suspension, which will need bushings, torsion bars, possibly more. At the same time, the car's interior must be prepped for replacement carpets, panels, and seats, so all of the old pieces will be removed.
Now is the ideal time to replace the rear torsion bar tube because access is easy. Here's the question: Should the restorer charge to replace the tube as if the car was not already taken apart (about 25 hours labor), or should he charge the three hours actual replacement time since the car is already in pieces? Double dipping shouldn't happen, and the replacement charge should be three hours (at $100/hour, that's $300 vs. $2,500).
Many aspects of a restoration overlap. Consider the clutch. If it's replaced at the time the engine is rebuilt, there should be no additional labor charges, but the temptation is great to charge labor to bolt that clutch on, even though the drivetrain is already apart for the rebuild.
Replacement of the car's wiring harnesses can take more than 30 hours labor, but can be done in less than a day on a disassembled shell. So should the shop charge 30-plus hours ($3,000-plus) or eight hours ($800)? I would charge eight hours.
So, by my calculations, we've saved about $35,000 already (seats, $5,000; engine, $15,000-plus; misc., $9,000; torsion bar tube/wire harnesses, $4,400). If we keep this methodology, before long, that $150,000 restoration becomes $75,000, all due to a logical, thoughtful approach.
The price of this restoration might give the car's owner bragging rights, but there are many ways to get the job done. I understand that costs can get out of hand, but with a bit of time, effort, and involvement from an owner, the cost of a restoration can be drastically reduced from what was spent on the 911S, with a fine car the end result.
Here is my response. There are many different ways to get your car restored. One way is to simply write the check. I look forward to the day when I can find a shop I like and just let them loose on my car, with the simple instructions: Do it right. I have no criticism of a restoration done that way, but as wonderful as that sounds, it's out of reach for many of us.
More likely is that we become our own general contractor, shopping and selecting a group of competitive and competent subcontractors. To do this you must be willing to remain intensely involved, realizing that at times this will be a stressful and serious job, taking real time and energy.
I typically split a full restoration into five subcontractor packages, even though I might give more than one package to a single vendor. The first and toughest is the body and chassis work, as there are few shops that really know these critical areas of a 911 inside and out. Don't let a shop bill you for the time taken to gain experience on what is a complex set of pressed-steel stampings. With a really rusty car previously subjected to an amateur restoration using pop-riveted panels and lavish amounts of Bondo, there is an exceptional amount of guesswork in knowing how much this will cost. Still, I'd say $25,000 will be enough to do the body and chassis work on just about any 911.
You are paying for the name of the shop
Paint is the next package, and great paint jobs run from about $7,500 to $10,000 or so. Much more than that and you are paying for the name of the shop. Prices are highly dependent on your local region, how hard you are willing to shop, and how many chances you are willing to take on a shop without a brand name.
The interior on an early 911 is simple but uses exceptionally nice materials. Budget about $7,500 to complete one in vinyl, $2,500 extra if you prefer leather.
The engine and transmission are a single package, well covered by Zimmermann above. Call it $15,000-$20,000 for the whole deal, including rebuilding the engine and transmission, intake, heat exchangers, exhaust, and so on.
The final package is the wheels, brakes and suspension, and here I would budget $10,000 for everything. These are robust parts and generally only need rebuilding rather than replacement.
Total all these up at the high estimates and you are at $75,000. This is a fair number in today's world, give or take $20,000 or so, as long as you are willing to shop hard, stay involved, and make the tough calls when needed. The main cost variable for a 911 is the condition of the body and chassis, which is why it is so important to start with a straight car with minimal rust, if possible.
You can save plenty by being your own general contractor, but I fully understand those who don't have time to do that and hope to be among them someday. I would caution, however, that simply paying a lot of money doesn't guarantee that you'll get a great car in the end. You're still going to have to be involved, if only to make sure that your notion of quality matches that of those who are restoring your car.