Dear Keith:

Now that I’ve purchased the SCM Volvo 1800ES and it’s on the way to my garage, I’d like to ask your opinion on a 356C sunroof coupe that’s been offered to me. I’ve taken a quick look at it, and it appears to be a really nice older restoration, holding up well. There are several relatively minor issues with the body, none of which seem to be rust-related.

The engine number matches the COA, and regular and good-quality maintenance has been performed during the current owner’s 21-year stewardship.

My major concern is that both the body and interior colors were changed when it was restored (Irish Green/tan changed to silver/black). That was done back before that stuff mattered much. What is your feeling about how much the color changes affect the car’s value? I’m normally an originality nut, but this car is so attractive! Thanks.

— John Darack, Wayland, MA, SCMer since 1996

John, here’s what you have to ask yourself — what degree of imperfection can you stand?

To change the color back on the 356 would mean cosmetically restoring the car; there are no two ways about it. And that would cost at least $20,000 if you were lucky — and show me the last person you met who says he was “lucky” with his restoration, and the car, once it was stripped, was much better than he expected.

If you like the look of the car, and the color change was a good one, I’d leave it as it is. The car’s value will be in the overall quality, especially the panel fit.

You haven’t mentioned price, but an original-color car is probably worth a tad more than a changed car — although silver is an attractive color.

If it were me, I would just drive the car as it is and enjoy it. — K.M.

Thanks, Dad. Your advice is sound and it feels right. I’m probably being a bit too futzynutzy and edging on some portfolioitis in ways that happen on the verge of writing another sizable check. I do really like the car; it’s local and I can touch and feel it; the price seems almost right at $45k.

Sunday, I’m going back for a second look at the Porsche. I’ll give it a good belly feel on a garage lift and a long test drive. Who’s kidding who here? I’ll be shocked if I don’t leave a deposit. — J.D.

So how was it? — K.M.

Well, I guess disappointment is part of this game. At least I can be proud of myself for following my “only my own eyes” rule of thumb.

A long drive in mixed conditions revealed a good running and handling car. Only concern was a minor one, in that there was a bit of surging during acceleration from cruising speed. Old gas? Gummy carb? Gunk in fuel filter? Carb adjustment? Could be anything like that, but didn’t seem to be a major deal.

Then we put it up on a lift in a local service station. Oy. All was sound and tight, but plenty of welding and patching was noted. One longitudinal replaced without a jack point. No active rust, but hey, this is New England, and who knows where it might be lurking behind those welded areas?

Down on the ground in good light, I found plenty of evidence — mostly the kind that’s hardly noticeable on casual inspection — of the kind of bodywork that was probably acceptable 25 years ago when these were just cool used cars, but certainly not today, especially on a car in this price range.

Chrome wheels with painted rims and rust pits. Small bubbles under the paint at the base of one C-pillar. Really pretty interior, but close inspection showed the material to be “not quite right.” A weak magnet did not reveal significant body filler, but edges of a door skin showed globs of something painted over. Sanding marks in concealed areas (door edge surfaces, the lip around the trunk lid opening, others). Too many spot welds around the engine bay opening, several other relatively minor blems that made me step back and wonder how I’d feel about the car if I wrote a fat check and saw all that stuff in my own garage.

I’m convinced that the seller had no idea of the meaning of most of this stuff. He bought it right after it was restored all those years ago and has treated it lovingly ever since. He confided that he has never sold a car — other than trading in moderns — and had no idea what to expect. He took all today’s uncomfortable findings pretty much in stride, with one “Oh, my gosh” after another, and thanked me for helping him learn about his car. He and his wife are lovely people, and I hope they’ll just decide to hang on to this car and continue to enjoy it.

As for me, it’s a good thing that I enjoy the thrill of the hunt!

— J.D.

John — What a good decision you have made. And one that validates either looking at a car yourself or having someone you trust look at it — and look at it thoroughly.

You’ve gone from wondering if you should change the colors on a “nice older restoration” to finding out that what you were looking at would need a total redo to meet current market standards.

You make an astute observation that today’s notion of a “restoration” is wildly different than it was 25 years ago. Back then, 356s and Giuliettas and Jaguars were just tired, used cars that could be bought cheap, and we looked for the easiest way to get them back on the road. No one worried about original colors, or patch panels. In fact, in many cases you couldn’t get floor or trunk replacement panels then, so welding in some steel was the only way to go. Especially on a car that was only worth $10,000.

Given what is acceptable to collectors today, your $45k 356C sunroof coupe would easily be a $100k sunroof coupe before you were finished, and I believe you would fall out of love with the car as your bills started to climb — and as you looked around to see what you could have bought for, say, $60k.

You’ve just dodged a bullet, John. And now you’re that much better informed when you go looking at the next one. Happy hunting, and keep me informed. — K.M. ?

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