This month’s “Readers’ Forum” question is all about project cars. Why is it that gearheads tend to like to restore old cars when the math rarely works in our favor? Making an old car new again can take years of time and thousands of dollars even for a DIYer, so what makes all the work and trouble worth it?

Some of you clearly (and correctly) pointed out that it isn’t worth it. Buying a car that’s already done just makes more sense on nearly every level. But others see value in the process — and that value is enough to offset the money that’s lost in bringing a car back from the dead.

It’s a simple question, but it gets right down to the heart of who we all are as car people.

Projects and promise

I love a good project, and I think it’s because I’ve always been around old cars that needed to be fixed.

I’ve got nothing against buying and enjoying cars that are already done, but fixing stuff runs in my family. My grandfather was an engineer with Depression-era sensibilities — the kind of guy who would rather figure out a job himself than pay someone else to do it. He’d then apply his labor force — my father and my uncles — to get his around-the-house projects done.

Grandpa had no time for car nonsense, but his kids did. The hands-on environment he fostered just so happened to coincide with the muscle-car era, and my father made the most of it with a string of muscle cars that culminated in a ’70 LS6 Chevelle.

As a kid born in the 1980s, I didn’t see the muscle-car heyday. When I was little, “fun” car stuff was limited by the economics of a young family — but projects weren’t. There was a lot of building decks and fences, concrete work and home renovation going back as far as I can remember. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so dad followed Grandpa’s lead and we learned how to do things ourselves. I held a lot of flashlights and paid attention.

The Chevelle was long gone by that time, but the car bug is strong, so by 1986, Dad found a 1975 Chevrolet pickup to rebuild, followed by a ’66 Impala. He took Grandpa’s method and applied it to his own interests.

To me, the path was clear: To own a cool car, you had to build it first. And as I grew to understand, building a car or truck was a lot of fun, even if it took years of evenings and weekends spent with Dad to get it from beater to beauty.

Time machine

Jay Harden’s column on garage space on p. 40 struck me, because while he had a completely different experience as a kid than I did, the characters he describes are all familiar. I get the sense that a lot of today’s car people are cut from the same cloth.

Jay is looking to expand his garage space for the very same reason I love project cars: It’s not really about the garage itself, or the car in question. It’s because all of these things reconnect us with the people and experiences that made us who we are.

Rationalize it however you want. Maybe at one point each of these things was the reasonable choice: A big garage was needed to fix cars and trucks and keep food on the table. A project truck was cheaper than a new one. Most of this isn’t true anymore.

Regardless, people will spend whatever they need to spend to grab that history again. Most will tell you that the return on investment is worth the outlay of cash — especially when it carries your past into your future.

Case in point: My most recent project — a ’79 C10 — is now my daughters’ favorite driver. Katie, who is now 8, likes to point out that she helped install the pistons in the LS engine. She wants to learn how to shift the 6-speed. Emma, who is 2, demanded to be a part of the project, too, watching it evolve from the doorway to my garage. I watched my dad tear down and rebuild his ’75 the same way when I was about her age. Now that the truck is done, she likes to sit on the bench seat and pretends to drive. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“Beach.”

I probably have way more money in that truck than I should. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Comments are closed.