CSS Auto Restoration Division of SMSD, Ltd.

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Auto Restorations Are Not For the
Faint in Heart nor Weak in Wallet

This article is not intented to discourage potential customers of CSS Auto Restoration, but rather to inform them of the reality of the costs involved in an automotive restoration project. Television shows like “OverHaulin” and “Chop, Cut, Rebuild” sensationalize the building/rebuilding of a car and never completely address the cost issues associated with this process. This leaves the general public with the notion that auto restoration is very affordable but it's really dependent on the customer's budget. There are many variables that go into the pricing of an auto restoration, including the type of car (year/make/model), the current condition of the car, and the expectations of the customer and actual results.

The type of car sets the stage for the beginning costs of a restoration. For example, parts for a 1966 Ford Mustang will be easier and cost affordable to aquire than parts for a 1940 LeSalle. The more popular the car, the more affordable the rebuild because the parts are more abundant and easily located. The older and rarer the car, the more obsticles there are such as having to create custom parts and more time required in locating parts, all of which add to the cost.

It amazes me that people think they have saved themselves thousands of dollars by buying a shell of a car for $1200.00, rather then spending $5000.00 for a project car from someone who lost interest. That $3800.00 savings generally cost the customer $8000.00 or more in additional costs not just for the additional rust damage, but missing parts required to complete the car.

The customer always has grand expectations of what the final project will look like. Generally they envision the end result as a “Concours Build”, which these builds have a budget that begin at $100,000.00. That's ok IF that is what was in the planned budget. However, when the customer sets a low budget for the build, with expectations of additional work and/or parts not originally included in the budget, with no provisions for the increased costs, the stage is set for miscommunication, disatisfaction on both sides (the customer and the shop), and monetary hardships either to the customer or to the shop waiting for payment. In either case, this results in a disastrous ending of the project. In short, make sure your budget and expectations are in sync.

Let's go back to the shows for a second. Take “OverHaulin'” for an example. They restored a 1967 GTO to absolute beautiful custom condition. One of my favorite episodes of the show. Now let's breakdown the estimated cost involved if you and/or I were to pay this same group of guys to do the same work using the one week build time. Lets not estimate the hours that they had put into the build, instead, lets start with 10 skilled employees each making an average salary of $60,000.00 a year.

Each of these employees (because of the skill level) I estimate make $1160.00 gross per week. So, the shop paying this salary for 10 workers would be $11,600.00 for that week. Add in the additional cost of taxes the shop pays for the the workers, the total salary costs are $12,296.00. Each of these workers require benefits, so the total cost of these benefits to the shop for that week are estimated at $923.00. Add in the cost of Worker's Comp. Insurance, General Liabilty Insurance, etc. and the additional cost of insurance for that week is $300.00.

Add in the basic overhead costs (rent/heat/electric/cost of equipment/supplies, etc.) for that week at $568.50. The total cost per week for the shop and employees is estimated at $14,087.50.

Now lets dive into the costs of materials for the GTO as shown in the list below:
Media Blasting the car ---------------------------------------------------------------------$2,100.00
Reface (sprayable polyester filler) ------------------------------------------------------$800.00
Filler Primer -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------$500.00
Sealer Primer --------------------------------------------------------------------------------$400.00
Base Coat -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------$700.00
Clear Coat -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------$600.00
Wiring Harness -------------------------------------------------------------------------------$2,200.00
Engine Rebuild -------------------------------------------------------------------------------$8,500.00
Suspension Parts ----------------------------------------------------------------------------$4,500.00
Interior Fabrication --------------------------------------------------------------------------$5,500.00
Custom Stereo -------------------------------------------------------------------------------$3,500.00
Custom Wheels / Tires ---------------------------------------------------------------------$6,000.00

Conservative estimate on the Outside Parts/Service Cost-----------------------$35,300.00
Shop/Employee Costs ----------------------------------------------------------------------$14,087.50

Total Costs -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------$49,387.50
Minimal Shop Profit (Because nobody does this for charity!)--------------------$20,467.50

Total Cost to the Customer ------------------------------------------------------------$69,855.00

I'm sure Chip Foose's price is far more than this, but my intent here is to make you aware of the cost for a similar restoration at a nominal restoration shop. The typical customer stops into our shop wanting a price for a “Paint Job” for a car that is back at their garage, and in addition this car has already been stripped down and the parts are either boxed or scattered about the garage. Now, in the customer's mind a “Paint Job” includes assembly of the car and making sure everything is in working condition. To be fair, I consider a “Paint Job” as just that, I prep and paint the car and its parts (Fenders, Hood, etc.). Painting is one thing, Body Assembly is another, and Complete Assembly/Test is yet another thing. What's the difference? I won't prep and paint a car for less than $6,500.00 (It's not worth my time to do for less). By the way, “prep and paint” does not include rust and/or damage repair. Body Assembly adds on an additional $3,500.00 (typically).

So, this brings us to “How should you budget an auto restoration?” CSS suggests using the following points for average costs of projects. All restoration shops will tell the customer that it will be $$$ per hour and whatever the number of hours it takes, that is what it is. Again, because there are so many variables, no one can pin point a total price. In addition, you are paying the shop to not only physically work on your car, but also research for parts and/or travel, taking parts to local outside sources for offsite work (i.e. media blasting, generator rebuild, etc).

Labor Estimates for Budgeting Only (These estimates DO NOT include the cost of parts):

Typical Body (ONLY) restoration w/ Body Assembly ---------------------$10,000.00

Body restoration w/ Body Assembly and Engine Bay restoratio------ $18,000.00

Body restoration w/ Body Assembly; Engine Bay Restoration;
and Complete Interior restoration ---------------------------------------------- $27,500.00

Body restoration w/ Body Assembly; Engine Bay Restoration;
Complete Interior restoration; and Engine/Trans Rebuild -------------- $41,000.00

Body restoration w/ Body Assembly; Engine Bay Restoration;
Complete Interior restoration; Engine/Trans Rebuild;
and Complete Auto Re-wiring --------------------------------------------------- $46,000.00

Body restoration w/ Body Assembly; Engine Bay Restoration;
Complete Interior restoration; Engine/Trans Rebuild;
and Complete Auto Re-wiring; Frame-Off Restoration ------------------- $58,000.00

Finally, to those who now have decided “I can do the work on my car myself for cheaper”, you are correct. First of all you are saving yourself the cost of a salary. But you should consider the cost of renting a garage, installing a paint booth, registering with EPA for Air Quality Requirements, the cost of professional welding equipment (tig or mig), as well as the cost for the additional tools to support your project. I've spent over $300,000.00 just in tools in my shop. Then consider the additional cost of supplies to complete your project. For example, the “Dirt Trap” system in my paint booth costs over $350.00 per project. This is one of numerous consumables required to keep CSS operating.

In closing, CSS would be privileged to work on your project and assist you in developing a budget for your restoration. CSS hopes you find this document helpful in planning and budgeting your project.

Thank you,
CSS Auto Restoration

© 2011 CSS Auto Restoration / SMSD, Ltd.