The Future of Auto Restoration
SEMA show displays new stuff for old cars
Thousands of Americans have restoration projects sitting in their garages, and hundreds of companies are working day and night to come up with products to help get these cars back on the road. Many of these companies were at the 2003 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas giving us a glimpse of new products for restoring classic American cars. The array of items on display tells us a lot about how the hobby has changed and where it's going.
Keeping It Real
Purists insist that a proper restoration means returning a car to its original condition. Although some parts for more recent cars can still be found in wrecking yards, primo spares for 1950s and 1960s models are now in short supply. The availability of perfect body panels is dwindling as accidents and rust take their toll, and the more rare (and desirable) performance engines and trim have long since been picked over or crushed. NOS (New Old Stock) parts left over from dealers' stocks are rare and expensive, and mechanical parts deteriorate over time, even when they are in their original boxes. So it's up to aftermarket companies to produce restoration parts to keep classic cars alive.
A mint Camaro Pace Car Edition convertible in the Classic Industries/OER booth attracted restorers like a magnet. Classic Industries distributes reproduction parts for Camaros, Firebirds, Novas, Impalas and GM pickups, including parts made by OER (Original Equipment Reproduction). The company's extensive inventory includes grilles, interior parts, fenders, and even jacks.
The size of the resto market is enormous, with dozens of companies selling similar parts for Mustangs, Tri-Five Chevys and British sports cars. The accent is on perfect fit and finish, with details such as the original parts numbers stamped on the back. This little extra may involve getting authorization from the original manufacturer, which will insist on top quality and accuracy. The value of such attention to detail is seen in the stratospheric auction prices demanded by original-condition musclecars like Hemi Chryslers, Shelby Mustangs and big-block Camaros.
As car manufacturers cease production of older mechanical parts, it's left to companies like Egge Machine Company to keep classics on the road. Egge makes engine and carburetor rebuild parts for older American cars including nailhead Buicks, flathead Fords, 409 Chevys and dozens of others.
An extensive restoration will often involve replacing damaged metal parts, including fenders and chassis components. Lincoln Electric and Miller Electric had their lines of welders on display, with models for both professionals and amateurs. For complete accuracy, a mix of gas, stick, wire and spot welders may be needed to duplicate the original assembly methods.
Although many enthusiasts want their rides to be dead-on original, others are now opting to upgrade older cars with modern running gear and options. After all, there were a lot more tepid 6-cylinder Mustang Fastbacks built in 1965 than there were Shelby GT-350s, but there is nothing to stop the owner from upgrading their pygmy pony with a muscular late-model crate engine, 5-speed transmission, disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering. That can result in classic looks with the exceptional performance and dependability expected from modern cars. These cars have created a new classification called "restomod," which looks stock from the outside (as opposed to customs), but is current-tech underneath.
This attitude is popular with hot rod and musclecar owners, and many products are coming out to help bring classics up to date. Painless Wiring has dozens of wiring harnesses to simplify the installation of late-model computer-controlled engines into earlier cars. The company's latest harness is designed for hooking the GM Vortec engine up with earlier harnesses.
The crate engine market is getting more crowded. The major manufacturers have gotten into the act with new versions of classic engines, as well as modern engines to replace them with. Mopar (Chrysler) showed both original and updated Hemi V-8s, as well as classic big- and small-block engines. GM also had a lineup on display, while Roush Performance displayed a new line of high-performance Ford engines in a variety of displacements.
Aftermarket companies such as Shaver, Merlin and others also showed their latest carbureted and fuel-injected powerhouses. Backing up the engines (literally) are several transmission choices. Although original transmission parts can be hard to come by, Richmond Transmissions still makes the classic T-10 four-speed, as well as five- and six-speed versions for upgrades.
Another popular change is to replace old, slow worm-and-sector steering units with rack-and-pinion systems. Unisteer Performance Products makes conversion kits for 1955-57 Chevys as well as hot rods. Flaming River also displayed steering kits that work with Mustang II front suspension units.
One of the most visible features of an older musclecar is a set of styled steel wheels and tall tires. Although some like tall billet rims with Band-Aid tires, others prefer the like-new look, even though original-style wheels are now thin on the ground. Specialty Wheels has reproduced some of the most popular rims used on Mustangs, Shelbys, Chryslers and GM musclecars, both in original and wider sizes for use with modern rubber. Kelsey Tire has come out with a Nostalgia Radial that looks like an old, tall whitewall but meets current safety requirements and drives like a new tire. It would look great on rods or 1950s customs.
More classic musclecars and rods are being restored all the time, and the aftermarket is working overtime to keep up. Although original cars may be more valuable, restomods are growing in popularity and dominate the market. From the new products shown at the SEMA show, the future looks great for both facets of the hobby.
Classic Industries showed off this Camaro Pace Car.
Replacement fender panels and even bumper jacks are necessary for proper restorations.
Repairing rusty and damaged sheetmetal is easier with the right tools, in this case a topline welder.
Painless Wiring makes conversion harnesses to stuff modern mills in vintage sheetmetal.
The New Hemi crate motor will delight Mopar fans.
This Roush crate motor has a fuel injection system that looks like retro Weber carbs.
Richmond still makes the venerable T-10 that was standard issue in many 1960s musclecars.
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