by Steve Nicholson, Classic Body Works
One of the first things to consider would be the location of the shop. You might want to choose a shop close enough so that you can visit regularly to check on the progress. If you have a car that is rare or one of a kind it might be best to find a specialist that has some experience with that type of car despite their location. If you are going to have a long distance restoration shop make sure that they can keep you updated with progress reports and pictures through email or regular mail.
The next thing is their quality of work. Call and make an appointment to tour their facility. Ask to look at the jobs in progress. Find out how the process is done and the steps involved, such as the removal of old paint and rust repairs. Find out how long they have been in business and their experience. Ask for references. Talk to the previous customers to see if they are satisfied with their work.
When you tour the shop look to see if the shop is organized. You want them to be organized so that your parts are not lost or misplaced.
Customer service is very important. You will want to work with a shop that is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.
There are some shops that can handle all aspects of a restoration, from start to finish. Everything from rust repair to upholstery. Some shops only specialize in certain areas of a restoration. You may have to take your car to several shops to get your car restored. There are some shops that have good sources where they sublet the work for you if they don't do it themselves.
There are several basic areas in auto restoration such as media blasting or chemical dipping, body and paintwork, mechanical and drivetrain, wiring, glass, and upholstery. Find out the capabilities of the shop to determine what they can and cannot do. If they do frame off restorations they should be equipped with equipment to lift off the bodies and also a rotisserie to assist in the underside repairs.
Most any business that is good at what they do will have a backlog of work. You may be put on a waiting list to get your car in the shop. Find out the time frame from start to finish for your car. A full restoration can take a good 12 to 18 months for completion.
Getting a car restored is expensive. Find out how they invoice for the work. Most shops will charge a set rate by the labor hour plus parts and materials. Find out how often they invoice. Some are monthly and some are bimonthly.
Here are some closing thoughts. In all of the years I have been in the restoration business I have seen countless cars come in the door halfway finished. The owners were upset because of the poor workmanship. There have been some cars that we literally had to strip back down to bare metal to repair properly. Having to pay for it over again usually costs more that getting it done right the first time.
Find a shop that specialized in restorations not collision work. Even though the restoration and collision industry are somewhat related they are very different.