Is there a good reason why you shouldn’t buy someone else’s abandoned classic car project? Ian Cushway discusses…

I’ve been writing about people’s labours of love for the last three decades. It usually involves a tale of bruised knuckles, grim discoveries and, eventually, a predicted budget that’s been totally blown out of the water by the time the car’s finished. Let’s face it, restoring an old vehicle isn’t for the faint-hearted or the penny pincher and once you’ve totted everything up it’s likely to have cost significantly more than buying a mint example in the first place.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course. If you’ve got the necessary metalwork skills, know how to weld, have a decent workshop and all the time in the world to spend fixing up a barn find, then it’s an obvious route to getting the car you want and probably couldn’t have afforded in the first place.

But where sentiment’s involved, the water becomes more muddied. Where do you draw the line (or the purse strings) when it comes to restoring a car that once belonged to a loved family member? More the point, could you really bare to see someone else enjoying it if you sold it on?

So what’s the answer if you do feel the urge to put your stamp on something but don’t want the heartache and financial worry of starting a restoration from scratch? It’s obvious, surely, buy someone else’s unfinished project.

The classifieds are awash with cars where the current owner’s either run out of interest, cash, and time or more likely all three at precisely the same moment. Often it’s a case of life getting in the way. Children, ill-health, marriage, divorce, unemployment – all these things can scupper the plans of even the most motivated car restorer. Yes, we’ve all been there.
Often the vendor will have done the hard graft, spent time sourcing the necessary parts and may even have done most of the repairs but it’s the tail end of the restoration, the finishing touches, that delivers the killer blow. Better still, they might have gone mad buying tuning kit, wheels and other goodies that you can sell on later if they aren’t to your taste.
Sounds a bit mercenary doesn’t it, taking advantage of a distress sale. However, the vendor will need the cash, the garage space or simply the head space from the thing that’s been occupying their mind for longer than they care to remember. In short, you’re guaranteed a bargain.

What you’re left with then will be a car that you can still do some work on and make your own as you finish building it up, buoyed by the fact that you’re not living with the legacy of all that previous financial and emotional outlay.

Think of it like this; it’s better to let a project to pass on to someone else than for it to degrade even further and run the risk of being scrapped. Another person’s input and enthusiasm is what a stalled project usually needs to get it to the next level. Indeed, when I spotted a car that I once owned with all the little finishing touches that I never got round to completing, I was actually quite chuffed that I’d sold it.

There is an argument which says that to be fully at one with an old car you need to have turned every bolt and lived every moment of its resurrection from wreck to a road-going gem. Well, that’s hogwash in my mind because all too often, as soon as a car’s finished, it’s sold on. No, the main thing is that unfinished restoration projects do actually get finished, preserved and enjoyed. Even if it’s not by the person who originally embarked on the rebuild.