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To Restore Or Not Restore Your Precious Car

Spring is here, sunshine is coming back and whether your car is 5 years old or 70, the itch to restore it comes back to haunt you.


Spring time is here at last, although it might not necessarily show where you are, the signs are clear. By now, you’ve been to your garage or looked at that car you park on the street noticing the blemishes and more. You start toying with the idea: “To restore or not to restore… that is the question!”

5 To 75 Years Old. Regardless your car is 5 years old of 70, the question of restoring a car always comes up and the answer is not an easy one. Even after 5 years, your modern car will experience wear and tear. That dashboard doesn’t look as clear and beautiful as it once was, and those blemishes and scratch here and there have been tolerated too long. The next thing is to figure out if it warrants a restoration?

Restoring Versus Patina. And therein lies the fine line of determining whether to bring a car to a restored state or will you go the route of the patina maintenance. According to, you can approach the method two ways. I’ll add a third one later, just to spice it up a bit. If you restore your car, you can never, never go back to its original state, period. It might be hard to grasp but once you have redone those chromes, that bodywork, those seats, your car’s original condition is gone and its value diminished. Unless, you have a high profile 50s or 60s racing car that has been beaten and abused and needs to be restored, the original value automatically diminishes. The same cannot be said about your garden variety road warriors who has braved the ever-increasing amount of spatially challenged drivers scratching and denting its body, not counting the elements assailing its luster.

American And European Markets
. The two markets to turn to for clues are our US and the European collector market. Both approach car ownership very differently. In the US, we like shiny cars and have a tendency to over-restore them to the point they become better than new. Pebble Beach has some of finest and perfect cars in the world but they are better than when they rolled of the factory line. The notion of good looking patina is finally gaining traction here and it is not uncommon to find unrestored, unmolested cars showing at events, even at Pebble Beach.

Finding the right balance between maintenance and restoring is tricky. For instance, anything you do to your car that is not part of the original body will automatically devalue it. For many cars that might not be a problem especially if many were made. But what if your car is one of the many that has an interesting and unique story?

Budget. This is the obvious first step, what is your budget and time constraint. Do you drive the car every day or is it a weekend car? How much is the vehicle now and has it appreciated enough to show a lasting growing trend? You need to carefully balance the vehicle’s functionality and design features, while trying to stick to its original authenticity as much as possible.

The Dilemma. I’ll use a real live dilemma. My 1989 Alfa Romeo Milano is not rare and unique in and of itself, however, it has an interesting and unique history. It’s the last one sold in Los Angeles, most likely California and probably the US. When Alfa Romeo left, there were three display cars, this is one of them. Milanos sell for $2,000 to 5,000. Mine was religiously kept up, fanatically maintained and is 100% original with Alfa Romeo parts. It is hard to give it a realistic value, especially comparing to current sale prices. Unfortunately, the right passenger door was scratched enough to make it a tough one to repair. The choice is to repair or get another one?

In the end, the equation of restoring you car or not can be summed up into 25% math, 75% guts, intuition and personal feelings. My father passed on the opportunity in the 60s to buy a Mercedes Silver Arrow because at the time, it was an old beaten racer. That same car fetches multi-millions today. While there is no definite science or logic when it comes to restoring a car, it boils down to simple fact, and you are the only one who can make the decision.