Let’s face it—we love our families, our homes, our favorite vacation spots and fishing holes, but we really, really love our cars. Why else would Americans have more cars per capita than nearly any other country on the globe?
And once we love something, it’s hard to let it go. That’s probably the reason so many Americans, and car owners worldwide, are increasingly passionate about restoring them.
Antique and classic car restoration is not just one of the nation’s largest hobbies—it’s also one of the most profitable, though it can also be very costly. To restore an older vehicle to its original condition often costs several times the original purchase price. That hasn’t seemed to deter thousands of Utahns from making everything about their old vehicles new again.
“You get attached to a vehicle and it almost becomes a family member,” says Trent Richardson, a Utah County resident who is a second-generation owner of a 1957 Chevy. “My parents used to drive us to church in this car every Sunday, and so when I was older and my father first talked about selling it or junking it, I stepped in.”
The white- and salmon-colored sedan didn’t look quite the way Richardson remembered it as a child when he took ownership in the late 1970s, but it does now. He researched its original look and equipment, and began restoring it.
“I worked on restoring it a little at a time,” he says. “Like any good experience, hobby or not, I wanted to savor the moments. So I was very patient about working on it.”
Behind the Wheel
By the hobby’s definition, there is a difference between the terms antique and classic cars. According to the Classic Car Club of America, claiming to have trademarked the term “classic” as it pertains to older vehicles, only cars made between 1925 and 1941, or models made after World War II exactly as they were made before the war, fit into the “classic” designation. A vehicle with a limited production and/or longer wheel base would also qualify by the club’s definition. Antique refers to vehicles more than 100 years old, and there aren’t many of those left. But for everyone else, the semantics don’t matter as much as the memories and iconic value.
Tom LaPoint has always loved cars—of all varieties. He owns two vintage cars: a 1929 Model A and a 1936 Ford. Whether he’s restoring, repairing or retailing them, automobiles fascinate him.
“My fascination with cars started when I was young,” he recalls. “As with many different things, there’s a feeling of nostalgia that goes along with owning and restoring these cars.”
A former Salt Lake City automobile dealer, LaPoint became involved six years ago with the Concours d’Elegance event held in Utah, serving as co-chairman the past two years and preparing for the 2010 show this summer.
Concours shows are held at various locations across the nation each year. This year marks the 39th Concours in Utah, and the fifth to be held at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.
The Concours always features one-of-a-kind vehicles from states across the country. Traditionally, the collected and restored vehicles are showcased where they look the best—on lawn. Last summer, more than 300 vehicles were on display. There are competitions for Best of Show, Judge’s Choice, Chairman’s Choice and other categories.
Up to Speed
There are numerous car clubs in the Beehive State, including the Northern Utah Mustang Owners Association and the Down Town Dreamers. Most of these clubs have membership meetings, coordinate annual shows and competitions, and promote the car restoration habit.
Kelley Purdum also gained an interest in cars at an early age, long before she could drive. She and her husband, Chris, are co-owners of Customs and Classics Restorations in Salt Lake City.
“I’ve had an interest in cars and mechanical things since I was old enough to have a paper route,” she says. “I had a car on my list when I was 13 that I wanted to restore, a ’55 Chevy.”
She attended her first Autorama with her parents at age 11, and began working at a full-service gas station in Nebraska when she was 15. She later restored a motorcycle by herself. And in 1993, the Purdums opened their business.
After years of restoring cars, they have extensive knowledge about the restoration process. She says restoration can be tricky, particularly if the car owner is concerned with authenticity.
“When we deal with clients, we start by trying to find out what they have pictured in their minds,” she says. “We need to know if they are interested in restoring a vehicle to its original condition, or customizing it. Once we find out their wants and needs, we work to meet them.”
Often, those car owners come to Customs and Classics after they’ve made some mistakes trying to restore a car themselves.
“Way too many hobbyists are trying to restore their vehicles without doing their homework,” she says. “About 40 percent of our business are ‘re-dos,’ and that costs those owners a lot of time and money.”
Purdum says there are procedures that need to be done on every single car. First, those working on their vehicles should research exactly what their cars looked like and what they contained when they came off the assembly lines.
While this is a costly hobby, it also has some investment benefits. A restored classic, antique or vintage limited-edition vehicle becomes a collector’s piece, with sustainable added value.
“There seems to be a media-driven obsession right now with ‘old car-ness,’” Purdum says. “The recession has certainly had an impact, but still interest in restoration seems to continually be increasing.”