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Antique Automobiles: Collecting and Restoring

Updated on October 22, 2015
1939 & 1948 Fords
1939 & 1948 Fords

Antique cars parked at a Diner


History of the Automobile

Man’s love of automobiles began with the first horseless carriage, or at least the first horseless carriage created in the US in 1893. Did you know there were 38 companies producing automobiles in 1900? That's more than there are today. Anyway, during this early period you only had a “car” if you were wealthy. So, already the common man was itching to have an automobile. It wasn’t until 1909 that Henry Ford built the Model T “for the multitude” and according to Henry Ford it came in any color as long as the color was black! The Model T was replaced by the Model A, which by the way came in four colors but not black. The roadster prices started at $385. Now we’re talking. By the way, Henry wasn’t the only one making automobiles. General Motors began production of the 1901 Curved Dash automobile! According to General Motors website there were only 8,000 cars at the turn of the Century. We won’t look at the negative impacts of automobiles, like accidents and traffic congestion on roads not built for automobiles, after all this is about the love of cars.

Enter 1900’s, when the automobile really took off and now the fascination begins. In a article it states, “Men and cars go together like ladies and shoes…” That's something we ladies can understand. So time marches on and so does the production of cars. The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s see some really beautiful cars, cars that will stick in the minds of men forever. Unfortunately, they were not as prized during their prime as they are now. Many of them can be found under mounds of hay in a farmer’s barn, or abandoned and rotting in someone’s garage or yard. There is also the exceptional smart man who held on to his first car and lovingly restored it throughout his life. But none of this deters man and his fascination by any means. There is always restoration!

Restoration of inside of 1939 Ford

Working on restoring a steering wheel
Working on restoring a steering wheel | Source
Working on restoring inside window frames
Working on restoring inside window frames | Source

Object: Restoration

It is important to note some of our collectors are reaching back into their childhood when a good car was an American made car. Remembering that they once had a ’39 Chevy coupe, 1958 Chevy, or 1956 Ford, they search the countryside either in those barns or garages or they look through want ad magazines looking for the car that matches the one they had when they were 16. Charles P. Pierce on states, “Like any American of my age, I maintain an automotive biography. You can trace most of the major events in my adult life by what I was driving at the time.” To many men, the automobile is linked to the progression of their life starting with their first car and moving on up. It has also been found that most men stay true to their brand. For example, a Ford car collector will most likely own a modern day Ford. The same is true of a Chevy.

So, they spend their time and money looking for that perfect car and once they find it they feel euphoria, regardless of its condition. This may be the beginning of the restoration period. A time when more of man’s energy is expended to lovingly restore their car and put it back the way it was than any other endeavor. One of the minor benefits of owning a collectible car is the price of insurance...which is minimal compared to the price you pay for your regular car insurance AND many things are 'grandfathered' into old cars. For example, a car from 1939 or 1948 doesn't have to have seat belts because the car wasn't built with them and is therefore grandfathered in.

The true enthusiast, with the money to spend, may strip the car down to its frame and begin from there replacing everything conceivable. It isn't easy and it isn't cheap, but, original parts can be found that may need to be re-chromed or repainted, after market parts can be bought that are brand new but not original. Fenders are fixed, the true addict does not use filler in any body parts he restores. Interiors are re-done. New filling in seats, new seat covers. Dashboards are cleaned and refinished to their original luster. Floorboards may need to be replaced. Welding can be a big issue too when replacing rusted out parts with new ones. Wiring can often be a disaster so wires need to be replaced with new. Of course there are also places you can take your prize to have it restored from start to finish without the having to do it yourself although in many cases the price is prohibitive. However, the Internet has given the addict a new outlet to obtain all types of parts. If you're planning on restoring a car think about the tools you'll need as well. There's nothing worse than having a car apart and not being able to put it back together because you're missing the right tool!

We’ve talked about the body but what about the motor? In some classic antiques the addict wants the motor restored to its original look and horsepower but in many cases the addict also has a need for speed and wants to upgrade or totally replace the motor to get that speed. It’s all about horsepower and a V8! For example, a cheaper model 1965 Mustang that came with a V6 would never make it for speed. The engine would be upgraded to a V8 with more power. Not to mention its muscle car potential. Muscle cars are a whole different story though they require restoration as well us upgrades and faster motors with lots of power and speed!

Car Shows

These are family cars at a car show.  (All three are owned by brothers.)
These are family cars at a car show. (All three are owned by brothers.) | Source
There are as many car shows as there are cars.
There are as many car shows as there are cars. | Source
Some people go to cars shows just to look.
Some people go to cars shows just to look.

Car Shows

Now that the addict has restored his car to his liking he begins the car show circuit. This is where the true antique automobile addict shows off! There are as many car shows as there are cars. This is a place to showcase your car and to find out what others have done to theirs. A place to get ideas and a place to talk to other antique car owners and get their perspectives. Cars and parts can be purchased at car shows as well since vendors find this the best place to show their wares. There are car shows that show only one make of car, for example there are Mustang Car Shows, Muscle Car Shows, Antique Car Shows for automobiles before 1959, as well as Custom Car Shows, Hot Rod Car Shows, Fund Raiser Car Shows, and the list goes on. These car shows are also entered for competition. The best restoration, best paint, best interior, best motor, all of these categories can win trophies. Some people go to car shows just to look.

Then there are cruise nights. Cruise nights are nights like the ‘50s when teenagers gathered at the local car hop fast food place to show off their cars. Now, old car owners get together and look at each others cars. Sometimes trophies are involved but more often not.
Cruise nights are social events. A time to get together and discuss what you’ve done, see what others have done, listen to old music, and just enjoy the ownership of your automobile. It's a throw back in time. Every car that has it's radio on is playing songs anywhere from the '30s to the '50s. A very nostalgic night for all. There are often spectators at Cruise nights because there is no admission and its just a time to enjoy.

Muscle Car?

Any car can be a muscle car, it all depends on the size of the motor.
Any car can be a muscle car, it all depends on the size of the motor. | Source
Our friend's muscle car; made into a car magazine cover on the computer.
Our friend's muscle car; made into a car magazine cover on the computer. | Source

Muscle Cars

I would certainly be remiss if I were to leave out the muscle car! It's not just a high performance car, it has to look cool too. They're usually mid sized cars and two door, after all how cool would a four door muscle car be? So why "muscle"? Well, you take a normal car of average size and put some 'muscle' in it to make it go faster. From this uneducated writers point of view the "Hemi" is the main engine of choice for your perfect muscle car. Modifications have occurred over the years though the TBucket is still a prized muscle car. A friend of ours has a great muscle car and does burnouts after every car show. Burnout? It's like pealing out but lasts longer and louder. Not too good for the tires though. Detroit built muscle cars but even with the added attractions they can't compete with the muscle cars guys build for themselves. If Detroit tried to sell a car with a $30,000 engine it would never get out of the showcase. Enthusiasts will pay that much and more for a motor not to mention the price of the car. Truly this is the more expensive end of car collecting.

1939 Ford

1939 Ford, read to cruise.
1939 Ford, read to cruise. | Source

Riding in a '65 Mustang Convertible


Enjoying Your Antique Car

The best way to enjoy your old car, to me, is to ride in it. Tour in it, take it out and ride it around. Watch other people's reaction to your old car. Anywhere you go with it, conversations start. There are all kinds of organizations devoted to old cars, collectible cars, car nights, car shows, etc. One good one in NY is Capital Car Shows. The love of old cars is truly peculiar to that certain breed and they are a friendly, fun loving breed. There are new, younger people getting involved in collection every year and the treasured car models and makes move up in years as well. Many are now looking to cars in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Cars are a part of our history, whether we collect them or not. Like any other antique it is nice to see what the originals looked like and treasure them for the memories they bring.

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved

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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 7 years ago from New York

      Thanks Cogerson. Lots of nice addicts to be met at car shows!

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Great sounds like you are describing my brother in law...voted up and emailed to my addict