Classic and vintage car culture in is a diverse one. It’s more than just muscle cars. In addition to the unmistakable rumble of American V8 power, vintage European and Asian marques are part of the regular scenery too, and there are premium events around the world that bring out some of the most sought-after models from legendary makers like Pierce-Arrow, LaSalle, Cord, Auburn, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Duesenberg – to name a few. As we all know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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With all these different cars, what’s the one thing they all have in common? People are driving them. Trailer sales are down. Road rallies are up. Insurance companies have developed policies that encourage us to drive. Gone are the days of letting a good car sit to avoid a stone chip or bird droppings. These are cars that were meant for the road.
Building or rebuilding an engine for a classic car is not a new concept, and if you’re talking about a classic muscle car or American V8, engine builders do this day in and day out – building anything from a formidable daily driver to a high-horsepower street brawler. The aspects of this type of work are familiar to most of us and engine builders can easily speak from experience and read their customers to find out exactly what they are looking for.
When it comes to parts, if they’re not available locally, we jump online for the power of the internet and they’re usually no more than two or three days out (obviously, that timeline has changed in COVID times). Information is there too, if we need any, we can easily find a complete library of reference right at our fingertips.
But what about some of these vintage marques? I had to figure the process might be a little different for some of them, especially some of the less common ones. I had some ideas about it, but rather than speculate, I opted for a first-hand viewpoint and spoke to R&R Auto Restorations in Mount Kisco, NY. They specialize in European marques of the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s and the owner, Randy Elber, is passionate about vintage automobile restoration.
Rebuilding the engine in one of these classics takes on an identity of its own, but getting a feel for it starts with an overall assessment of the vehicle, the intentions or goals of the owner, the cost, and the financial effect on the vehicle from a value standpoint.
The first step is to evaluate a car from front to back, then establish goals with the customer. When a car comes in, it receives the minimum time investment of an 8-hour day just for the inspection. Everything is gone over including body and paint condition, trim fit, interior condition, wiring, the fuel system, brakes, engine condition – including a compression check and a road test whenever possible.
With a complete assessment of vehicle condition, Elber can then present the vehicle owner with a plan for the project. Some cars get a complete restoration, which needs no explanation. Others are preservation style cars, where the overall condition is good …….