Recreating History: Should You Restore It Or Can It Be Restomodded

What is it about classic cars that draws us in? Is there a logical reason why we like cars that need constant upkeep, don’t always run very well, and take money from us like our teenage daughter headed to the mall? The relatively recent popularity of televised auctions and automotive-based reality shows has brought a lot of attention to classic rides, especially interesting and valuable versions. Let’s face it, although 90-percent of us can’t afford the high-dollar collectible rides that get television air-time as they cross the auction block, we still feel a certain connection to many of them. But why? After all, aren’t they simply utilitarian hunks of metal that were designed to do the same tasks as current model cars? What’s more, they are extremely more primitive.

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What is it about a classic car that gets our blood pumping faster than 10w40 through a high-volume oil pump?

There is no arguing that the muscle car wars have returned. The Mustang is continually trying to out muscle the Camaro while the Challenger is trying to overshadow the Mustang. These cars strike a nerve with enthusiasts, because they bring about a feeling of nostalgia. People long for a time when things seemed better, and these cars bring back those feelings.

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Hypothetically speaking, if you found this car, would you restore it or modify it? It has SS badges and the right hood, but we don’t know what’s under it.

While the 21st-century editions afford owners the ability to fulfill their sense of nostalgia and give them daily transportation, there is just something awe-inspiring about a vintage-model car that still causes it to not only remain collectible, but highly desired. While a completely restored classic will definitely fill a sense of nostalgia, can one that is restomodded deliver the same sensations?

Is There A Right Or Wrong Way To Build?

The debate of whether to restore or restomod a particular car is like most arguments regarding politics, life after death, and big-block versus small-block – it will never be settled to a mutual satisfaction. In reality, it might even seem easier to bring about world peace than to settle this debate.

Some will argue that all vintage cars need to be restored to their as-built condition in order to preserve the history. I can accept that philosophy to a certain extent, but a restomodded classic not only pays homage to history, it updates it with modern features. In case you haven’t figured it out, I favor restomods.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a restored classic. I just know I can’t keep my hands off of things, and having an original car like a Yenko anything might not be a good fit for me. I have to tweak, change, and add my personal taste to the vehicle I drive. I guess that’s why I have a squarebody C10 to play with instead of a ’69 COPO Chevelle. I like the style of the truck, it’s not as collectible as a muscle car, and nobody will give me a hard time when I incorporate modifications. Those are not necessarily the only reasons. For instance, if I had the aforementioned ’69 COPO Chevelle, it would make a terrible daily driver.

Do you prefer something restored or modified?

If we are going to discuss restoring a car versus restomodding, is there ever a time when one style is more appropriate than the other? In my mind, that seems like a simple question, and this is how I would make the determination. Finding an all-original car is extremely rare, as I consider this to be a vehicle that has been maintained both aesthetically and mechanically with minimal replacement parts. Maybe the fan belts or radiator hoses have been replaced, but the repairs the car has received since new, are few and far between. In my mind, if the car is in very good to excellent shape, then I personally wouldn’t change a thing. Like I said, I can’t keep from modifying things, and that’s why I don’t own a car like that – well, besides the cost of actually buying a car like that.

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Is it a real Yenko or a tribute car? Although a real car will cost you both of your children and your tool box, building a tribute car gets you the look of a more valuable car that you can enjoy with less worry.

Points To Ponder

When I find a classic that is all original but needs completely rebuilt, there are a couple of things I take into consideration before developing a plan of attack. First, are all of the parts on the car, correct for the car? If the drivetrain is missing or has been replaced in the past, in essence, the car really isn’t original anymore. If the car is all original and has most (or all) of the original parts, then it should be a no-brainer for a restoration, correct? That depends on the person that wants the car.

Let’s take for example, you have just found a really nice 1969 Chevelle sitting behind a house, and the owner has decided to sell. The price is fair, the car is definitely rebuildable, but under the hood is a six-cylinder engine backed by a Powerglide transmission. Does the restored value of the car justify the amount of money that will be spent to complete a “correct” restoration? I can already hear a lot of you guys saying that you don’t build your cars because of their value, but anytime money is spent, thoughts of the end-value are realized, whether we want to admit or not.

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Having an original car, or one that is properly restored, requires the correct parts be used. These T3 headlights in this ’69 Chevelle are correct for both styles, but hard to find.

Let’s face it, everything has a perceived value, and any initial investment really needs to be justified. In reality, all cars are an investment. They are just an investment that we are all passionate about. In my mind, our hypothetical Chevelle would be a great candidate for a restomod-type rebuild since the restored value of the car would be far less than the cost of a proper restoration.

I think the aforementioned Chevelle would be a great candidate to receive a complete suspension upgrade like the gStreet parts from Chris Alston Chassisworks. Rolling stock would be slightly larger than stock, maybe a set of 17-inch Miramar wheels from Weld Racing.

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This 1970 Chevelle SS 396 was offered for sale after 34 years of storage. It is has an L78 396 making 375 horsepower, and sold for $29,700 at the January 2017 Russo and Steele auction. I don’t think this would be a great candidate to build a restomod.

As great of a job as Chevrolet did when designing the interior of the ’69 Chevelle, If I am upgrading the car, the place where I put my carcass for driving will also get some simple upgrades. The overall feel of the cockpit would remain stock appearing, but a good set of seats, like the Pro-90 from Procar would be where I sit. As for tunes, The sounds from the speakers would be actual music, and would make any downtown window-shaker proud.

Motor-vational Duties

Placing an engine under the hood however, would take some serious contemplation. On one hand, there is nothing more impressive than a stout big-block. If you want something visceral, a stroked 454 cubic-inch behemoth popping out the exhaust because of the 12.0:1 compression ratio delivers a heck of a wow factor. On the other hand, a healthy LS engine with twin turbos would be a lot more streetable, easier to drive on long trips, and still pack a heck of a wow factor.

Let’s take a look at another hypothetical Chevelle. But this time, the car is a Super Sport. Just by virtue of those twin S’s, this should be another no-brainer. Unfortunately, there is a gaping hole where the big-block and four speed used to reside. Not only that, but someone must have needed parts for their race car, because the 12-bolt rearend is AWOL as well. Since the drivetrain is missing, does it matter how close to original standards you adhere when rebuilding the car? Even if you do rebuild this car using the correct replacement parts, none of the original drivetrain is in the car, so in essence, it’s not really original. In my mind, this is the kind of car that could be built as a close representation of original, or a even restomod.

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Swapping an LS engine into a classic ride has become very popular, and is a great way to add increased drivability to an already great platform.

I feel that the absence of those critical drivetrain parts affords the owner carte blanche to build the car anyway he or she wishes. Personally, I would be inclined to maybe not build a full-blown restomod, but a “day two” car. In other words, put a big-block, four speed, and 12-bolt rearend back in the car, but then update the car to reflect the aftermarket parts of the era.

Since the car is not technically original, this is where a crate engine would be a good choice. It would be easier to find, and probably less expensive than rebuilding a seasoned engine. I would top it off with a vintage Edelbrock Torker 2-R with a twist-mounted Holley Double Pumper. How many of you guys remember using gold Moroso valve covers? Now we’re talking nostalgia. Next on the list would be a set of Hooker Blackjack AK 5000 headers. Do you remember the white, textured finish?

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There is just something really cool about the nostalgic look of a muscle car with a set of Cragars and bias-ply L60 tires.

Finally, who doesn’t like a set of bias-ply L60s wrapped around a set of Cragars on the rear. No matter what you do with the car, since the original drivetrain is missing, it will never be original again, so have fun.

Whether restoring, or modifying your dream car, there really is no right or wrong way. Just enjoy what you build.

No matter what style car you or I would decide to build, one thing is certain, we would build however we each saw fit. This hobby is meant to be enjoyed, so there is no reason for anyone to give another person a hard time about how he or she built their car. Everyone has an opinion, and in mine, I have no preference as to how anyone builds their car, just so it makes them happy.

Sound Off

We know you have an opinion, and we want to hear it. Do you agree with me, or am I on another planet? Either way, tell me what you think, and if you feel so inclined, email me some images of your original, restored, or restomodded cruiser. I am always happy to talk cars with anyone.

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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