Antique race cars can be the most exciting automotive finds, and the most valuable at auction. Follow along, as we consider your first steps in restoring a drivable piece of history.
Find Your Car
The last 20 years have made searching for obscure old cars a lot easier than it used to be. Google is a huge help, but there are a few sites in particular that you will probably trawl. eBay is great, of course, as some families throw together an un-researched auction, just to get rid of grandpa’s “junk.” That can mean a huge savings. Or a bidding war. Either way, also keep your eyes on Hemming’s and Auto Trader Classics. And look around in the real world too, as not everything is online. A lucky buyer spotted a one-off Pierce-Arrow land speed racer on the TV show American Pickers, and picked it up when the hosts balked at the asking price. Barn finds are still out there.
Know What You are Looking At
An antique race car is a bit different from your average classic. You may be looking at the only one ever made, or the only survivor of a handful made. Racing pedigree will add to the price, yet also the awesomeness. However, this is where it gets tricky. Do you restore it, or just clean it up? It may look like junk, but then again, “it’s only original once.”
Early cars were entirely separate components, and pretty much have to be separated to do any kind of serious work. That means the body will come off if you are doing heavy engine work. That means the body and engine will come off if you are doing serious transmission work. Which, by the way, will require you to remove all of the wiring. This is only a slight exaggeration.
Also, this may seem obvious to some, but you can’t just run down to the local parts store when you need a head gasket for a 1922 Pierce-Arrow or an exhaust manifold for a 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr v12 and most tire dealers don’t sell antique tires. Parts are scarce to nonexistent, and require research and effort. Both of those cost time and money. Or, if no part is available, the needed part will have to be fabricated. That costs even more money. Some minor parts could be dangerous to replace with original lead, mercury, or asbestos parts, yet inauthentic if not the original material.
Find a Support Group
Jay Leno is a rich guy, and he stays that way by being smart with his money. When Leno went looking for a DeTomaso Pantera, he didn’t buy the first clapped out hung o’ junk he found on eBay Motors. Instead, Leno hit up the experts in the local Pantera club. If you are looking to restore an old Stutz Bearcat, look for an owners group, and find out what you are getting into. This is also a good place to search for leads, as rare antique race cars are getting harder to find every year.