Last month I talked about having a plan before you start to restore that classic. This month I am going to talk some more about it. In so many ways, this is truly a sad story.
Fred was my insurance agent for 30 years. Prior to buying this body shop, I was involved in four high technology, venture-backed start-ups. Each one of them went public and I was the CFO of three of the companies at the IPO. These companies needed a variety of insurance products besides the normal liability coverage, workman's comp, etc. One of those other policies, and the single most expensive, was "D&O" or Directors and Officers insurance. These polices at the time cost $500,000 for three years of coverage. Really expensive and you had to know what you were doing when you purchased them. I spent a lot of my companies' money with Fred over the years. I have always thought you really need to trust the people you do business with.
I met Fred at my first start-up. I soon trusted him. I stayed with him because I thought if there was ever a problem I would have a friend in my corner. He was not the normal insurance agent. He was just a little bit different. Without going into details, there were situations where he was there for me and others were not.
So, after a couple of years at UC Santa Cruz as Assistant Dean of the School of Engineering, I decided to buy the body shop. Fred was my only choice for insurance.
I guess when he bought the '54 Hudson Hornet, I was the only choice to work on it for him. (See the accompanying picture of me, Fred and the Hudson.) But before I got my hands on it, he made some really big mistakes.
His first mistake was buying the car without inspecting it. He had a "friend" who assured him it was an OK car. But the car needed mechanical work. One thing let to another and months turned into years as the bills from the mechanic increased. Simply put, it was out of control. The mechanic was chosen by the "friend" and was not controlled by Fred.
Finally the repairs were "done". By this time, between the car and the mechanic, the project would cost more than the value of the car, unless the paint, body and upholstery work was minimal.
I went to a party at Fred's house just before Christmas of 2009. I met the "friend" who told me the car was in pretty good shape and possibly would only require a bit of spot painting. In fact, the way the "friend" put it, I thought at the time I would have little or nothing to do given the excellent condition of the car.
Fred had the car shipped directly to my shop from Arizona. My heart sunk when I saw it. If a car ever needed paint, this was it. I remember thinking what idiot could have possibly thought this car only needed spot work. I went home depressed. Of course Fred still had not seen the car yet. What was I going to say to him? Well, at least the car did not have a lot of rust and all the chrome and stainless was on the car. The interior was a disaster. (There was, however, a nice Grateful Dead sticker in the rear window.) But the motor was beautiful. Really. The car started too. In summary a beautiful motor inside an ugly engine bay on a car that looked lousy. Then I wondered why the motor was in the car when it obviously should be out to do the rest of the repair. Why put the motor in, only to take it out? After I talked to the mechanic, I know the answer: he was working for money and nothing else. He could not have cared less about the car or the owner.
Nonetheless, I had what I had. My job was to turn this roach into something pretty. I started to add up the costs: $5k for chrome and stainless, 25 hours to take all the chrome and stainless off the car, costs for stripping, bodywork, sheet metal alignment, etc. It was a pretty big bill.
Remember the bottom of the ocean where the only Pleistocene fish swim? That's how far this car was going under the water.
Unfortunately the mechanical aspects had not really been completed. For example, they had not boiled out the gas tank. Rust clogged the fuel filter. So, that is why when Fred saw his car for the only time, it stopped running when he was there. Subsequently we discovered they had not put antifreeze in the radiator and there was rust going through the newly rebuilt motor. Dollars kept on adding up. By the way, aaaa
The story for me ends abruptly. In November Fred got ill on a vacation in Argentina. He was brought back to the US after spending several weeks in an Argentinean hospital. I talked to Fred in December after he was back in the US. Although he was still in a hospital, he actually sounded great. It seemed he would be out and about pretty soon. I was shocked when I talked to his son a week later and inquired about his dad to find that Fred had passed. A complete surprise and no more Hudson for me.
So what went wrong with his project? Well, at the highest level he did not have a plan for the car. He did not try to estimate the full cost of the project prior to purchasing the car. Of course, he should have looked at the car and not trusted the "friend" who I believe misled him at every step. The mechanic was uncontrolled. By the time the car got to me, there was just no room left to do a decent job.
Yep, a sad story, but a cautionary one too. There are two factors that determine the cost of a restoration. The first is what condition is the car in at the beginning. The second is what you want the car to look like when it is done. These two factors, plus the cost of the car itself, should be understood prior to taking on a project. Otherwise you may be looking straight in the eye of a Pleistocene fish, way at the bottom of the ocean. I suppose I should ad that working with people who deserve your trust is pretty important too.
PS I went to the service for Fred. I saw the "friend". I could not talk to the %$#@%! guy. In memory of my friend, above is a picture of me, Fred and the Hudson.
Guest columnist, Sam Hedgpeth, owner
North Highlands Maaco • www.SacAutoBodyShop.com
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (916) 334-5556
Survey Results • Event Planning Meeting • Mr. Cruise • LAG/ACCC Meeting Report
CalRecyle - Tires & the Landfill • LAG/ACCC Spaghetti Feed • Indoor Drag Racing
Having a Plan - Part II • Roamin Angels Board Update • The Law- Part XVI
www-4-gearheads • Calendar