HomeCar CultureCommentaryRestore or modify? Experts offers suggestions to muscle car buyers

Restore or modify? Experts offers suggestions to muscle car buyers


(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo
(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo

The greatest thing about car collecting is not the speed, the swoopy designs, the history, the visible progress of technology or the togetherness and camaraderie of like-minded people. Nope. The single best thing is that there’s something for everyone.

In all of my years hanging around cars, be they old or new, race or street, big or small, cheap or more dear than the Gross National Product of a small country, no one has ever said, “There just isn’t a car out there for me.”

Well, okay, only three guys ever said that: Preston Tucker, Carroll Shelby and Ferruccio Lamborghini, and, though it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely that you are about to start your own car company.

Which brings us to the American Car Collector magazine seminar held during Arizolna Auction Week. “Restore or Modify?” asks the question you must ask of yourself before buying anything: “What do you plan on doing with your collector muscle car?”

In so doing, you quickly figure out to not be trigger happy. Not with a purchase. Not with a restoration.

Colin Comer, a Shelby expert and ACC dditor-at-large joined contributors B. Mitchell Carlson, Carl Bomstead and ACC editor Jim Pickering to discuss it all, plus to pick some winners for the future in the muscle car segment.

“A car is original only once,” said Comer. “I advise people that with an old muscle car, reversible modifications that improve some function or aspect of the car are fine. But if it’s a mostly original car, don’t do anything that will damage its collectability in the future.”

Some examples Comer offered of reversible modifications that result in real-world improvements are modern tires, points-free ignition, updating fuel systems to withstand modern ethanol-laced fuels that erode gaskets and other rubber and brake linings.

On the subject of modern brakes, and specifically front disc-brake conversions, Comer does not recommend them to most people with older muscle cars. He cites his own experience on the street (and even in vintage car road racing) with updated drums brakes using modern linings for both shoes and drums, plus larger wheel cylinders to actuate the shoes and braided steel brake lines.

He also recommends replacing an old driveshaft that’s likely out of balance at today’s elevated steady highway speeds with a modern aluminum driveshaft.

“This can make a shocking difference in highway ride quality,” he said.

The experts also are cautious on some oil and fluid selections for old muscle cars.

“Today, we have much better fluids and oils than we did even in the 1970s, but be careful with the oil you choose for old transmissions,” Comer warned. “Brass synchromesh rings, as used in vintage manual transmissions, are not compatible with modern GL5 transmission fluid.”

All GL5 lube has some level of sulfur, which attacks brass. Over time, the synchros then fail.

A GL4 brew of fluid specifically formulated to work with old brass synchros is a must. For differential oil, Comer still believes in good old-fashioned oil made from dead dinosaurs.

Many enthusiasts who want to drive frequently or long distance have looked into a fuel injection conversion to improve mileage. The panel recommends giving the old trusty carburetor a chance to work first, rebuilding and re-jetting them to work better with our modern ethanol-laced fuel. Even if you need to bring or ship your old carb to an expert for this procedure, it’s far cheaper than an EFI conversion and it may just satisfy your need. Plus, there’s no involved and possibly invasive wiring and fuel-feed surgery needed.

As for predictions, the panel provided some vision into future values at several price categories for American classics:

Carl Bomstead: Carroll Shelby GT Golf Cart (Carl says it’s rare and fast!)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1980-86 Ford Bronco XLT 4×4 (unmodified, must be 4WD as 2WD models are not nearly as desirable)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body 5.0-liter Mustang LX or GT 5-speed (especially the 4-headlight early models)

Jim Pickering: 1973-87 Chevy and GMC pickups trucks (must be very clean; getting very popular among collectors; higher trim packages more desirable; short beds are more valuable)

Carl Bomstead: 1953 Kaiser Dragon (one year only and just 1277 were built)

B. Mitchell Carlson: post-WWII Willys M38 & M38A1 (authentically restored)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body Saleen Mustang (very fun to drive even by today’s standards; racing pedigree; the GT350 of the ’80s & early ’90s)

Jim Pickering: 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 (very fast & well-rounded; unique exotic connection with Lotus; racing history; tons of notoriety at the time)

Carl Bomstead: 1965 Buick Riviera (landmark design; universally well-regarded)

B. Mitchell Carlson: Pickups with tailfins like the 1957-59 Dodge Sweptside and 1955-57 Chevy Cameo (finned cars have leveled or started declining yet these pickups are rising; crowd-pleasers; younger audiences perceive them as cool and not mere tools) and/or 2012-13 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca (the last and best solid axle all-around high performance car; racing pedigree; first reuse of “Boss 302”)

Colin Comer: 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 (just announced; will be both a driving and investment value; will sell out quickly)

Jim Pickering: 2015 Dodge Challenger or Charger Hellcat (manic modern muscle; possibly a high-water mark with 707hp; already huge notoriety)

Carl Bomstead: 1954 Kaiser Darrin (just 435 built; seem to be at every auction)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1963-65 Corvette with fuel injection (appeal more greatly to European sports car collectors than just about any other American car; at a low ebb in valuation right now)

Colin Comer: 1967 Shelby GT350 (last Shelbys made in California; possibly the best looking of the Shelby Mustangs)

Jim Pickering: 1969-70 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi

Carl Bomstead: 1958 Dodge 300D Convertible with fuel injection (only 191 total D convertibles with 50 alive today, 20 of which had fuel injection)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 2005-06 Ford GT (the last great mid-engine, V8 supercar with a clutch pedal; the new one just announced could improve the values of the 2005-’06 model; nobody thought at the time these would become collectible, but they’ve risen phenomenally and steadily)

Colin Comer: 1965 Shelby GT350 (defined Shelby’s success early; low production – 521 total; racing pedigree; parts are cheap)

Jim Pickering: 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL1 (interest in the originals is going to be boosted by the new modern ZL1)


Jim Resnick
Jim Resnick
Jim Resnick began his career as a writer, reporter and photographer for magazines including Vette, Hot Rod, Chevy High Performance and Car Craft. In 1996, he launched Bimmer Magazine as its editor-in-chief. He also was technical editor of Sports Car International. Later, he did public relations and marketing for Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Jaguar Land Rover, and thus brings a unique perspective to his reporting and writing. He also is a "recovering" racer and guitarist.

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