Generalist or specialist: How to decide where to take your car for restoration

If your car is uniquely special, you want a shop focused on that marque

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Road Scholars
Porsches in progress at Road Scholars | Road Scholars photos

In the world of automobile and motorcycle restoration there are two different directions you can take when choosing a shop. You can go to one of the many quality shops that restore many different kinds of vehicles. Such shops are not specialists in a single type of vehicle, but nonetheless are high-quality facilities that have the staff to do the work needed for a great end product.

But let’s say you have a very special car, a 1966 L88 Corvette, a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, or a Porsche 550 Spider. You could go to a generalist and get a high-quality restoration, but in many cases with cars as valuable as these it might make sense to go to a shop that specializes in the model of vehicle you are restoring. 

Among such facilities are Road Scholars in Raleigh North Carolina, a Porsche air-cooled specialist; Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, New York, one of the finest Corvette restoration facilities in the world,;Paul Russell and Company in Essex, Massachusetts, if you are restoring a serious Ferrari or the aforementioned 300SL; or if you have an early MG, Safety Fast Restorations in Mansfield, Ohio. 

So why go to a specialist such as these if you feel that your local shop can easily do the work? Well, there are a number of reasons.

Say you have a 1963 Corvette split-window fuelie big-tank car and want to win top honors at Bloomington Gold, then I would go with Kevin Mackay at Corvette Repair. The reason is that Mackay and his team have restored Corvettes that have won more awards han any other shop restoring Corvettes.

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The same holds true if you have a 550 Spyder. These are expensive cars and Cam Ingram and his team at Roads Scholars have forgotten more about restoring these cars that most experts know. They have won countless awards for their cars at Porsche events and concours.

The other thing that these specialist shops offer is respect for each individual car. Many of the rarest cars have details that are unique to that specific car. These shops restore these very special vehicles in a way that preserves the details unique to each. If the panel work was a bit crude when new, they do not make it perfect but restore it to the way when it was new, original flaws intact. This is what you should always do with truly special and unique vehicles.

The key is that such cars are very expensive and rare models and will benefit from the additional knowledge and experience these facilities offer. Having a 550 Spyder done by a local shop who has never had such a vehicle apart is likely to show in the end result. It’s not that such shops don’t do excellent work, it’s just that they do not have the experience with these specific cars to do these jobs as well as can be done. 

If you want to practically guarantee an award at a top concours, the specialist shops can get you there.

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Corvettes being restored at Corvette Repair | Corvette Repair photos

However, what these specialists are not for is your standard 1962 Porsche 356, MGTD or 1977 Corvette coupe. Sure, you can take these cars to a marque specialist, but these shops likely are going to advise you that they are not the right solution for what you are after. 

If you insist that you want one of these specialists to do the work, they will take the work on. Paul Russell will restore your 1967 Camaro 6-cylinder base model coupe if you insist and are willing to spend the money, but this is a poor choice as you will never see the money you spend in a future value of the car.

This brings to mind a story told to me by Tom Cotter and Paul Russell about a certain 300SL. The car was the 3rd 300SL built and the first delivered to the US, and to none other than Briggs Cunningham. The car has a number of unique characteristics that only the early cars had. The new owner had it shipped to a shop in Germany for restoration and the shop restored to the car just like any other 300SL Gullwing and erased all the unique features. Sure, it was still the Briggs’ car but not the same car it was when he got it as all the unique details of this very early car were now gone.

Restored, and ribbon-winning | Andy Reid photo

I have had vehicles restored by marque specialists as well as at general restoration facilities, and both with good results. The work by The Paddock on my MGB GT is an excellent example of quality work done on a more standard car. The work has been absolutely faultless.

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An example is of the difference between a specialist and a Marque specific shop is illustrated by my last Norton Commando, a 1973 Mk.2A 750 Roadster. I had owned five other Norton Commandos over the years, one of which I had restored by a general motorcycle restoration shop. This last Commando I took instead to Norton Specialist Chris Greenbacker. The bike was perfect when complete and after owning it a year, and winning two shows in three weeks, I sold the bike for $20,000. This is what a specialist for a specific marque can do.

If the car you are considering for restoration is something extra special, or if you simply want the best example in the world of the car you own and are willing to spend the money to get there, you should seriously consider a specialist. Just to help I am including a list of such shops below:

Paul Russell
Paul Russell and Company specializes in vehicles such as unique Ferraris and Mercedes | Paul Russell photo

Corvette

Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, NY

Jaguar/Austin-Healey

Sport and Specialty in Durand, IL

Rare Mercedes/Ferrari

Paul Russell and Company in Essex, MA

Rare Porsche air-cooled cars

Road Scholars in Raleigh, NC

Aston Martin

Kevin Kay Restorations in Redding, CA

American and European full classics

Manns Restoration in Festus, MO

Cobras

David Wagner Michigan

Mustangs, including Shelbys

Orlando Mustang, Orlando Florida

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Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

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