BODY AND SOUL
Even before you’ve bought the classic Porsche you intend to restore, advice from a restoration specialist, such as Alan Drayson at Canford Classics, will save you a huge amount of time, money and stress when the project gets going…
Restoration advice from Canford Classics.
Magazine features showcasing many finished restorations often fall foul of talking about the freshly completed car in the here and now, rather than outlining the level of work that was involved in transforming the resurrected ride from its formerly impotent state to the condition deserving of a prominent place on the newsstand. Of course, we can all appreciate a pristine Porsche, but it’s important for published articles not to misrepresent how challenging a build might have been. After all, many readers keep hold of magazines as a point of reference. The last thing we want is for an enthusiast to get partway into a restoration, only to find their bank account haemorrhaging cash and their patience wearing thin because, citing inspiration from column inches, what they thought would be a perfectly manageable job on a reasonable budget turns out to be a total nightmare costing the earth.
“You’ve got a difficult job ahead of you,” considers Alan Drayson, head of renowned air-cooled Porsche restoration
specialist, Canford Classics, when reflecting on the theme of this particular issue of Classic Porsche. “The journey of restoration is completely epic, but can involve a rollercoaster of extraordinary highs and crushingly disappointing lows. Restoring an old Porsche is something to look forward to, but my team and I know only too well that highlighting the pitfalls and the likely problems an owner will encounter when working through such a project can shock to the point they question whether to proceed!” How does he turn that frown upside down? “We reassure customers by working with them on a firm plan of action, helping them to enter into their restoration project with eyes wide open. Consequently, our clients find the process massively rewarding, which might not be the case if they hadn’t mapped out the work and set a realistic budget, not to mention an achievable deadline, beforehand.”
He reveals the most important piece of advice he offers anyone considering embarking on a restoration project. “Don’t be misled by how the car about to be stripped and rebuilt appears at first glance — many extensive restorations start with a vehicle that looks presentable, yet there’s every chance major corrosion and other problems are lurking within.” The 1962 356 B you see on the pages before you, photographed at the Canford Classics workshop in Dorset, is a prime example of what he’s talking about. Bought as a running, complete vehicle at a knockdown price, the owner was keen for Alan to cast his eye over the car in readiness for a round of remedial work. “Just because a Porsche is operational and appears to be in half-decent cosmetic order doesn’t mean it’s going to be any better than an example clearly exhibiting its faults. This 356, though running, proved to be one of the worst examples of the model I’ve seen to date.” The front wings were loaded with filler an inch and a half thick, indicating the condition of the rest of the bodywork, confirmed upon further inspection. Complete restoration was the only sensible way forward.
Owners who find themselves in this position, though
THE STANDARD OF REPAIR AND RESTORATION WORK CARRIED OUT A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO LEAVES A LOT TO BE DESIRED
initially disappointed, tend to embrace the opportunity to personalise the Porsche they’ve bought. In other words, when dealing with a car in excellent condition, there is often a reluctance to move away from original specification for fear of somehow reducing the car’s financial value or desirability. In contrast, a doer-upper presents a blank canvas, allowing owners to carefully curate the equipment being applied to their project Porsche, resulting in what should be a far more rewarding driving experience. “Don’t be afraid of sympathetic modification,” says Alan. “Purists may scoff, but unless you’re intending to enter concours competitions, where your car will be judged on originality, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding parts that’ll help you get more enjoyment out of classic Porsche ownership.” Shackles off, the owner of the 356 has done exactly this, opting for a range of updates to improve comfort, looks, performance and reliability.
“A restoration project can be a wonderful experience,” Alan assures us. “There’s something hugely romantic about buying a dilapidated classic car and then bringing it back to life, but rose-tinted spectacles can cloud judgement.” Don’t buy a rusty old Porsche, then? “On the contrary,” he continues. “Don’t be afraid to buy a car in need of work, just make sure the price you pay adequately reflects the repairs you’ll have to take care of. Of course, not every classic car needs to be stripped bare, but it’s important you seek expert advice before seeing your name on the logbook of a Porsche you’re buying as a project. The last thing you want is to end up spending double what the car is worth.”
How does the old saying go? Ah, yes. There’s no more expensive car than a cheap classic. Addressing this notion, Alan acknowledges the standard of repair and restoration work carried out a couple of decades ago can leave a lot to be desired. “Air-cooled Porsches simply weren’t worth the money they are today,” he reasons. “Needless to say, the restoration budgets owners had to play with didn’t stretch to the kind of work you’d expect from a Porsche restorer in the present. This is another reason for ensuring you engage a specialist to look over the car you’re thinking about buying. It’s important to know which wrongs you’ll need to right before the process of restoration gets going. For example, a car may be advertised as having been ‘lovingly restored’ at some point in the past, but what does this phrase
actually mean? The standard of work could be terrible, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t done lovingly! The only way to be sure of what you’re letting yourself in for is to seek expert advice from a company such as Canford Classics — experts in the field who deal with the restoration of air-cooled Porsches day in, day out.”
911s, he suggests, though often challenging, are a more straightforward restoration proposition than a 356 — handbuilt bodywork and a liberal attitude to tolerances means no two finished 356s were exactly the same, presenting a problem when it comes to what you might think is simple panel fitment (“it’s always a challenge, everything requires fettling”). It’s a story we’ve heard many times over: 911 body panels, whether from Porsche or aftermarket manufacturers, tend to be a good fit, but 356 equivalent parts require significant work to sit pretty. In fairness, one well known reproduction panel manufacturer told us they provide “a degree of flexibility for the restorer to work with” in recognition of “inconsistencies in Porsche production processes in period”, which, in the context of there being no ‘one size fits all’ solution is helpful, but not if you’re expecting to simply bolt a panel in place, stand back and enjoy the look of a perfect fit and finish. Custom fabrication is often the easiest and most cost-effective solution. “I really admire anyone who wants to take on a 356 project at home, but the only way to ensure perfect tolerances on a full and proper restoration, especially when dealing with floor pans, sills and other key bodywork componentry, is to configure the car on a professionally prepared jig.”
GET STUCK IN
So, you’ve accepted the fact handmade Porsches can present big differences in bodywork fitment between cars and, when dealing with much later models from the Porsche product range, you’ve been sensible enough to work on the assumption replacement panels aren’t
WHOEVER YOU COMMISSION, BEAR IN MIND THERE’S NO QUICK OR CHEAP WAY TO RESTORE A CLASSIC PORSCHE
always a simple fit, even when bought direct from Porsche. What’s next? “Open and honest dialogue with your chosen restorer is absolutely key to keeping a lid on spend and, ultimately, the enjoyment you’ll get from a restoration,” Alan smiles. “Inspect their work, visit their premises, don’t be afraid to ask questions or get involved. It’s your car and a good restorer will want you to feel invested in the project beyond budget. Regarding the latter, you might want to consider which aspects of restoration are being outsourced by your service provider. Canford Classics, for example, takes care of the entire process in-house. Paint, fabrication, mechanical work, metalwork. You name it, we do it. This is enables us to keep control of each client’s budget and ensures we can audit every step of the process, as well as stay on top of timeframes, which isn’t something a company outsourcing key parts of the process is fully able to do when they’re relying on the input of third parties.” Whoever you commission to take care of the job, bear in mind there’s no quick or cheap way to restore a classic Porsche. “There’s only the right way,” says Alan, philosophically. “Moreover, success relies on project planning before the physical stuff begins. In the ideal world, you will consider all eventualities before you’ve even bought the project car. Collaborate with your chosen restorer to ensure costs are clear and you can afford the work. Allow for a contingency budget to take care of unforeseen problems. Visit the restorer and ask them to show you typical problem areas associated with the model you’re interested in buying. Employ due diligence and you should get a huge amount of enjoyment from the project and the finished Porsche,” he smiles. And with that, we encourage you to scan the classifieds. Good luck!