There's something about classic vehicles that draw people in like moths to a flame. No one can explain it. Newer cars have better MPG, tend to run smoother, and have better technology amongst other advantages. Why would anyone want a classic vehicle in the first place? They even cost more money to acquire and maintain!
Though your average Joe may call this lunacy, nothing would please a classic car enthusiast more than to trade in their modern day vehicle for a classic beauty. Plus, some classic vehicles have yet to be outdone by anything from this day and age.
Thus, if you run into a classic vehicle that you'd like to turn into a project you have a very important decision to make -- do you restomod or do you restore the vehicle?
First, let's start with a definition:
Restoration - refers to bringing back a classic car to its former glory by only using all (or mostly) original factory parts. The vehicle undergoes a complete makeover both externally and internally. When the restoration is complete, you should have a vehicle in pristine condition that looks just as good as it did when it was manufactured all of those years ago.
Restomod - this is a process where you perform a restoration on a classic vehicle, but incorporating modern day technology to improve the performance. With most restomod projects, the outer appearance of the vehicle retains its classic appeal, but the inside is replaced with the latest technology to truly give you an improved ride.
Though both sides have valid points when it comes to choosing one over the other, the one deciding factor that usually tips the scale for most people is value. A restored classic vehicle with original parts will often fetch a higher price at auction. However, the process of restoration will also be far more expensive. Hunting down parts that are no longer in production can be an expensive endeavor indeed.
Though a restomod project won't hold the same value as a restored classic vehicle, the improvement in performance may compensate for the deficit in value, at least for some people. Restomod vehicles have the same appearance as an original classic, but with all of the modern conveniences provided by current technology.
It all comes down to two factors -- your purpose and your budget.
If you plan on using your classic vehicle as a daily driver and want something that is reliable and safe, a restomod project will be exactly what you're looking for.
However, if your budget is large and you're looking for a showpiece car that will only be brought out on special occasions, a restoration may be the route you're looking for. Both projects hold merit. It comes down to what suits you best.
A deeper look at the debate - traditionalists vs. modernists
The debate goes deeper still. There are classic car purists or traditionalists out there that view modernizing a classic vehicle as a sacrilegious act. For the traditionalist/purist, restoration is the only proper action.
From the flip side of the coin, those who favor restomods want to maintain the classic look of the vehicle while improving performance, safety, and comfort while driving. It may be a classic on the surface, but it's a completely different vehicle beneath the hood. Restomodders favor function over form, as opposed to traditionalists who prefer form over function.
Picking a side
The problem is that it's not so easy to simply pick one side or the other. You might find yourself toeing the line because when you think about it, both sides have valid arguments. If the classic vehicle in question is extremely rare, then going the restoration route would be a good idea to preserve the history of the vehicle.
But if you need a reliable vehicle to take your kids back and forth to school and get yourself to work every day, there's nothing wrong with going the restomod route and updating the safety features of your vehicle with modern day technology (i.e., brakes, safer seat belts, etc).
The challenges of restoring a classic vehicle
Let's be honest with ourselves, especially if you're a traditionalist. It's hard to restore a true classic. Not only does it come down to cost, but sometimes it's just downright difficult to find the parts in the first place. In many cases, you may end up settling with aftermarket parts anyway because the parts you're searching for may be out of production. Plus, with the advent and popularity of bolt-on parts for classic vehicles, restomod projects may not seem so far-fetched after all.
True restoration is a long, hard and expensive road. That's why many people find that going with a restomod is the better choice. Parts become plentiful, cheaper and easier to come by. Though, if you have a large budget, you can overcome all of these issues.
What do modifications do to value?
As we already know, a classic that stays true to form will fetch a higher price than a vehicle that has received the restomod treatment. However, restomod vehicles can also command a handsome price, especially if you find a buyer who is searching for a vehicle with specific modern day modifications in mind.
Be mindful that modifications done for the sake of changing the aesthetics of the vehicle, an expression of art, will likely drive down the price. However, upgrading the guts of your classic car will surely fetch you a handsome price from the right buyer.
The hardcore traditionalists
Somewhat recently, truly hardcore purists/traditionalists have begun to adopt the European way of preserving classic vehicles. Typically, the American definition of restoring a classic car is to make it look as new as possible while maintaining its original parts. This is done by applying fresh paint, a good waxing, etc.
However, a new wave of traditionalists now believe that a classic vehicle should remain the way it is -- dents, rust and all. Even when a part fails on the vehicle, that part must be repaired while maintaining its original look, no matter how many dents it has. It's clear these individuals wish to preserve every aspect of their classic vehicle's history.
There's only one conclusion
The only conclusion here is that both schools of thought -- restomod vs. restoration -- are valid in the right situation for the right person. It ultimately comes down to purpose and budget, but it also comes down to whether or not you care if your vehicle remains a true classic with 100% factory specs or if you don't mind throwing in modern day conveniences.
There's no reason why you shouldn't modify your vehicle the way that you want it to look and run. But if you wish to preserve the tradition of your classic vehicle, then restoration is truly the way to go.
Let's agree that we all love working on classic vehicles. Let those who want to restomod their vehicle mod to their heart's content, and let those who prefer restoration focus on preserving the tradition and history of their vehicle. At the end of the day, both camps share a love for classic vehicles and that's all that matters.