Tucked away in dim garages, hiding in plain sight under tarps, or banished to dilapidated barns are hunks of metal ready for a second chance at glory. These are the project cars, trucks and motorcycles that wait for the tender loving care their pink-slip holders promise to someday give. Unfortunately most of these cars need a bit more than a little TLC to get their engines roaring once again. For their over-ambitious owners this often means too much time, too much money or too much skill that they don’t have to get back on the road. Those types of speed bumps shouldn’t let a project gather dust.
“No one knows more about having stalled projects than I do,” Garage Squad Lead mechanic Joe Zolper says, citing the racecar he’s been since 2010. “The car isn’t hurting anything sitting there, but sooner or later you got to tighten up them bootstraps and just get out there and do something.”
Doing one little thing a night or week will steer any project vehicle toward completion, Joe says. That’s the type of motivation he brings to Garage Squad as the crew tackles the challenge of getting rides rolling again after years of sitting. While not everyone can get the help of Joe and the rest of the Squad, he says nobody should have to go about their build alone. A great way to keep the project exciting is by including spouses, children or friends in the project. This gets more hands under the hood and more knowledge flowing in the garage.
Make it a Family Affair
It’s easy to get attached to vehicles, especially when family is involved, says Cristy Lee, co-host of Garage Squad. Some people will buy a project car because they remember riding in the same model their grandma or dad had when they were a kid. Others can’t say goodbye to their first car and truck and it ends up neglected for decades. Cristy understands the familial connection of automobiles all too well. She grew up in her dad’s Daytona Beach mechanic shop where she learned to wrench on his beloved BMW 2002. Today she’s got her hands full with a family-owned 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix convertible that she’s been restoring for several years.
As a kid she always thought her dad would hand her the keys to the 2002 when she turned 16, but by that time the car had left the family. Instead she scored a 1986 Volkswagen Jetta, a distant cousin of the Bimmer she knew so well. While the Jetta wasn’t the 1969 Wimbledon White 429 Mustang she dreams of someday owning, it was the car she learned to shift gears in and she holds that close to her heart. Still, she hasn’t gotten over the BMW and what it meant to her and her dad.
“At the time the 2002 was maybe not the coolest car for a 16-year-old,” Cristy says. “I wanted a convertible or a fast car, but the 2002 was great for my dad to talk to his daughter about, for us to bond over. It put cars in my roots.”
The attachment that people have for family vehicles isn’t uncommon,” says Bruno Massel, Garage Squad co-host. Cars are an attraction for people that can help them cope with growing older. These cars are a link to their past, a connection that’s hard to let go of. Many people don’t.
“You know, back in the old days, the 50s’s, there’s the making out, the drive-inn diners, there’s a nostalgia to these old cars,” Bruno says. “It’s an attraction that brings you back to your youth or to times when things were a little better, a little easier, a little freer.”
Joe can relate. He advises friends and fans to take their loved ones or other pals to car shows and swap meets to maintain the motivation needed to finish projects. Seeing completed cars or other people’s vehicles in progress is beneficial to the project and it’s a great learning experience for the whole family, he says.
“People adore their vehicles. It’s easy to get sentimentally attached,” Joe says. “It could just be a little puddle jumper to get back and forth to work but people fall in love with it. They’ll name it, you know, Henry, or whatever. Cars become something that is in the blood.”
For Cristy, the 2002 may have left the garage, but it hasn’t left her heart. She plans on someday chasing down the car or finding a similar one to give to her father. As for the family-owned Grand Prix, that’s a project that will take more time, but it isn’t getting away from her. The emotion involved in the restoration is what keeps her motivated. “You’re doing it because it’s something you love and that’s the most important reason,” Cristy says. “No matter what factors are contributing to your project not getting done, whether that’s time, money or skill set, don’t let any of that take away from the fun of the project.”
Know Your Skill Set & Take Your Time
Being unable to complete a valve job or replace a master cylinder is enough trouble for many people to hang up the keys and walk away from their dream project. Fight the urge to give up and ask for assistance when you need it. Offering a returned favor or the promise of a fun afternoon in the garage to a friend or family member with more skill and knowledge can get a project back on track. It doesn’t always take more money to finish the job, sometimes it’s just a lack of experience.
“Have an idea of what your skill level is and if the project is above and beyond your capabilities don’t be afraid to seek help,” Bruno says.
Many people go into a build expecting everything to go smooth. That’s not the attitude that’s going to see it through to completion. Creating realistic expectations based on skills, budget and resources can help alleviate some of the emotional hardship that accompanies builds . If the energy tank runs low on a project it isn’t wrong to take a break and step back and breath.
“People get stressed out just knowing that their project is sitting there not getting done,” Joe says. “Just relax, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
That’s true, nor was Joe’s race car, which he finally heard run this month, nine years after he started building it.