by David C. Grainger
President of The Guild of Automotive Restorers
So you are excited. You have just seen an advertisement for a 1971 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and you can't believe your luck. All your life you have wanted one and now you have found an owner who just wants twelve thousand dollars for your dream. You can afford it and you are getting it. Well, there is luck involved here, but it is not necessarily good luck. Every year I get dozens of luxury and exotic cars brought to me by people who are delighted that they got their dream car for peanuts.
Two things have always maintained the exclusivity of the highest end luxury cars. The first is the initial ticket price. In many cases this can be the cost of a fairly nice new home so the pool of qualified buyers is somewhat restricted to people who have real wealth. The second means of maintaining exclusivity and assuring a healthy profit margin is in repair and maintenance costs. To give you an idea of just how scary these expenses can be we will stick with the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. If you can buy a Shadow for twelve thousand dollars you can be pretty sure that it needs a brake job. So, big deal, if it is twenty percent higher than the brakes on your Taurus, well heck, your prepared to pay that, after all it is a Rolls. Well, a premium of twenty percent is not even close. An average cost for the brake job on a Silver Shadow is around eight thousand dollars. The braking system on a Shadow has about as much in common with a standard brake system as the flight control system for a 747 does. It requires many specialized parts including pressurized nitrogen canisters, specialized hydraulic and electric switches and high-pressure pumps, things certainly not found any other common braking systems. You also need a good and reputable mechanic who knows and understands the eccentricities of Rolls Royce design, another premium item. If the car is burning oil you can count a finished repair cost approaching thirty thousand dollars and if, while working on the engine, they discover that the front end needs work then several thousand dollars more will certainly be required from your pocket. If you want to buy a 1971 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow you will find it much cheaper to buy a perfect one for between thirty to forty thousand dollars. If you cannot afford that then you certainly will not be able to afford the twelve thousand dollar car that can easily cost you in excess of eighty thousand dollars by the time you restore it. Add to the mechanical repairs rust repairs (yes they do rust and quite badly at that.) a repaint, possibly interior work, electrical system repair or more usually replacement, and finally reconditioning the cooling system.
There are Ferraris out there that can also be had fairly cheaply although not for twelve thousand dollars. Early seventies 2 plus 2 Ferraris such as the eight cylinder Dino and twelve cylinder GTC 4can sometimes be had for in and around twenty five to thirty thousand dollars. The parts for a Ferrari however can be even more disastrously expensive than for a Rolls. A twelve-cylinder car whose engine I was rebuilding remains vividly in my memory. When I phoned Ferrari for a set of pistons, rings, rods and bearings they quoted me thirty thousand dollars. I had the same parts made for half that sum and have never had a problem. While fifteen thousand is still a lot of money it is inarguably better than thirty thousand. Mind you, your average shop is probably not going to be bothered looking to save you any money so you could expect to pay full price. Bear in mind that was just a quote on some of the engine components. The rest of the engine cost thousands and thousands more just for the parts and then there was five days of assembling and testing. The car itself had been purchased for much less than its repair costs. The client is fortunately in a financial position to still think he got a good deal because the initial purchase was agreeable.
High repair costs can take the fun out of any life long dream car. Just about all high-end European Sport and Luxury cars have prohibitive maintenance costs, as do some American luxury cars. The American cars that do pose the greatest financial danger these days are the rare Muscle Cars, especially Hemi Powered Chrysler products, big block Corvettes and specials such as the Shelby Mustangs. Any of these rare American cars have special mechanical and trim options that if needing replacement can send you to the poor house kicking and screaming. Make sure that you look into the costs that you can incur after you buy that affordable deal. A little research may persuade you that sometimes dreams are best left unrealized.