Executive SummaryI've had the car since I was 15. Seven years ago I took it to a restoration shop. The shop completely screwed me and screwed up the car and took 7 years to do it. Now I'm getting all the things he screwed up fixed and also doing hefty upgrades to drivetrain, suspension, steering and brakes.
In 1987, at the ripe old age of 15, I managed to buy a 1978 TransAm using money I made with my paper route and other odd jobs. At the time, the car was in pretty good shape as you can see in this album and the following photo:
I of course kept excellent care of it. It was garage-kept and rarely went out in the winter. It was washed and waxed regularly and serviced regularly.
In 1995 I graduated and moved to CA but left the car back in PA. It stayed there in my parents garage, coming out primarily just when I came home to visit.
By 1999 the car was starting to show a little bit of age. There had been a couple "mishaps", plus NE Pennsylvania just is not friendly to vehicles. The car still looked quite nice, but if you looked closely enough you could see that there were some variations in the paint (as a college student, I didn't have enough cash to do a really nice paint job after the last mishap), and there was some rust developing on the inside of the rear quarter panel.
With an engineering job that paid pretty well I decided it was time to really clean her up. So off to the shop I went. After discussing it with the guy, we concluded that if I really wanted to keep the car a long time, it would be best to do a complete frame-off restoration and some good re-working of the interior. Given the history I had with the car and the high sentimental value of it, I decided to go ahead with that plan. He said that it would likely cost about $6K for everything. I left him the car and a $3K downpayment to get started. He said it should take about 6-8 months.
After roughly 6 months I called to check on the progress. He said he didn't know what the status was because he had sub-contracted out the body and paint work to his friend. I was a little surprised by this, but didn't think too much of it. Since I was flying back to PA soon, I decided to pay the sub-contractor a visit to see the progress.
At that point he had sanded some of it down, but hadn't done much more than that. He then informed me that his friend told him that all I wanted was a paint job so he was surprised to hear I wanted a frame-off restoration. We talked about the details and agreed that he would "take over the project" so I would deal with him to get everything done. He then quoted me $6K-$8K with an absolute max of $10K for all of the body work. This did not include any of the interior work. He estimated the interior could be about $3K, so total cost might be as much as $13K. I was a little surprised at the sudden doubling of the cost of the project, but wanted it done right, so agreed.
He said it would be done in 6-10 months, so after about 6 months I checked in again. He hadn't done any work since I first brought it in. He had lots of excuses for why but promised it would be done in about 5 months.
5 months later he still hadn't done any work. More excuses.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I kept getting the same story: "it will be done in about 6 months." As time went on, I got more and more upset, but I felt pretty helpless. He had a lot of my money (I foolishly gave him even more money because he said he needed it to buy parts, etc.) and he had my car and every time I threatened to take the car away, he pleaded with me and somehow convinced me to let him finish it.
After he had the car for 5 years, I needed to come home for my sister's wedding. Several months before the wedding I told him I'd be coming in to town and told him it better be done when I got there. He said it would be.
About 4 weeks before I was going to be there I checked in again. He said, "it might not be completely done but it should be really close. Well, when I showed up, this is what I found:
You can see more pictures in this album. Needless to say I was furious. This was also the first time I found out that this entire time (the last 5 years) the car has been sitting unprotected in his back parking lot. In NE PA. The car had deteriorated dramatically while in his care. You will see in some of the pictures that there is rust coming through the primer, which is absolute proof of it.
After having a very serious conversation with him, he gave me a new estimate: $12K for just the body work. So we're now $2K above the absolute max that he had given me before. Almost certainly a large part of this is the additional damage the car incurred while in his care. But again, I felt somewhat helpless - he had my car and a lot of my money. He swore to me it would be done in 6 weeks. It would be the only thing he worked on. I told him that was pretty hard to believe considering he had missed every previous deadline in outlandish fashion. He again swore it would be done.
As could have been predicted, he did not make the 6 week deadline. In fact, 6 months later he still hadn't made any progress. I told him he'd be hearing from my lawyer and that a truck would be there to pick up my car in a couple days. He again pleaded with me, said that he still had "money to work off" from what I had given him and asked that I at least let him work that off before taking the car. I reluctantly agreed, thinking that maybe it would keep me from losing quite so much money on the project.
At this point I enlisted the help of my parents who still live in PA. They agreed to regularly go down there and check up on the progress of the vehicle. Between the threat of lawsuit and these regular checkups, we finally started to make some progress.
Even though we were making progress, it was very painful. My parents had to regularly make visits and have some difficult conversations with him. In addition, they got roped into having to order and deliver some of the necessary parts. Without their help, the car likely never would've been finished.
Finally, after 7 years and $23K the car was (theoretically) done and shipped out to me. The pictures my dad sent looked very nice, so I was pretty excited to get it. You can see the pictures in this album. Here is one of the pictures:
Unfortunately when it showed up here in CA, I found quite a few issues. There are too many to list here but to give you a flavor, here are a few:
I could go on, but it's not really worth it. Suffice it to say the guy is an idiot, I got screwed, and now I have a mess to clean up. And yes, I am also culpable. I really should've taken the car away from him early-on.
And now, here we are. I'm getting everything fixed up, replacing the hole drivetrain, suspension, brakes and steering. Final bill will probably be close to twice what it would have been if I had gone through a good restoration shop. But I will have my car back and it will be bitchin'!!!!!You can follow the progress by going to the project updates page.