Appreciating the Craft of Automotive Restoration

Winter is a good time to stop for a moment and appreciate what we will enjoy at the car shows just around the corner in 2022. Restoration specialists will spend many, many hours to turn back the clock on just one car, much more time than we will spend admiring their handiwork. Kira Mundhenk, apprentice at the Aston Martin restoration shop called Steel Wings in Pennsylvania, shared insight into the preparation associated with the events we eagerly anticipate this year.

What doesn’t the average car enthusiast appreciate about automotive restoration?

A complete restoration of a car takes years. Most of us have probably seen television restoration shows where things are somehow sped up into a few weeks of refreshing and maybe a quick paint job, but on a high-end restoration and especially one meant for a concours, no detail is too small.

Can you describe something you did to illustrate the level of detail that goes into a good restoration project?

Even once a car is completed mechanically, there is still so much work to be done. First there’s a run of very careful test driving, and then the car has to be aesthetically prepared. The car receives a final buff to bring the paint as close as to perfection as possible before the event, and then a very careful detailing. To prepare a car for buffing, I use a clay bar to remove any possible overspray or impurities, and then it needs to be taped and masked off to minimize the cleanup after the buffing. The more eyes on the details of the car before it hits the lawn, the better, so while I work, I check for anything that had been missed and re-polish the trim and exhaust pipes.

Is the automotive restoration process done then?

No. After the final buffing process, you still need to spend likely a whole day doing a thorough detail of the underside of the car. Unless you’re competing in a preservation class, a meticulously clean car will show better, and it is yet another chance to look everything over and make sure that nothing was missed.
The entire process of actually readying a car — as well as the supplies that travel with it — takes weeks. I have a lot of respect for professional detailers, because no matter how beautiful the car is it is exhausting to stare at the same small area for an hour, but the final results absolutely make the work worth it.

How much does a restoration mechanic need to know about car shows?

Having one of our cars head to Pebble Beach last year made me very curious about the judging criteria for the largest events and I ended up doing a good bit of research about it on my own. The standard 100-point scoring card is relatively easy to find online, but it goes well beyond that. After the judges have finished that initial scoring, they still have a potential three points to add to each car for things like historical importance, elegance, field presence, color, etc.
This means that while the work of the restorer is absolutely crucial, the car itself makes a pretty large impact on the final judging. We need to be aware of anything that could lower the initial score, and while many of the cars that we work on are not going to be heading to a Concours event it’s still important to bring them to the highest possible level for their purpose.

What are you hoping for in 2022?

I hope to have the opportunity to visit more car shows myself this following year so that I can work on honing my eye to see what the judges see. I will still always just enjoy seeing a diverse range of automotive history. I enjoy taking my dog along with me when they happen to be pet friendly. Whether or not you ever enter a car in a show, they’re a fantastic opportunity to make new friends, network with local shops and specialists, and enjoy the good weather!

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