How a Passion for Collector Cars Shapes a Career
Marissa Simos, marketing director at Automotive Restorations, Inc., talks about how her passion for collector cars has shaped her long-term goals and her thoughts on the educational opportunities for those who want to join her in the field.
Educational Opportunities in the Collector Car Field
You can argue that the classic car industry is a niche within the automotive industry; but you have to admit that the classic car category takes up a large footprint of the industry, whether you are referring to repair, restoration, sales, or parts manufacturing. However, when I was going to school and learning what I might like or what I wanted to do for a living, I didn’t get a large sense of that sector of the industry. A lot of the information I could get seemed ambiguous, or that you had to know someone to get into the classic car field.
Determined to find a way to be surrounded by these amazing cars and this industry, I found myself combining my love for automotive with my love for design and marketing.
I watched my older brother go to trade school and begin working as a technician. Not having the opportunity to join the restoration industry and learn from a mentor, I saw him struggle through the daunting and mundane work of everyday commuter car brake jobs and alignments. While I enjoyed bonding with my brother over cars growing up, there just didn’t seem to be as many educational opportunities for this field as there were for other career choices. The chance to learn restoration skills or how to engineer and fabricate components for cars just wasn’t an exposed educational path. You could watch Gas Monkeys on TV, but no one explained how to get there if that’s the work you wanted to do. I think that’s part of why future generations were turned away from the classic car field.
Determined to find a way to be surrounded by these amazing cars and this industry, I found myself combining my love for automotive with my love for design and marketing. I began working in this industry by volunteering at a local shop when I was 16 and, more or less, have stayed in the automotive industry since. I began to study graphic design and marketing once I was in college, and I feel lucky to have found an opportunity where I can share my skills in the collector car environment.
Carving Out a Career with Collector Cars
Currently, I am the marketing director for Automotive Restorations, Inc. My primary responsibilities are to write and post website content, photograph cars for sale or to document the progress of a restoration project, assist in sales, and manage our social media.
That work involves a lot of research. Of course, some of that is online, but we have a lot of information in-house since ARI has been operating since 1978. I am proud to say there is a lot of documentation here, and impressively, we do find ourselves meeting the same vehicle multiple times during its life cycle. The resources and information that come from those various time points is invaluable.
For example, I was able to go through the archive files to find work orders from 1993, when we did a light restoration on a 1965 Mustang Fastback. The paperwork and film photos form much of the story of the car. We’re grateful to have reliable, repeat customers over the decades. I think the cars are grateful, too.
However, there is also value in talking with the people who worked on the car all those years ago. Even when you read the documentation and understand everything written in work orders, previous sales listings, etc., that still won’t take the place of talking with someone who has personal, hands-on experience restoring that vehicle. Details always get lost. The information you can get person to person is something you can’t always get from a manual, a blog, or other paperwork.
I would go to car shows with my dad and learn as much as I could to distinguish features from various marques and manufacturers, grasping an understanding of each era.
I was able to talk with some of the original restoration techs about the Mustang and how the upholstery and wood veneer they used were applied, and how the decision to use these materials came to fruition. You can’t just Google that information because Google wasn’t used and the choice/reasoning wasn’t significant enough at that time to document. It was a decision and an experiment made during a discussion that would otherwise be unknown, had I not asked for the story. With countless other stories like this, I feel a huge amount of technical knowledge would be lost if we didn’t have access to people with a career’s worth of previous experience and knowledge. There is something to be said about the pricelessness of learned trades, and fine craft. These skills transcend into countless other aspects of life.
What’s Old is New Again
I see most of what I do as bringing something old and of quality to the masses and making it relevant again. If someone learns something because of it, or becomes inspired to learn, then I did something beneficial. For example, when I uploaded our vintage racing race schedule for 2022, I wondered how someone my age would normally find out about the VSCCA, HSR, SVRA, or other races if they don’t already know about them. That’s what I try to keep in mind as I work, so I can aim to increase awareness and make them more accessible so they don’t disappear.
Looking to the Future of Education Relevant to Collector Cars
My passion started as early on as I could remember. My parents had their fair share of Mustangs, and I would listen to countless stories of those cars as we would go through old 35mm film photos of my parents and their cars in their heyday. Simultaneously, my brother and I grew up with movies like the Fast and Furious and games like Need for Speed. Automotive pop culture resonated with us and we bonded over our shared hobby. Countless nights were spent helping our dad in the garage as we grew up, and later working on my brother’s 1988 Mustang, as well as my 1984 300ZX shortly thereafter.
I wish I was 10 years younger and could benefit from the Piston Foundation’s work.
I would go to car shows with my dad and learn as much as I could to distinguish features from various marques and manufacturers, grasping an understanding of each era. People would notice a young girl describing these things, and often talk to my dad. I was just motivated to continue learning. I see cars as an expression of self. They are moving sculptures that also serve a purpose, similar to clothes and fashion. Many eras of classic cars are filled with artful techniques and design, no expense spared manufacturing techniques, and long-lasting, high-quality materials, etc. I think it’d be a shame if they were something that could be lost someday. They are a representation of technology, and human skill that is crucial to the understanding of our history for the future generations.
I wish I was 10 years younger and could benefit from the Piston Foundation’s work. I definitely don’t have regrets about how I came into this industry, and I’m incredibly thankful for what I’m doing. But I do wonder what I would be doing today if I had come from a different angle. Would I be an engine builder and machinist? As the daughter of an engineer and being someone who loves quirky engines and the tactile mechanics of their workings, I would have loved to be putting engines on the dyno, bringing historic race cars and builds back to life. This is one of those careers where you need an apprenticeship and mentors to complement coursework. It takes years of experience, trial and error, to know what tolerances to work within, and what manufacturers provide the best solution for each scenario. Most people don’t know that’s a really cool way of being involved in this industry and how different the work is from being a traditional mechanic. I think it’s essential to get young people into this field as soon as possible, so the torch can be carried onward.
Marissa Simos on Instagram: @marrisasimos