Vehicle restoration means that old is new — again

Restorations are not new. People have been finding and fixing things for years but we’ve recently taken this concept to a different level. There are shows for almost anything. Shows where enthusiasts mix with curious show goers and have a pleasant day talking to old and new friends.

In addition, we have all watched auctions where the toys of our youth have been sold for thousands and millions of dollars.

(As an aside, comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder sold at auction for $5.3 million in 2016. In the late 1960s, a Saskatchewan couple had imported an identical Porsche 550 Spyder, raced it at Davidson, Sask., and other prairie airport tracks, and eventually sold it for $3,500.)

After the auctions, many potential enthusiasts have asked themselves if that John Deere in the back or the old horse-drawn mower out by the gate might be valuable.

It might be, but it also might cost more to fix than it’s worth. However, it may be priceless to the person or group that brings it back to life. That is what a restoration does. It restores the equipment of a bygone era. It restores the youth of those who do the work, if only briefly and only in their minds, and it passes knowledge of our past to a new generation.

Getting started in a restoration project is easy. All you need to do is have a piece of machinery that you’re not ever going to use again. You’ve probably put it in a line over by the trees where it isn’t in the way and you don’t have to look at it.

Next you need to learn everything there is to know about the equipment, including the value of the finished project, because you will most likely have to justify all the work and cost with more than “it’s fun and I want to do it.”

Restorations have taken on new life. At one time the most valuable were units that were considered original and looked like they just rolled off the showroom floor. Now that is just a restoration. An untouched machine, complete with rust, but with the mouse nests and other debris removed is the original.

One of the big questions that needs an answer is not about the actual parts that make it run, but the parts that make a project eye catching.

Yes, that would be the paint because farm equipment rarely comes with much chrome. The right paint can add to the good looks and your satisfaction in a job well done.

I met up with an enthusiast restorer, Ray Suchar of Saskatoon, who was showing his 1953 McCormick Standard. This tractor has been fully disassembled and restored using all IHC parts. The only outsourced parts came from Steiner Parts and that was the wiring looms made to factory specs. When we got around to talking about the shiny red paint, Suchar told me that the type of paint was not a concern. He left that up to the body shop. Suchar went on to say that the paint came from the IHC dealer.

At the same show, Chris Letourneau had his 1958 John Deere 620 on display. Letourneau Jr. was away from the display at the time I stopped by so I talked with his dad, Gord. The tractor went together in about six months with a little help from dad. Letourneau Sr. has been involved with about 30 restorations in the past 20 years and has seen huge changes in the way restorations are done and in the expectations that the owners have about the result of the project.

According to Gord Letourneau, who restored this 620 with his son, Chris, water-based paint isn’t as popular with farm machinery restorers because of the cost and considerably harsher operating environment for farm equipment. It is much more important to make sure that the correct parts are used. | Charles Renny photo

Letourneau Sr. said the 620 was as close to original as possible and every part was “the correct part.” Some parts are just not available from the dealer. Then Letourneau Sr. commented that even John Deere “original” parts had been outsourced at the time of production because John Deere did not make all parts for a tractor.

That was a cue to ask about paint. The paint is not 1958, but a modern base coat/clear coat paint that matches the shade of the colour for 1958 John Deere paint. Most people do not realize that the shade of green that everyone thinks of as “John Deere Green” has changed over the years, as have paint suppliers to John Deere. In today’s competitive environment, every paint company can blend up John Deere paint colours including the new water-based paints.

Water-based paint isn’t as popular with farm machinery restorers because of the cost and considerably harsher operating environment that farm equipment goes through when compared with the average automobile.

According to Letourneau Sr., the type of paint used on the restoration does not hurt the value of the completed project. It is much more important to make sure that the correct parts are used and the finished project is “better than when the unit came off the showroom floor.”

There you have the word from two restorers who use different methodology to get to the same end. The message is: do it right and pay attention to detail. Most of all, enjoy what you do.

Great paint doesn’t need to conceal; it can enhance. A good example is the 1948 International KB1 owned by the Camrose, Alta., Firefighters Association. It covers the quarter mile in 11.3 seconds at almost 120 m.p.h. It’s powered by a 468 cubic inch Chevrolet engine, which produces about 650 horsepower. | Charles Renny photo

Charles Renny is a Canadian professional automotive reviewer.

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