I had a paid telephone consultation with a client yesterday to discuss market trends for classic car unfinished projects. Having sold his LHD early Porsche 911 in an online auction earlier this year – as per my advice – he was in the market for another classic and looking at early Austin-Healeys. We discussed two unfinished projects he had found in the UK and talked through some of my impressions of this sector of the market. It was a good conversation that left him quite motivated.

Unfinished projects are not for everyone. Perhaps the most important thing to start out with is a timeline: how long do you expect the project to take to complete? This is particularly true when you are buying to finish and sell for a profit, as time is often what dictates the cost. The next most important thing to have might be a well-equipped workshop at your property, or a trusted workshop who have previously done work for you and who you know have a slot for your project. If a budget is important, they not be doing all the work, just the stuff that you cannot do, such as paintwork.

Note that unfinished projects are not the same as cars where the owner has decided not to restore. Unfinished projects are part-stripped, in the process of being rebuilt. Classic cars needing a full strip and rebuild are not unfinished projects; just because the previous owner did not restore does not make them unfinished. They are unstarted!

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Why consider classic car unfinished projects?

Unfinished projects are usually sold in a partly completed state because the owner has run out of steam or encountered a major life event. These cars have stretched their ability or tested their resilience, and broken it. perhaps because they ran out of money, or their partner stopped supporting their vision and tightened the purse strings, or something else entered their life that was more inspiring, or they realised life was passing them by and the joy had disappeared from this car restoration, or they were ripped off by a previous workshop and lost interest.

There are endless reasons why restoration projects become unfinished projects and the same reasons can affect serial owners. That said, unfinished projects appeal to many people, for reasons that might include:

    • The vehicle is a rare model in a raw state that can be finished to your perfect colours and specification

    • The previous owner has done much of the hard work

    • The structure of the body may be in pieces and can be inspected in much greater depth

    • Sourcing a car like this would take often time and cost money in failed inspections etc

    • Buying a car with work to do can mean bigger profits at sale if you can do the work yourself

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Personally, I enjoy unfinished projects and have bought quite a few down the years. Being totally honest, they have usually been sold on in an unfinished state: I find it hard to turn a bargain down, but the reality of restoring unfinished projects is that maintaining focus on these projects is challenging and it does not always fit comfortably with raising a family and building two businesses, as has been the story of my life for the last twenty years.

Retirement is a different story and unfinished projects can work well for retired people who like to keep busy. Buying an unfinished project in retirement – particularly cars one may have owned in youth – can be a way to imense satisfaction. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering unfinished projects for sale.

    1. How much history is known? History is story and story is profit so try to buy something with plenty of history.

    1. How rare is the model in the UK? Carefully balance any premium for rarity against the cost to complete the project.

    1. How complete is the car? Have a careful look through the boxes of parts and note things that may be missing, Older cars have rare trim pieces or complex carburettors that are no longer available. Even some of the screws can be unique, so try to buy a project where parts have been carefully bagged and labelled.

    1. What is your history with unfinished projects? If you have previously sold cars when big bills were looming you may not have the constitution for unfinished projects. Be very honest here.

At the end of the day, buying into the romance of unfinished projects has to make some sense financially. I’ve valued too many cars where someone spent £150k or more restoring a car that was worth under £100k. Stay in your wise mind and look at the numbers, not the romantic picture that the seller paints. If buyers go along with everything a seller says, they will overpay for unfinished projects and financial pain is then guaranteed. It is not a buyer’s job to pay for their mistakes and the price should not be not a percentage of their expenditure. Pay what you think it is worth in the state it is in and remember that any profit is made when you buy a car. Don’t expect to restore cars on the cheap – this is usually what creates unfinished projects.

Are you thinking of buying an unfinished project? Book a call with me or commission a market value report for an unvarnished reality check! Note that I also value classic car unfinished projects for divorce, probate and HMRC import.

Photos by Unsplash – Artist credits in titles