Shop gives modern makeovers to classic cars – USA TODAY
SIGNAL HILL, Calif. — It’s hard to resist taking a close look at the cars parked around Scott Bonowski’s shop. Often, though, what he finds beneath the sheet metal isn’t as pretty.
As beautiful as these classic cars are on the outside, their outdated braking systems, engines and suspensions and their lack of electronics can make them uncomfortable or downright unsafe to drive on a regular basis.
That’s where Bonowski comes in. At Hot Rods and Hobbies in this mostly industrial enclave south of Los Angeles, Bonowski takes old cars and restores them to perfection based on their owner’s preferences, usually incorporating modern components. The result is the best of both worlds: the nostalgia of the original classic car combined with the safety, comfort and reliability of modern parts — items such as power disc brakes and power steering, low-polluting fuel-injected engines, air conditioning and independent-rear suspension.
They are so-called restomods, cars restored with modern parts rather than taking them back to their original condition, like when they left the factory.
It’s a process that’s not without controversy. To some collectors, switching out original components for updated, improved ones is sacrilege. Not to Bonowski. “Some of these cars don’t have much value anyway,” he says. “Some (owners) didn’t like the old pile that could barely make it up the hill.”
With updated components, the restored cars are tough enough to withstand the daily grind of commuting, he says. And they’re less likely to break down.
Bonowski started off with a paint and detailing shop for finicky owners in 1989. Then, he says, owners would ask him to fix a dent before painting. The requests started to escalate. How about new chrome or glass? Or swapping out an engine? Before long, he says he found himself in the full restoration business.
In the early days, Bonowski says he dealt mainly with owners of exotic sports cars. “The hot-rod guys didn’t have the money back then,” he explains. Now, they do. His shop is crammed with old cars of all sorts. Recently, for instance, the array of cars ranged from a 1937 Ford to a 1964 Jaguar.
Pricing depends on what an owner wants done. “Sky’s the limit,” he says. Paint jobs start at $25,000 and up. A full restoration can cost $175,000 and take up to three years. The most expensive ever was a $560,000 for a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country.
For owners who find themselves a little short on cash, they have plenty of time to save money: The waiting list to just get a car into hot Rods and Hobbies currently stands at about 18 months.