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Question for Professional Builders: How Much Money do You Put into Your Cars?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by BOHICA, Mar 20, 2013.

    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    Couldn't make the title long enough for my actual question, which is where do you draw the line at how much money you sink into one of your own builds?

    Before anyone says building your own projects to flip is a losing proposition, I completely agree. I'm working on getting a hot rod shop started up, but need to get some builds under my belt before I start hawking my skills. And, ideally I'll first apprentice for someone else for a while, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that I don't.

    I got a '54 F-100 from my boss, and actually got a really good deal on it, but it still needs probably $3000-4000 in parts put into it. I can probably pare that down some once I find out whether it needs a whole floor or just some small patches, but it still needs all of the glass, a new wiring harness, etc. I'm also setting aside ~$1000 for tires and wheels so it doesn't look like something that was just thrown together when I go to sell it.

    My concern is knowing how much these trucks are going for, which I can't put a finger on. I can't afford to paint it after buying parts, so as much as I hate to, I'll have to dress up the frame, under the hood, and as much of the interior as I can while leaving the truck unpainted. All I have to go by are eBay finished auctions, and they're all over the place. Anywhere from $5000-$10,000 or sometimes more. Obviously, the more money I can get out of it, the better since it's going back into tools, but I just want to make sure I don't really overshoot the value and get $5000 out of a truck I have $7000 in, not counting labor.

    So, how do you guys plan out the cost and return of your projects? If I didn't need the experience, the best course of action would be to try and get it running in its stock form (I'm putting a Cadillac 500 in it) and resell it, but I need the experience more than a few hundred dollars I would make off of flipping it.
  2. lowsquire
    Joined: Feb 21, 2002
    Posts: 2,564

    from Austin, TX


    This car cost me about $65,000.00 . if I charged myself labour, then about double that.

    Its been a really good business card. If you are doing up cars to flip, that is nothing like showcasing your skills. The two things are totally different. One is a profit making exersize and the other is a business marketing expense. dont get em confused.

    you have to pamper to the market to get maximum returns, and honestly most people wouldnt know good workmanship in an old car if it stuck a finger up their butt.
    I would do what you can, as cheap as you can..and make it LOOK good. thats all the market cares about at that price point.
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    Thanks, lowsquire. That's a good looking car. I do have one or two vehicles (see my sig) that I'll be building as rolling business cards when I have the time and more importantly the money. That was actually the reason I bought this truck - so I'd have a vehicle to build that I would be willing to part with. :)

    Of course, I'll be taking lots and lots of pictures and videos of the build. To show at any job interviews, but also to prove to any buyers that I actually do know what I'm doing. That's a really big issue in this area as there are a lot of "exshpurts," but few who truly have even a basic grasp of what they're doing. One of the nice things about working at a junkyard is having access to lots of used tires, so I'll be sure to make a good video of burning the back tires off until they pop. And you're definitely right about people not understanding quality craftsmanship. That's one of the worst things about the area I live in. People are so used to cobbling stuff together, they can't fathom why you would take the time to do something the right way, and they expect you to practically give your wares away.

    But anyways, my original point was that I agree with you on pampering to the market and that I need to do my part in marketing the truck when I can, which is the purpose of doing things like filming a burnout.
  4. trollst
    Joined: Jan 27, 2012
    Posts: 1,949


    I can and do usually build for under ten thousand, got thirteen in my 36 ford pickup, its appraised at $36500.00, been offered more than forty more than once.
    My current car, a 28 chrysler coupe should come in around eight thousand, not counting my hours, would be double that, If I sold it I'd hope for around twenty thousand. The big thing is to not build out of the back of a magazine, you'll go broke, learn what you can do with stock parts, what goes with what, its an education. I agree with lowsqire, most people won't know a good car from a bad one if they're painted up nice, you're going to have to sell your skills. Spend time on the net, look for what 54-56 fords are selling for, one year the market will be good, the next year crap, always remember that a hot rod business moves on after tax dollars, when the economy suffers, so do after tax dollars, you'll be the first to feel the effects.
    Good luck.
    Check me out at
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2013

  5. scottybaccus
    Joined: Mar 13, 2006
    Posts: 4,109


    I have a hotrod AD truck in progress with a budget of about $15k in materials. It's for my brother, so it's hard to price the labor.

    I am working working with another from a different shop that has $125k, or so, already invested.

    I've worked on some in the past ranging from $10k to $250k. It depends on the objective of the customer. It takes a tremendous amount of planning to do a full bore custom build. It is cheaper to use a cookie cutter approach with a basic recipe of chassis/suspension/power combinations, then lightly customize it for the individual.

    It depends on if you are building a cool car that they will be content to put their own little stamp on, or if you are trying to fulfill a life long dream and grand vision.
  6. metalman
    Joined: Dec 30, 2006
    Posts: 3,279


    Hmmm, I've built and flipped old cars all my life and most the time I make a few bucks at it, sometimes I've only bought myself a job (broke even counting my labor) and loss some on a few. Overall, I've made money at it so I'll argue you can't build a car and make any money!
    What I've learned is buy what is popular. After stuggling to sell a really nice Olds I had my wife told me I can only buy old Fords! My formula is to buy the best car I can afford, labor is often the biggest expense so I stay away from rusty cars or anything that will take up a lot of time, particularly body work, a big killer. If you can afford it, paying a couple thousand more for a nice project is better then buying one cheap if it needs $4000 worth of bodywork. I also pay attention to big tickit parts that don't really add to the value, I really follow the kiss theory. Good, solid, well built and preety is what sells, 850 hp does not when you figure what that cost to do. Hope that makes sense.
    Best luck I have is buying someones project they are bailing on as long as they arn't screwed up. A lot of the time you can get a car with lots of new parts for a fraction of the cost. We recently bought a straight, rust free 65 Falcon HT off of Ebay. Came with brand new fiberglass hood, fenders, doors, deck and bumpers ($2600). Also a Hieght's Mustang II front end ($1500), a Currie 9" with discs and 3.73 posi pumpkin ($3000) , $800 of new rims and a bunch of miscellanious new parts like a fuel cell, all new weatherstipping, new interior stuff. All told around $9000 in new parts, all still in the boxes. We bought the car for $4500. Gives us one heck of a head start on building it and coming in below market value. Not a fluke, we buy cars like this all the time. They are out there.
    Your on the right track with the F-100 it seems, these trucks have always been popular so they demand decent prices. I like your willing to detail it out and nice rims and tires are important. It would be nice if you could afford to paint it but even in primer it's sellable and for decent money as long as it runs and drives well and well DETAILED. Lot of difference ($$$) selling a nice truck that needs paint or selling one that is percieved as a project truck. FWIW a SBC or SBF would be more sellable then that big Caddy,got to appeal to the masses you know.
    To answer your original questain if I were building a 55 F100 to flip I'd budget $25K counting purchase price, parts and labor as long as I wasn't too worried about profit. Be tight but it could be done including paint and some money generating features like independent suspension and A/C. Watch the auctions, nice trucks like that bring 25K preety easy, sometime quite a bit more (3 years ago they were bring 45k but the market got flooded because the were bringing big money). I realize that might not be doable right now for you but start somewhere. I started with cheap cars, hoping to make a couple hundred. I kept flipping the money to another better one, right now my flippers are in the $25 to 50k range hoping to make 10K on them (last 2 we sold was a 40 Ford, had 30 in it, sold for 35 and a 64 Ranchero, had 14 in it, sold it for 26:) and I hope to keep moving up, someday I hope to sell one for a 100K.
  7. metalman
    Joined: Dec 30, 2006
    Posts: 3,279


    Oh yeah, one more thing. Forget E-bay to try and figure out what a car is worth. IMHO cars NEVER sell for what they are worth on ebay. I go to the big auction sites like Barrett-Jackson & Mecum and look at their completed sales. I know a lot of people hate them but real world prices are there for cars that HAVE sold in the current market. Just remember you have to subtract the auction fees out of the price to get the actual sellers in pocket price, with B-J subtract about 20%, Mecum is probably the same.
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    I'll post more tomorrow, but I just wanted to say thanks, guys. Your posts have actually been pretty encouraging. Trying to get a start in this business, I'm sure you can appreciate how nice it is to hear something heartening for a change.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  9. joee
    Joined: Oct 9, 2009
    Posts: 472


    one thing I would not do is buy a car from a "builder" who beat the piss out of the car by smokin the tires till they blow......
  10. nowhereman
    Joined: Oct 16, 2011
    Posts: 111

    from illinois

    good thoughts here
  11. rdscotty
    Joined: Sep 24, 2008
    Posts: 192

    from red deer

    These two sentences contradict each other.

    I agree with joee, I would not even call about the vehicle if I saw this.
  12. Dane
    Joined: May 6, 2010
    Posts: 1,351

    from Soquel, CA

    As much as it takes to make them look and drive how I like em. Since I build cars for friends to make money to build my own cars it just takes time. The wifey knows a hubby with a Hot Rod is a happy hubby helps too.
  13. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,445

    Rusty O'Toole

    I worked for a very smart shop owner one time. He tried building cars to sell but never made much money on them. So he developed a new strategy.

    If he found a good deal on an old car he would put it out front for sale for a reasonable price, untouched. Sell it to someone then get the job of fixing it up for them, on a time and materials basis. Either that, or so much for the engine, so much for the paint job, and so on.

    He ended up making a lot more money, plus he got paid up front for the car and got paid every week for the work (or the work stopped) and he did not have to pay for everything and finish the car before he got a payday.

    The customers were happy because they could afford to buy the car then put more money into it little by little, they did not have to come up with a huge wad of cash all at once. And, they could have the car exactly as they wanted it.

    It worked out very well. If I had a shop I would do it that way.
  14. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,445

    Rusty O'Toole

    To PARTLY fix up a vehicle and then try to sell it, is a sure way to lose money. No way will anyone pay what the vehicle was worth + what you spent in parts, material and labor. You can do $1000 worth of work and raise the value a couple hundred bux if you are lucky.

    Wash it off and tidy it up as well as possible. Price it at what it is worth right now. Hopefully enough for you to make a profit. Be reasonable, don't try to make a big rake off. Put it in front of your shop with a for sale sign and the price on it. It will draw lookers into your shop, let people know what kind of vehicles you work on, you will sell it and if you play your cards right there is a good chance you will get paid to do the work on it.
  15. i try not to add it up, i just think about how much fun i have doing it. funny thing one of the guys i work with brought this up 2 weeks ago and said he spent $16000 on his s/10 blazer one other guy said is it even worth that much when your done he said no but i love my truck LOL
  16. BOHICA
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    Thanks. Unfortunately, I'll only have about $7000 to put into parts and labor. Possibly more if my boss lets me use his shop to work in and I don't have to buy an air compressor and welder right off the bat. The flip side of that is being in a junkyard, I've got easy access to a lot of the parts I need and can buy a lot of the new things I'll need for cheaper than usual.

    We've got a few Jaguars, so I'm putting IFS and IRS underneath it. If there are no surprises (yeah, when has that ever not happened...), it's going to cost about $2000 for glass, sheetmetal, body seals, etc. Throw in another $1000 for tires/wheels, another $1000 (probably closer to $2000) for a tilt steering column, heater, driveshaft, any engine work, radiator, and all the little, unforeseen nickel and dime stuff, and I'm at $4000-$5000. And, I haven't even touched the interior or paint yet. That's why I'm thinking that I'll keep the exterior rough looking and paint the interior to give it a nice contrast with the rest of the body.

    I'll concede that I may be completely off base about using that as a tool to sell the truck, but one prolonged burnout in a warmed up, high torque/low RPM engine is hardly beating the piss out of something.
  17. BOHICA
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    And since everybody likes pictures...

    It's really not as rough as it looks. I've got a good F-600 hood and fenders I'm getting with it, but if I'm not painting it, I'd just as soon sell the good hood and fenders (and not have to worry about cutting them down to fit the F-100) and leave the originals on the truck. The biggest thing that bothers me about leaving it unpainted is it just doesn't have any patina. Someone did a poor, half job with some rattlecan primer and just left it. Except for how long it would take, I'm tempted to strip it with a wheel and/or chemicals and leave it bare metal to at least look more like the hood.

  18. BuiltFerComfort
    Joined: Jan 24, 2007
    Posts: 1,620


    As above, SBF or SBC would be better than the 500 Caddy - gas prices being what they are - for a normal pickup. If you are building a something to tow with, that's different.

    Don't forget A/C - especially in TN. Hopefully you can find an under-dash unit in your yard there to put in. Or adapt a whole working unit for heat/ac from something else (from an S-10 sized truck perhaps?)

    If it was me, I'd shoot for: disc brakes (the Jag front end would be fine - go for power steering too), a redone bed (wood or metal), a straight body, doors that open and close well (and lock), comfy seats (that adjust some, people are bigger now), a vinyl floor, a cleaned-up engine bay, a cheap stereo, primer paint. That way it's a safe driver, quite basic, lacking only a paint job. And the next owner wouldn't have to redo anything, they could add carpet, paint, whatever -- or just drive as is.
  19. badshifter
    Joined: Apr 28, 2006
    Posts: 3,298


    You're going to strip a truck to bare metal so it's rusty like the hood, then film it doing burn outs to attract customers?

    What type of business are you planning on starting?
  20. BOHICA
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    :rolleyes: You can make anything sound bad when you take it out of context.

    In my opinion, and yes it's just an opinion, the truck looks kinda like crap the way it sits. Somebody did a half @$$ job with a primer spray bomb on the truck. None of the panels are even close to matching, not to mention how many times I've seen someone use primer to cover up a piss poor bondo job or crappy work. Like we were discussing in Leave it or Prime it? What's better?, people will shoot a vehicle in primer just to hide stuff and try and make it look better. A lot of people, myself included, will steer clear of one that's just been primered because of that. So, even if I am able afford shooting the truck in primer, I won't unless I can paint it as well. That leaves: 1) leaving it as-is, 2) spray painting the entire truck, 3) at least sanding off the gray primer. None of the options appeal to me, and I doubt that I will sand it down, but I hate the uneven, half @$$ look of it. If it were original paint, it would be one thing, but it's not.

    ETA: I don't know, maybe even a cheap, roll-on paint job or something I can do myself and then sand down to make it look worn (or not) might work. All I know is I just don't think it looks right the way it is.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  21. There was an older fellow here, had a one man body shop for many
    years... Would go find some interesting old car.....sometimes would
    also buy a good running, but not valuable car of the same brand....then
    put the nifty body onto the good undercarriage. Once he had the body
    work done, he would primer it. His saying was that the buyer could
    then envision the car in their favorite color (which they would presumably
    paint it after purchase.) He sold those darn things right along over the

    His other favorite thing was to make an "El Camino" type pickup from
    a car. Would buy a bed of the style desired and basically set it on the
    chopped off car....make or graft a rear window area.....then would
    actually finish it up and drive it for a shop truck. It seems like
    someone would eventually come along who thought it was cool....and
    buy it. I called them names like "El Cadillac", "El Oldsmobile" etc.

    So, sometimes you can inject your own unique ideas and if done
    reasonably well....someone will eventually like the result and take
    it off your hands. I don't think his cost was all that much on
    some stuff......probably more than I realized on others.

    Good luck in your venture.
  22. PackardV8
    Joined: Jun 7, 2007
    Posts: 890


    You gotta learn somewhere, sometime and patience is the thing in shortest supply when one is young, full of enthusiasm. However, fifty years of experience looking at that truck says RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY! I pass up better projects for cheap money every couple of weeks. Choose a loser for your first try and it can sour you on building as a career. Your results may vary.

    jack vines
  23. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 9,445

    Rusty O'Toole

    How about: clean out the trash, bolt the hood and running boards on, pump up the tires and sell it for $1000 - $1500? Then get paid $10,000 to fix it up @ $500 a week?
  24. falconsprint63
    Joined: May 17, 2007
    Posts: 2,359

    from Mayberry

    metalman had lots of good things to say.

    I'll be honest, it sounds like you're overly ambitions and under capitalized on this particular project--especailly if you want to flip it.

    if you've got no welder and no air compressor you're already way behind the eight ball in terms of ever hoping to recover your labor (I'm thinking back to when I started doing bodywork and my dad made me work with hand tools for several months before he let me pick up an air/power tool--worlds of difference and a dramatic change in productivity). That said there's no substitute for practice.

    Personally, I'd seriously consider investing part of your money in the tools you need to do the job.

    you do have the advantage of a yard at your disposal. I'm not sure on the earlier model trucks, but the 60-04 ish the crown vic sub is almost a direct bolt in upgrade. look at the econoline vans for the rear heat/air unit--they work great for trucks.

    as for the paint issue,I'm going to be strung up when I say this, but do the prep yourself and then take it to Maaco or Peach or whatever. their $250 paint jobs can look decent as long as you've done a good job on prep. the prep work is where they stick it to you pricewise--avoid the upsells. You can't buy the materials to paint it yourself for $250.

    I too agree that you should start with the best car you can. major work should be left for paying customers to pay for. time is money
  25. I'm a long way away. But that trucks looks like a lotta work to get to a stage where it would be attractive to a customer or a tool to advertise what you can do.

    Depending on what you plan as the type of work for your business. I'd be looking for something a little better to begin with.

    We have one of these trucks in the shop at present, a lot better than that one to begin with for a customer.

    The Jag front end is an easy fit, but the tracks a little narrow. A jag rear is possible but it's not as straight forward as the front conversion.

    If you want to do a cheap, cool affordable project try something like a 30's truck cab, fabbed rails, SBC or Ford, Auto, four link or hair pin rear end and live axle and a beam axle out front with any grill shell and a shortie pick up bed.

    Not much body work to dal with. The parts are avaialble inside you budget, and done right there's plenty of impact as well.

    Mark Shearer
    Car Guy's Garage

    PS Shop projects, never built one to sell it just for myself so how much it was worth in the end wasn't a consideration.
  26. BOHICA
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 345


    I really appreciate everyone's replies. Right now I'll just respond to this before I go to bed.

    I agree with you on the tools. I've actually set aside half of the money I should have saved up at the end of the year for tools and the other half for building this truck. So, even though I haven't mentioned it, I have about $7000 budgeted for tools. That's what I meant when I said if my boss lets me use his shop, I won't need a compressor, and maybe not even a welder starting off, so I can dip into that fund for a paint job if I so decide.

    Ideally, I build this truck and sell it for a profit or at least come close to breaking even, turn around and pour the money I got out of it back into any other tools I have to have and save the rest for other expenses. At the end of the day, I have a well-equipped shop and a little bit more experience under my belt.

    Ideally. ;)
  27. metalman
    Joined: Dec 30, 2006
    Posts: 3,279


    Whoa. I hate to pop your bubble but IMHO there is no way to get around bodywork on that truck, it's rough, it's ugly and it's rusty. I'm not trying to be mean here but that truck is a sink hole. You sink all the work and money you decribed above, trying to sell it I would think you would be real lucky just to get your parts money out of it. Without doing anything to the body, it will scream pos. Can't say for your area but around here that is a parts truck/ junkyard fodder, adding some nice parts would mean it's a better parts truck!
    You admit you hate the way it looks and can't afford to do anything to fix that. If you hate the way it looks do you think your buyers will feel any different? Maybe you should look for a better project to start with?
    My first post I said I avoid any project that require a bunch of bodywork or rust repair, the labor involved is a deal killer. Sorry, but your truck is exactly what I was reffering to, I see no way that it would be finacially feasable to take that one on without losing money on it. It would be ok if you liked it and wanted to keep it (build it as a hobby like a lot of guys do on here) but thats not your intent according to your op.
    FWIW I don't think the cheap, roll on fake patina will help. We have a guy around here that builds trucks and his trademark is fake patina. Not my cup of tea but they really look convensing and their popular, he gets good money for them... but. He does the bodywork first , then the paint job and really, it's as much work if not more then a normal paint job. Without doing bodywork the truck you have the fake patina really wouldn't hide anything.
  28. metalman
    Joined: Dec 30, 2006
    Posts: 3,279


    I'm going to throw this out for example and again I realize things might be different in your area rather then our dry SW.
    This 54 is in our warehouse waiting it's turn. We bought it awhile back, it's the type of project we seek out. Runs and drives with stock original drivetrain (motor recently rebuilt), absolutely zero rust, cheap paint over ametuer body work but you can tell it all minor stuff other then it needs a tailgate and bed front. Good glass all around. We got it for $2500.
    You never said what you have to pay for the one you are showing but even if yours was free can you not see this one has a $2500 advantage?
    FWIW here the rough build budget on this truck. Purchase, $2500, Body off (show) paint job, $10000. Rebuild suspension, brakes ect (motor & tranny already done), $5000. Repop interior kit, $1000 Add another $1500 for tires and misc. These prices are parts AND labor. Since this truck is so stock and all there it will be a stock restoration instead of custom. Grand total is 20k. Restored trucks like this have been selling at auction for around 25/35K (average 30K) lately, down from the 45K they were bringing a couple years ago. Still, even with a soft market still doable and make a few bucks. Might seem to some to be high on the paint and body but that is by far what make vehicals like this bring top dollar more than anything you do.
  29. chopolds
    Joined: Oct 22, 2001
    Posts: 5,877

    from howell, nj
    1. Kustom Painters

    Sorry dude, but your beginning to sound like a half assed rat rod builder.
    At this point, your labor is all you've got. Be smart about buying/trading for parts to put a project together (donor cars help a lot!). Put a lot of your labor into a better project than that truck, and sell it off, to buy your own tools, compressor, welder. Then build a really nice car for yourself, and drive it around to shows, cruise nights, etc. Talk to people. If your work is good, you'll get some bites on doing more work. Keep doing good work and you'll get a good reptation, and even more work.
    That's the honest way to make it in this hobby.
  30. Rat.Racer
    Joined: Mar 11, 2013
    Posts: 417

    from Maryland

    It all depends on what you want to do. There are people on the HAMB that build cars around hood ornaments for a reasonable price, not a rat rod, but a traditional rod. Your budget should depend solely on what you want to do and get out of the project. I rebuilt a '72 90cc Kawasaki (that was given to me) as a starter project before I jumped into a truck, so I bought tools, made contacts, learned, and in the course of everything, fixed my little bike up to cruise around in. I put as much money into it as it took and then some that I didn't tally. I had money to pay my bills and feed my family and still work on the bike. But you can't put a price on learning etc. I didn't have a budget, but I made smart decisions and saved little by little for things when I needed to. Are you getting this truck for free or paying for it?

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