Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

According to the statistics, a new car’s life expectancy is four years. But many canny people give their old cars a new life, especially when their rides are classics that can net them impressive returns.

“A classic vehicle is a great way of investing in an asset and it is an asset that is easily moveable,” says Louw du Toit, co-owner of Fuelcustoms, a Johannesburg-based car restoration company.

Potential buyers — or “purists”, as Du Toit calls them — will demand a car in good shape. Most owners try to keep their cars in a good shape, but the older a vehicle gets and the more mileage it accumulates, the more it becomes a candidate for restoration.

But restoration work has to be done in a way that’s acceptable to purists, says Du Toit. This can only be achieved by the materials used and the quality of the engineers’ expertise.

While a classic car might maintain its shiny exterior, an owner might want to upgrade its performance. Such a car will benefit from getting a makeover with “modern underpinnings”, says Du Toit.

You have to understand how 50 years’ worth of atmospheric abuse affects the paint and materials on the vehicle. It’s important to understand where you’re taking your car
Louw du Toit
Co-owner of Fuelcustoms

“A specific focus has been taking classic vehicles and giving them modern underpinnings so that the cool factor of a classic vehicle is kept, with the user-friendly nature of a modern vehicle,” he says.

“Imagine a Volkswagen Beetle with a modern engine, producing three times its normal power, with disc brakes all round, air-conditioning and hand-stitched leather interior with matte black spray job.”

Car customisation is not limited to owners of classic cars. Individualised upholstery is a big thing too, such as camouflage patterns for army enthusiasts.

Modern car owners generally come for “cosmetic changes” such as fixing minor marks and scratches, Du Toit says. He finds classic car owners tend to be more adventurous. “People tend to play a lot more with a classic car,” he says. “If they’re going to restore a vehicle, they’re changing the colour and they’re setting it up in a way that suits them. They’ll change the engines, make a handle or brake or look different or better.”

If a car is in for a complete restoration, back to “the way it left the factory”, Fuelcustoms engineers will strip it down, get new parts and make it as good as the day it was bought. But Du Toit says half their work comes from “supposed restorations” when another company either got stuck midrestoration or did not know where to get spares.

“The type of work that should be done on a classic car is completely different to spraying a modern car,” he says. “For instance, you have to be able to do metalwork. You have to be able to cut out rust. You have to understand how 50 years’ worth of atmospheric abuse affects the paint and materials on the vehicle. It’s important to understand where you’re taking your car.”

Du Toit is amazed at the rare classic cars that collectors have hidden in their garages. He loves getting to see and work on these rarities after the owners finally decide to bring them in for restoration.

“We’ve got collections in SA that are unbelievable. There are many collectors with 400 cars or more. And of these cars, there are one-off cars that you only see in SA. They’re worth amazing amounts of money.

“It is very interesting to deal with these customers and to see these cars. And it’s also very special to be able to restore something back to its former glory. Any classic vehicle puts a big smile on anyone’s face.”

People wanting car customisation are probably fuelled by the urge for their cars to be different from all others on the roads. The super-rich spend lavishly on their rides and enjoy owning cars other people cannot afford.

According to the website Odometer, Michael Dell owns a 2004 Porsche Boxster, which set him back $80,000. Larry Ellison owns a $4.1m McLaren F1. And Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, owns a Porsche 959 Coupé — a car owned by only 230 other very rich people in the world.

Uncharacteristic of the super-rich, Warren Buffett bought a $45,000 Cadillac XTS in 2014. According to CNBC, Buffett upgraded from his 2006 DTS model only after his daughter told him that it was an embarrassment. The late furniture mogul Ingvar Kamprad drove his battered 1993 Volvo well into the early years of the 21st century.

Some people just like to keep their old cars.