Restorers of classic cars (either for a hobby or a profit) are noted for a meticulous attention to detail. An accurate, correct restoration will require original parts; nothing else will do. The parts for pre-1980 American iron have been getting tougher and tougher to acquire for a number of years now. While the parts networks for owner’s clubs (as well as eBay) have helped out in running down some parts, just imagine trying to run down an alternator or fuel pump for a ’61 Pontiac, or the correct windshield wiper, heater and radio knobs for a ’64 Olds Holiday 88. In some respects, the enthusiasts for long-dead makers like Packard, Studebaker, Hudson or Kaiser almost have it easier; the owners’ clubs have parts networks in place that can help greatly in tracking down scarce miscellaneous parts for those equally scarce cars.
Most of that Detroit iron went off to the crushers years ago, with salvage yard operators preferring to clear out real estate and realize more money from the scrap value of the cars rather than selling them part by part. And as the years wear on, four-doors, station wagons and pickup trucks become more desirable as their muscle-car; convertible and muscle car brethren are already in the hands of collectors and restorers.
It’s a boon for the classic car completist that some salvage yards are there to serve their specific needs, with acres and acres of cars and trucks from the 50s, 60s and 70s in various stages of repair. Some yards will sell an entire car in fully-restored, rolling-chassis or partially restored condition. Other cars might be parted out piece by piece, or the entire carcass might be sold in partial, unrestorable state.
The dry, arid climates of southwestern states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona make it much easier to find cars that don’t suffer from body, floor pan and trunk rust. The other problem in those states, though, is that Southwestern cars are more likely to have dashboards, upholstery and rubber that have been completely ruined by the sun. Now classic auto salvage yards are tied together through the Internet, providing a comprehensive parts network that helps the salvage operators and the buyers both. While some hobbyists are still going to enjoy the thrill of the chase as they road trip across hundreds of miles of interstates to locate parts, that’s not as necessary as it was at one time.
Naturally, some of the more scarce parts are still going to command pretty good money. But then again, it wasn’t that long ago that no one would have thought that some mom’s worn-out ’78 Buick sedan would be a desirable car for collectors. It all turns into a matter of supply and demand, and as the really valuable cars get snatched up, other collectors latch onto whatever they can find. At least once you find the parts, it’s easier to devote your attention to the minor (but exasperating) projects like making the concealed headlights on that Mercury work right, or working out all the power-window-wiring or vacuum-schematic problems in your positive-ground ’62 Continental so everything works like it’s supposed to.