Q: Greg, I am tempted to perhaps take on a car restoration project with a 1958 Mercury Montclair. It’s the high class Turnpike Cruiser model, which makes it more interesting. I am wondering how much it will cost to restore a car like this? It has the 383-inch, 330 horse V8 engine with an automatic transmission.
It is in average shape and has been garaged for over 20 years. It has some rust here and there, and interior work is needed, too. It seems to run good and only has about 85,000 miles. Thanks for your help and I enjoy your columns. Jim from Florida.
A: Jim thanks for the nice comments. First, let’s visit that ‘58 Mercury you’re thinking of restoring. Two engines were available for the Mercury Montclair Turnpike Cruiser that year. They came in V8 designs of 383 and 430 cubic inches, the latter in 360 or 400 horsepower dress. A 312 V8 engine was available only on the Medalist model that delivered 235 horses.
The 1957 through 1959 Mercury’s were similar in styling, and featured unique quad headlamps and v-shaped taillights (some lower priced ’57 models still had single bulb headlamps). You could also order a Continental Kit as an option and overall, they were pretty nice cars and worthy of a restoration. Notable was the power back window on the Turnpike Cruiser – very neat.
However, here’s some personal advice, both negative and positive. If this car has been sitting in a garage for 20 years, and it already has some rust “here and there,” I’d be very wary about taking a project like this on until you can look closer. You also note that the interior is in need of repair, so that’s a double whammy right there. A positive is the 85,000 miles if the speedometer is not broken and the current owner is truthful to his/her best knowledge.
From the info you have given me, it’s hard to tell how much work it will need. There will always be unseen damage, especially electrical, underneath or hidden from sight. Even if two vehicles come off the assembly line at the same time on the same day, each one will age differently because vehicles age depending on a variety of factors. Included are where it was stored (garage, barn, outside), the climate of the owner’s region to how it was maintained (oil changes, car washes, etc.). You will never really know until you start dismantling and finding out what’s really in there. If this car lived its life in the south, then that’s a plus.
A restoration shop should be able to give you a “ballpark” estimate based on their past experiences with your model of car. This is, however, an educated guess because there are a whole host of problems that could be lurking under the paint. You probably won’t be able to get an accurate price quote until the vehicle is completely disassembled and ready for repair. Remember, too, that a restoration shop is different from a body shop or repair center, and zeroes in on classic and muscle car restorations.
As for the restoration, you don’t have to do a whole vehicle restoration at once. You can choose to do just one aspect of the process, like a mechanical restoration and then move on to other aspects, as you get additional funding. If funding is not a problem, well, that’s a real plus!
If you are on a budget, work with your shop to determine what your budget can afford and how you can best maximize your dollars spent.
Be prepared, however, to find lots of unseen problems on a car that was built nearly 60 years ago and has been sitting for two decades. I can almost guarantee you’ll find some electrical problems that you can’t see somewhere in there. You do say it runs well, so that is a plus.
My advice is to move slowly and have an expert come and look at the car before committing to anything, and that means even purchasing the car. There are many auto mechanics, especially in sunny Florida, that can do a great job checking this Mercury out, as they’ll put it up on a lift to better see how much rust damage there really is.
Good luck and I don’t mean to douse your ambitions, as I wouldn’t want to see you get taken for a ride with your wallet as the “saddle.”
Another thing on the plus side is my experience buying a 1959 Edsel, which sits in my garage right now and is in pretty nice condition. It has very little rust, came from the south, and the interior was redone before I bought it. The engine is OK but it has an oil leak, which I’ll track down this summer. (Hopefully it’s minor). Other than that it is in good shape and before I bought it, I had it checked out and driven by my brother who lived in the south. Thus, I knew it was a good deal and everything pretty much worked or I was told it didn’t work.
Good luck and let me know what happens. If everything checks out, go for it and have fun.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes reader questions and input on collector cars at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).