Average restoration cost


Asked by Nov 08, 2010 at 01:56 AM about the 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

Need to repaint the body, overhaul 312 engine and 3 speed manual w/ over drive on a '56 T-Bird.  What should it cost to repaint the Body?  Cost for an average engine overhaul?   Rebuild the transmission?  I know each car is different, and cost is relative.  I'm looking for ball park figures?  Is $2K too high for a quailty paint job?  I'm thinking of purchasing a '56 T-Bird, and trying to figure an average overall cost, to make it into a nice driver vehicle.  Any and all advise is welcome.  

28 Answers

with all you say,$10.000.00 to $15.000.00,and that could be to low.as fot the 2K for a quailty paint job,add about 2 more for a good one,once it is sanded down,you never know what is under the paint.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Thanks Papa, I haven't purchased the vehicle yet. I'm looking at a '57 T-Bird, in better condition, and will come out cheaper, in the long run. Needs less restoration, and has better extras, like power steering, brakes, windows, and seats.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I figure I'll give my two cents on this situation. As far as engine, trans, and rear end rebuilds go... you can have as much as $1000.00 in machine work alone depending on the block and heads. I personally don't like to build an engine with out resurfacing heads and and doing the block work to ensure a proper mating surface. Obviously, I do what ever the customer likes... however, my warranty changes depending on circumstance. Transmission rebuilds can be in the range of $750 - $1800.00 depending on transmission and the level of performance. That price can be much higher with custom build transmission such as Bowler Transmissions... there again, you get what you pay for and Bowler builds an amazing transmission. As for rear ends. Depends on level of performance but you can never go wrong with a Ford 9" and moser components. Figure $1,500 - $2,000.00 for a very well built rear end. ---------------- As for body and paint. Here at Hoosier Hot Rods & Classics, our body and paint work minimum starts $7,500.00 with top quality materials. Our paint & body maximum can go upwards of $20,000 plus. Depends on intricate details, how much custom work (air brushing, flame work, candy paints, and levels of color sanding, buffing and polishing) and application of high quality, high glamour clear coats. All our HHC fabrication and bodywork is high end quality. All rust removal and repair is done by welding in new steel. Make sure who ever does your body and paint work won't lay fiberglass over wire mesh or tape. Trust me, I've see it all. If you spend $2,000 on a paint job, you'll get $2,000.00 worth and that's it. Just FYI... my materials (primer/surfacer, rage gold, base coat, reducers, clear coat, and activators) make up the $2,000.00 you'll spend in a paint job. --------- Interior work is also a huge asset in turning your car from a money pit into an investment. The right interior is beyond my mindset but the guy I advise ANYONE to go to for quality interior work is ACE Custom Upholstery. You can spend $3500 to no telling how much with interior. All of these companies are on the web if you want to find them, but they can give you an idea on restoration prices that are reasonable. $15,000 won't get any where near even a decent job. Go to a parts supply business and add up the parts alone for the entirety of your list and see if you don't get close to the $15,000.00 without labor, paint, bodywork, and mechanicals. Hope that helps with advise. I'm an email away or phone call away if need be. Ryan Smith Hoosier Hot Rods & Classics Inc. 812.768.5221 Office rsmith@hoosierhotrods.net www.hoosierhotrods.net

4 out of 4 people think this is helpful.

Body repaint: from $2500 for a average paint with almost no body work to over $10k for a total dismantle restoration. Engine overhaul for a 312 figure in about $4500 to pay for the removal, rebuild, and installation providing they don't mess up the overdrive. Careful with who you let work on the overdrive, if the transmission builder is not through with what parts need to be replaced and fit checked they can kick out of first gear under acceleration. The overdrive unit will not work right if the electrical is hooked up wrong, not everyone understands the old transmissions. The transmission rework should not cost more then $400.00 to $600.00, maybe less if all it needs is bearings and syncros. Total cost: High end $20k or so Low end around $10k this game is not cheap; even if you do a lot of the work yourself not to mention a check book restoration.

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.

Anyone that tells you a high-end restoration only costs $20,000.00 is unaware of the costs involved or their definition of high-end is average. Call around at some reputable restoration businesses and ask them for average costs, and high end costs. I am third generation car restorer and my business has been around for 7 years in the same location. Just so you know, my fastback mustang has $30k in it with no labor because I built it myself. And personally, I don't know a reputable tranny shop that will rebuild for less than $750.00 for a complete go through. Not trying to start an argument, just being honest with everyone due to my experience being a third-gen car builder.

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

I perhaps am a bit low on some of the cost. Prices vary from region to region, and where I have been doing this for 30 years, give or take, I have network of friends and shops I trade a bit of work with. I am sure I may be getting a better deal than someone off the street, so no insult taken. I did not want to send the gentlemen into sticker shock.


I can understand that. However I try, to let everyone know as close as possible to the price they are looking at in the end. Simple fact is, getting someone in the door is nice... but under the right circumstances. If a shop were to lie to get them in the door, they have to pay the piper at some point. lol I try to stay as far away from that outcome as possible.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I am getting on my soapbox now; I personally believe any changes from what the factory quality or design intent, for example two stage paint, upgraded drive train and custom interior, moves the car from restoration to a custom classification driving up the cost considerably. Your mustang is truly a Beautiful custom car. Your cost on it could have been reduced with the correct vin coded engine not the 600+ hp monster under the hood and all the Shelby trim cost twice that of Ford reporduction stuff. To me, a high end restoration is one that looking at it you might see a run in the door jam or a small drip under the rocker, all stuff that yould have passed the factory QC standard at that time. Not two stage high shine flawless paint. Detroit never made a number 10 car just great driving machines! OK I'm done, soap box put away.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I couldn't agree with you more dbroph. On the other side of that coin, you'll have customers that say they want original and then change things to very modified from original and expect the same price. Paint work and body work today is so far advanced to what it was in the 60's obviously. But it comes with a much higher price. No soap box... I couldn't agree more with what you are saying... just a fine line on making a customer happy with the old way of doing things. Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate that. I'll do what a customer wants me to do to their car within reason. No bondo in rust holes, or fiberglass creation of an entire panel. lol I send that down the road. That would ruin my name and I'm not accustomed to doing work of that kind.


People are interesting, aren't they? I am glad I do not have to deal with customers. I just had a guy offer me $10k for my 1970 fastback, he wanted to make a Boss 429 clone out of it. It is far from a show car but I felt a little insulted. So I sent him a link to the DYNACORN website for a price comparison lol. Have a great day, Dale

10 k and not perfect,why did u not sell.sounds like u doing nothing with it.


I have a bit more than that into the car. It may not be perfect, but where it is rust free and has never been wrecked, it seems a shame to sell it to someone to cut up and turn into a hot rod to tear up on the street. As for not doing anything with the car, this last year I replaced the seat upholstery, tires, and the package tray support that someone cut speaker holes into. I ordered a new package tray and switches for the door jams last week. By next month I will have replaced the heater core and restored the dash. My primary motivation for selling the car, I am not that much into Mustangs. I prefer the Fairlane Torino body styles and have more projects than I can keep up with. If I cannot sell it, I will finish out restoring it as a summer driver and enjoy.


Dale, Yes, they are. lol I would have been ultra-insulted. That's horrible... I can't even believe he could make that offer with a straight face. A rusty shell of a 65-70 fastback mustang is bringing 10k lately. I'm sure DYNACORN thought he was a pleasure to deal with as well. haha You do the same, Ryan

yea,I got a 71 Torino Cobra,had it 30 years,has had a body off resto,is a show car,had two 71 GT Torino,s,

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Papa Funny you should say that, I made deal on a 70 torino cobra drag pack car basket case a couple years ago, I have most of the parts collected to bring it back to life. I need yet to find the correct bell housing and Z bar. If you look at my garage you will see a 72 Gran Torino Sport I bought from my uncle, who ordered it new, when I was 19 (1978). I did a mild restoration it a few years back. I wanted to leave as original as possible. It's a garage queen, I don't plan on building another car I leave parked most of the time.

Hi all, I am second owner of a true barn find '56 Ford Thunderbird. It spend 35 years in the original owner's garage from 1973 - 2008 when I purchased the car from the owner's widow. The car was straight, but needed everything replaced. Over the past 4 years, I accomplished the following: rebuilt 312 cid engine, with new Mallory Uniflight distributor and coil. Added Edlebrock 500 cfm 4bbl carb Rebuilt 3 speed / overdrive transmission with new clutch, pressure plate, flywheel Disassembled car down to frame - then stripped all the paint, primer, bond and other patches from the body. Car was straight, but needed hours and hours of restoration for rust and poorly done repairs. Finished with multiple coats of House of Kolor black and then mutiple coats of House of Kolor clear coat. Replace interior and reworked the door hardware - window transmission, latches Replaced all the weatherstripping Replaced windshield Added port holes to fibreglass top Replaced headliner and latches on top Completely replaced all the interior components, including new dash trim, switches, clock, speedo, tach, glove box door, hinges and catch. Installed new solid state AM/FM radio which looks like original FoMoCo non-town and country radio. Regarding cost Paint and body work were over $16,000 Engine, transmission, overdrive over $3,000. Electrical, including all new wiring harness and generator, $1,200. Interior $2,800 Over all the completed car restoration is approximately $27,500. I paid $18,000 for the car in California. Current appraised value of the car is in excess of $50,000. Car recently took best of show at Good Guys (2012) Would I do it again? Absolutely, but only if another car were as complete as this one. Everything I repaired or restored was there. There were no missing parts in this car. The original owner bought the car in 1956 and drove it until 1973 (53,500 miles on the odometer). It sat in his garage until I bought it in 2008. Do I have any regrets? I wish I had taken even more photos of the restoration and I wish I had photos of the car in it's "barn find" condition when I purchased it. Finally, I would not do it much differently than I did. Do NOT skimp on parts, body work or paint. Saving a little money on doing the body work or paint on the cheap will always be easily seen by everyone who looks at your car. Even with all the work, my car is not perfect by any means. It is not a 100 point car. It is a beautiful daily driver. I've never understood the idea of having a great old car and then being afraid to drive it. These old cars were meant to be driven. The more I drive my 'Bird, the better it runs and the pleasure I receive from those drives is great. Happy motoring Hope this is helpful. Jim

5 out of 5 people think this is helpful.

I have been having a 57 TBird off frame restoration for several years now and will finally see it completed in the next couple of weeks. I have spent labor and parts close to $115,000.00. I will most likely drive it for a year or so and then sell it. I'm quite sure I will never get my money's worth out of it.


I would like to believe that i will not need to spend this kind of money on my restoration. I bought a 58 that is supposed to run once the master cylinder is replaced and the brake lines are connected. Im pretty good with paint, i'm going to do that. I'll have a shop replace a rusted panel and the drivers seat needs to be upholstered. Oh and new glass all around. That's it. Benjamin

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

I bought a 1955 Tbird that had the engine rebuilt 40 years ago. It sat for 30 years after rebuilt and driven 300 miles in the last 10. The engine is burning some oil and my mechanic said that it might not have been rebuilt properly or the rings might be replaced. He quoted me $3000. This sounds high to me. Any advice on average costs?


Your car sounds interesting. While I can't provide any accurate information about pricing of repairs, I can tell you what I know about seldom used cars that sit for years with little or no driving. What you have describe actually is the worse type of driving/starting/running a car. 300 miles a year for 10 years is certainly hard on the engine and other components. At a minimum, I would consider the following: 1) Remove the spark plugs and crank the engine over. Listen for sounds that are hard, sharp and metallic. Should you hear those type of sounds, you may have a valve timing issue, i.e., timing belt slipped or tooth or something seriously wrong with the valve train. 2) Inspect the spark plugs. They should be dry with a light tan/grey coating on the electrodes. If they are wet, sooty, oily or black this could represent a carburetor mixture issue. Oily or wet plugs indicate blow bye in the cylinders, often from either warn valve seats or piston oil or compression rings. Replace the existing spark plugs with new ones. 3) If the engine runs, have your mechanic set the ignition timing and set the idle mixture on the Holley 4000 Teapot carburetor. 4) Have your mechanic hook up a vacuum gauge near the carburetor. An old-fashioned mechanic who understands vacuum and what the gauge is telling him, can deduce all sorts of things about the internal health of the engine. 5) Have your mechanic inspect the coolant in the radiator. He should be looking for oil contamination in the cooling system. If engine oil is present, that could indicate anything from a blown head gasket to a cracked cylinder head, to a cracked water jacket in the block. 6) Have your mechanic check the engine oil for the presence of coolant. Likewise, this could be an indication of a cracked head, blown head gasket or crack in the block. Unless the engine was seriously overheated, the likelihood of a cracked block is very low. 7) You didn't mention if the car has a manual or automatic transmission. If it's an automatic (FordoMatic) have your mechanic check the transmission fluid levels. 8) Have your mechanic check the compression on all the cylinders. While the mechanic is turning the engine over with the starter, he should listen for hard, metallic clanging sounds. Should those sounds be there, it could mean a problem with the timing belt or that the crank shaft or cam shaft has slipped a tooth, throwing the valve timing off. Assuming none of those issues are present, the mechanic should record and compare the compression reading on each cylinder. Much has been written about the proper amount of compression for a 292 Y Block engine. My sense is that the actual numbers should be in a range - 140 PSI - 160 PSI. A brand new engine might have higher readings and an engine with 100,000 miles might be significantly lower, yet still run properly. What is more important is the degradation within the range of readings. If seven cylinders are between 140 and 150 PSI and one cylinder is 80 PSI, that is cause for concern. 9) Assuming the car is a driver, have your mechanic drain, flush and replace all the fluids in the car - i.e., engine oil an filter, engine coolant, transmission oil or fluid and filter, rear end grease and most important, brake fluid. All of these tests and inspections are essentially external to the engine. Before I would authorize any major rebuilds, I would want a trusted mechanic to complete all these inspections and then draw conclusions from what was found. The Ford 'Y" Block 292 engine is sturdy and strong. Back in the 1950's through 1970's the oils were not as sophisticated as they are today. Accordingly, there were lubrication problems with the cam followers and rocker arm assemblies due to poor lubrication. This was especially true on the back cylinders (nearest the firewall.) That is why driving a very limited amount of miles a year never allows the engine to fully come up to operating temperatures for a protracted amount of time, i.e., 30 - 45 minutes after the engine is warmed up. Ford built the 55 - 57 Ford Thunderbirds on 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon frames. The bodies were build by Budd Engineering in Philadephia and assembled at Dearborn, Michigan. While automotive engineering has improved dramatically over the past 60 years, the old Ford cars were reliable, if properly maintained. My 1956 T-Bird has a 321 CID engine. The compression is between 150 and 160 PSI on the cylinders. I have changed the distributor to Mallory electronic ignition and added disc brakes in the front. I also replaced the old Holley 4000 Teapot carburetor with a comparable Edlebrock 500 cfm carburetor with an electric choke. All these changes were for improved starting and better drivability. However, the original engine is still the same. Hope this is helpful.

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.

Thanks L1011flyer. That's awesome advice. Thank you so much. I had the mechanic adjust the carburetor as it was taking in too much gas. The radiator has been flushed and there was no oil in it. The engine just burns a little oil. One old school mechanic told me not to worry too much about it. It is a FordoMatic. The transmission was leaking a little fluid but not much. I am trying to drive the car a little more but I don't want to get stranded. I'm replacing the gas tank tomorrow ( I couldn't fill it all the way without a major leak), one of the gauges for radiator and starter motor. She should be reasonably good. Is it better to use the new synthetic oils or the old school oil? I use premium gas as well. I am trying to learn as much about this car as I can so that I can do simple things. I appreciate all your help and knowledge and will do all of the checks that you mentioned above.

Here she is. She will be painted in a week or so.


Looks like a project! Before you paint, please check the lower fender areas behind all the wheels. These areas are notorious for rusting. Also the rocker boxes under the doors - along the frame rails. Also known to rust. I see the car has primer, I'd check with a magnet to see if there is lots of body filler (Bondo). I wouldn't paint the car until I knew for certain that rust issues have been properly addressed. As far as oils go. My engine guy and mechanic says the old engine tolerances weren't the greatest. So, the news synthetic oils are not recommended. I use a 10/30 very high detergent oil. Of more importance is the inclusion of zinc and phosphate (ZDDP). The reason is that Y Block engines had tappets which ride on the cam shaft. The zinc and phosphate are high pressure lubricants for the camshaft and tappets. You can add these compounds by adding ZDDP every time you change oil - probably once or twice a year. This is an important issue. A lack of proper lubrication of the cam and tappets can result in the cam being "flattened"... not good. Some oils still have zinc and phosphate already added. Your mechanic should know about this oil issue. Your car originally had a 6 volt electrical system with positive ground. Many '55 owners have converted their car to 12 volt systems. If you do this, the car will start much easier. However, it should only be done by a very competent automobile electrician. This is not something to trust to friends or back yard mechanics. Another option is the installation of an 8 volt battery and electrical system. Not as good as 12 volt conversion, but much better than the original 6 volt system. Finally, if you don't already belong, you might consider joining Classic Thunderbird Club International (CTCI) They are a collection of owners of '55, '56 and '57 T-Birds only. The best part is a group of people who will help with referrals, suggestions and advice. The dues are only $35 per year and well worth it. There are many T-Bird parts retailers and vendors through catalogs and online. Two of the best are CASCO in Ohio and Larry's T-Birds in Southern California. CASCO are operated by a family business and are very knowledgeable about everything related to early T- Birds. They also publish technical bulletins about various Ford T-Bird systems, i.e., electrical, brakes, suspension, etc. CASCO is a great resource. When I restored my '56, most of the parts came from CASCO and one other vendor in Reno, Nevada. Nice to know there are many like-minded folks out there. Larry's and Premier are more interested in making sales, CASCO will work with you to help you solve your problem whether you buy anything from them or not. Nice folks.

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.

The car is 100% rust free. The underneath and body is like brand new. I looked at quite a few that had the kind of rust that you mentioned. That is why I bought this one (unpainted). My body/ paint guy is going to go through and check it all out before painting but said that he is surprised at how good the body job is. It has been converted to 12 volt system already but the starter is on it's last legs. This mechanic that I have now is not that knowledgeable about classic cars. The one that is was back logged for two months. I'm not going to have this guy do anything with the motor. It's really not a pressing issue for now. I still have to redo the convertible top and that is my next project. Hopefully I won't be in the poor house after that. LOL Thanks for the tip on the oil cause that was something that I was concerned about.


that convertible is gorgeous. Mine is so f'ed up. It has sheet metal separating from rust and i don't know what to do. The usual places are a mess and the whole underside is rusted. I'm thinking about cutting my losses and giving up. The body work will prolly cost $7500 at least and that's not counting paint.

Benjamin, that's awful. That's a tough situation to be in. I knew getting into this that it wouldn't be cheap. I just got mine back yesterday from the mechanics and she is running really well. The starter that she had was a 6volt instead of the 12. He balanced my carburetor as well. Already feels and sounds better. Now I have to deal with the gauges. Her temperature gauge doesn't work and NOW her fuel gauge is off too. He didn't know how to take the gauges out and was afraid of damaging the car so I'm going to take her to somebody that knows. The fun never ends.


Typically, a qualified automotive electrician will put a resistor into each line to the gauges. Light bulbs are changed out from 6 v to 12 v. This conversion process can be tricky if not done correctly. Also, if the wiring is not the right gage (size), there can be issues with wiring overheating and even fires. Fuel gauge issues are legendary on the early T-Birds. Probably not necessarily related to 6v versus 12 v, but could be. There is little difference between owning a 55 - 57 T-Bird and a comparably priced boat. The rewards, however, when she is running properly and all spiffed up are immeasurable.


ha ! all you people with fuel gauge issues. If i could just get mine to go forward and backwards wout falling apart...i have another line on one in better shape for $1500 but it has an aftermarket sunroof that I'm sure will negate any value of the car. But it is cool and i think it's not badly rusted. It's not running though right now...

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