by Chris Causley
So you are sitting on your couch one day when the phone rings…You answer, “Hello?” A fellow HMV enthusiast opens, “Hey, remember that WC-52 I have?” You reply, “Not Really.” The caller doesn’t pause, “Are you still looking for a project to buy?” Hesitatingly, you reply, “I guess…”
This happened to me a year or so ago. The caller was a fellow MVPA member in my area. He had a WC-52 that he had started to restore, then he found a better one and needed to move the project out. I had always had a soft spot for the Dodge WC, and here was my chance to finally own one. After talking for a bit about the truck, I had the following info:
*The truck was a NATO return that was found in a farm field by a third party I also knew, he had planned to restore it, but he had found a running M37.
*The truck was largely dissembled.
*The package deal included a newly overhauled long block engine.
*He was selling the truck for the cost of the engine and throwing the truck in free.
*He was willing to deliver.
Now, for those of you that have been around this hobby long enough, the above five-point list has about ten red flags in it. But, when it comes to OD trucks, I have all the self control of a drunken sailor in a red light district. A deal was struck.
I am sure the above scenario is familiar: You hear about a good deal, you know the seller, and you make a deal, sight unseen, with visions of driving your new toy in a very short time.
The WC-52 in question was “passed along” by at least two previous people before it landed in my shop. I have been restoring vehicles going on 25 years now, and each time I finish one, I swear that I will never, never, never ever, buy another basket case. But alas, I want to save them all!
The moral of this story is that you should always understand what you are getting yourself into. Abandoned projects can often be purchased well below market value, but they come with their own unique pitfalls, and there are questions that need to be asked and answered:
*Are you getting a complete vehicle?
*How familiar are you with the vehicle in question? If you are lucky, the person who took it apart tagged the parts, but if they did not, and you just have boxes of random rusted metal, will you be able to figure out what goes where?
*How many parts/bolts did they break during disassembly? Not everyone understands that disassembly is an art.
*Projects often come with new parts, but are they correct? Are they quality? You have to consider how they were stored: Is that “brand new, in-the-box” master cylinder safe to use, or has the rubber dried up? Did that “brand new” oil pump get wet somewhere along the line and is now filled with rust? Some of these things may not come to light until you are well into the project.
*What about the work that was already done? My first HMV was a 1942 GPW that I bought off EBay. It was half done, came with a ton of extra parts, and I was happy. The previous owner, however, was a “pop rivet, tin can, and Bondo man,” so I spent a considerable amount of time re-doing his “body work.” The last muscle car I restored had a large part of the lower quarter fixed with cardboard and Bondo. The guy even mixed metal shavings in so it would pass the “magnet test.” Whoever did the work, though, was a true artist as the car looked great. Never assume that previous repairs are good as they look.
*Most importantly, know your own limits, things like basic mechanical skills and tools go without saying, but projects are often abandoned because they go beyond the basics. Farming out tasks like welding gets expensive fast.
*What about space? Your one-car garage will hold a jeep, right? Yes, a jeep may have a 4’x8’ footprint, but do a body-off restoration and suddenly its 8’x8’ or more, and winter’s coming and the significant other wants to park in the garage. Are you prepared for that argument?
*Are you willing to make the time commitment? Hobby restorations can end up taking years. The “seven day restorations” you see on TV are not the norm.
In conclusion, unless you are mildly insane or a sadist, I would advise that you not buy a vehicle, “sight unseen”— from anyone, even someone you know and trust! If someone offers to sell you an engine with a free truck, don’t expect to be driving it at the next re-enactment.