Rebuilding As a Radical Act

December 13, 2021

No matter whether your car is a fresh, nut-and-bolt restoration or a well-worn runabout, collector cars are in a constant state of disrepair. It’s the nature of the beast, just like the proverbial Golden Gate Bridge perpetually being painted. 

We built CPX to make that process easier and faster, but also more complete. One of our plans was to provide alternatives in one place. Not just new and used, but also services that will rebuild an original part. That provides a more complete range of options not available elsewhere. I’m a big fan of refurbishing parts when possible since it preserves originality, produces less waste, and is often more cost-effective. Triple win!

All this was brought to light recently when one of my cars was in the shop for a minor issue resulting from the volatile combination of an overeager detailer, a pressure washer, and Italian electronics. However, while chasing all the waterlogged wiring down, the shop discovered an unrelated problem with the clutch. The punchline: a five-figure guesstimate to replace the dual-mass flywheel. 

After muttering an impressive stream of expletives, I started to research our CPX vendors and poke around on some forums. While the manufacturer recommended replacing the part, a clever U.K. engineer figured out that the part could be rebuilt, and provided a kit to perform the service. It would only cost a fifth of a replacement part and was straightforward, and multiple owners endorsed the solution. Sounds like the right option for my situation.

I think we as a hobby default to “replace” versus “repair.” Admittedly, in most cases, it’s not a viable alternative, but in the instances where it does fit most people are not even aware of rebuilding as an option. I’d like to change that.

Patagonia CEO Is Inspiration

I recently read a book by Yvon Chouinard, the counterculture founder and CEO of Patagonia. As an apparel brand for dirtbags who live an outdoor lifestyle, Chouinard urges customers to repair items rather than replace them. Patagonia even has a large center that will do it for you for a small cost, or you can stop by any retail location and use the tools and materials they provide. 

Chouinard wrote an essay called “Repair Is A Radical Act,” and here’s an excerpt:

Why is repair such a radical act? Fixing something we might otherwise throw away is almost inconceivable, but the impact is enormous. We live in a culture where replacement is king…. [P]rimarily it’s easier and cheaper to go buy something new. This creates a society of product consumers, not owners.

I guess we typically just want to hit the “easy button,” get the part, install it, and get back on the road. However, if you care about consumption and originality, there can be another way. Many parts can be rebuilt for a fraction of the cost but rarely are these services and options advertised or offered.

Planned Obsolescence Biz Model

The idea of building an item to last an artificially short amount of time, aka “planned obsolescence,” is more and more pervasive. Dishwashers in the 50s and 60s would last a generation, nowadays they last 5-7 years. Consumer electronics are practically disposable. Even if you want to use a smartphone for 10 years, the manufacturers make that impossible. The average iPhone lasts three years, but performance starts to degrade after only two.

In the case of automobiles, this has been part of the business model. Ferrari may be the worst offender. For instance, V8s from the 80s and 90s have an “engine out” service every 3-5 years, or 25,000 miles - whichever comes first. Many knowledgeable experts say that with proper maintenance, those “majors” can be deferred significantly.  

Naturally, the car could have been designed differently to accommodate easier maintenance and less frequent service, but this is a critical part of the dealership's business model. Each dealership has a small customer base in any given region when compared with a BMW or Mercedes-Benz dealer.  T justify the expense and salaries of the service team the company builds in frequent and pricey “major services.”

Only Original Once

One of my gurus in the collector car world is Jim Simpson, founder of O.D.D. Parts Fabrication. As he says, “My job is to convince people that we can do the impossible, and then prove it to them!” He has produced items for cars that have won Pebble and have shown at Amelia Island, Essen, and many more. 

Jim Simpson

Jim’s business is to preserve and fabricate parts that are no longer available. Jim’s father John lost his hands while serving in the U.S. Army, so what did he do? John invented and fabricated his own prosthetics that gave him impressive dexterity. That ingenuity, creativity, and resilience were passed down to Jim and one of his keys to success.

Jim’s decades of craftsmanship enable him to rebuild or reconstruct virtually any part. I have worked with him on rebuilding a rare starter for a 1926 Bugatti Type 37 and an early 60s Magneti Marelli distributor for a Ferrari 250 SWB. His skills aren't’ just aimed at high-end items either. He repairs switches, lighting, and other electrical components, as well as manufacturing exacting reproductions of body parts and wheel covers. He’s even rebuilt motors for Ferrari Enzos and done work on some old switches for NASA.

Artisans like Jim are essential to our hobby, especially in keeping important, historical cars healthy and on the road.  

A DIY Project?

Now I have to decide my path forward. If I had my druthers, I would happily take it on since I get precious few opportunities to work on my cars. It supports one of our core beliefs at CPX which is to encourage people to explore every option available to them and pick the one that fits their needs. I still have a few questions to answer: Can I find a lower-cost replacement part? Can I take on rebuilding the original part? What are the timelines on either path, especially with the current supply chain issues? All questions I am in the process of answering.

By the way, if you have used a service provider, please let them know that CPX welcomes them! This isn’t meant to compete with our sellers but rather to complement them, especially as original parts get harder to find. These service providers are often hard to find so hopefully, we can help them get more business. We would desire to inundate them so they can pass on their knowledge to another person.

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