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Old 11-03-2009, 09:52 PM
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Brian Martin,Freelance adviser
 
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Confessions of an autobody shop owner. How to pick a shop to have your car restored.

I don't know if I have ever posted this here. But with the other thread discussing shops ripping people off I thought it was a good time to post it.
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Confessions of a body shop owner.
By Brian Martin


“Anybody know of a good body shop in (enter your city name here)?”, “How do I get my body shop to work on my car?”, “My car is being held for ransom!”, or just simply “Body shop Blues”. I’m sure you have all seen topics similar to these posted. Gentlemen, my name is MARTINSR and I was one of those dirty rotten bastards that would keep your car ten times longer than I promised.

For the guy not doing his own body work or at least not all of it, he is at the mercy of the body shop. It is not a nice position to be in. In fact, it can go down as one of the low points in your life. I have seen horror stories that would make your hair stand on end. A long time customer of mine (he owned about 60 cars and usually had a few in shops around the area at all times) had a car that was held as evidence in a murder. Yep, it had blood splattered on it when one of the shops owners killed the other with a baseball bat!

The following is my generalization of restoration shops that I have owned, seen or worked at. There are exceptions to the rule. Please don’t beat me up if I have rolled your shop into the mix when you are an exception. But, if you do see yourself, I suggest you get down to your neighborhood junior college and take a course or two in business. One of the great myths is that we each think our business is so unique, we can’t learn from a “regular” business class. Well after much instruction and exposure to the business side of things I can tell you, business is BUSINESS. Whether you are running a liqueur store, a cat house, or a body shop, they are all exactly the same. Sales are SALES, period.

So, we can agree a body shop is a business, being a good body man does not make you a good businessman. Restoration shops are usually owned by good body men, not good businessmen. It is very hard to make money doing restoration work, it is very easy to make money doing regular collision work. The business man makes his money doing collision work and tells all the customers with restoration work to go to Joe’s Body shop down the street, he does the restorations. Joe loves doing what he is doing, but seldom makes much money. He is an artist, a true master at his craft. Joe sees things at what they can “become”, not what they “are”. When Joe sees a car he doesn’t see the time it will take to make it the show winner he knows it will be, he only sees it as the show winner. I really don’t believe he means to lie to you when he says it will be done in a month, he is looking at through rose colored glasses, his vision is altered. Like a woman forgets the pain of giving birth, so does Joe when he gazes upon the beautiful car he has carried for nine months (or longer). And when the next rust bucket rolls in, he has forgotten about the hundreds of hours needed, he only sees a luscious rose garden.

Like I said few make a living at restoration or hot rod work. The biggies that you have heard of like Roy Brizio or Boyd Codington all make money with other ventures, not the rod shop. The first time I visited Brizios shop this was very apparent. The rod shop is about 5000 square feet sitting in the middle of a 50,000 square foot building. The rest of the building is Brizios manufacturing business. It is all non auto related by the way. The rod shop is a hobby, I don’t doubt for a second he makes money, but it is a hobby none the less.

So when you go looking for a shop to do your car you have to remember this, you are most likely going to be dealing with an artist. If you think the business end of it is going to go smooth, think again. If you build yourself up and believe everything, you are in for a BIG let down. If you set yourself up for less than that you will be much better off. I suggest getting ready for MUCH, MUCH less and then you will be happy when it only takes five months instead of the ten you got ready for. If he said one month and that is what you are planning, by the time five months rolls around you are ready to kill someone.

These are HUGE generalizations but I have found a few signs that may help you in picking out a shop. If nothing else they will help you understand who you are dealing with.

1. If there is more than one car sitting in the shop covered with dust, this may be a bad sign. If you have been around body shops much you know that dust build up is like the rings in a tree, you can tell by the layers and colors how many YEARS it has been sitting. If there is a car that is being used for storage of misc. boxes and things, bad sign. My brother used to joke that I should bolt a vice on the fender of the car, at least I could get some use out of it! Coyly ask “Cool car, is that yours?” if he says “Naw, it’s a customers”, BAD SIGN. If there are ten stalls in the shop and six have dust covered cars in them, RUN. I shouldn’t have to tell you this one, but if there are guys hanging around with beers in their hands, RUN.


2. How many stalls does he have? I have found that the real restoration/rod shops seem to have only room to have three or four cars at a time. If you only had room to work on three cars, you are going to be damn certain they get out so you can have room for the next. One of the most successful custom shops I have ever seen was a little four stall shop in Pittsburgh California. It is the famous (well at least on the west coast) DeRosa and son Customs. Frank has been around since the fifties making show winning cars. He and his son Frank Jr. do the same today and do it FAST. They a neat, little and clean shop. If you have seen the 2001 DuPont calendar they did the “Cadster”. It was only in the shop for a few weeks. By the way, it doesn’t have DuPont primers on it like the calendar says, Martin Senour primer was used.

3. Does he look at your car like they do at the McPaint shops, you know, all jobs all colors the same price? If he doesn’t take a good long look at the car taking notes, he has no clue what he is doing. He is looking at the car with those rose colored glasses. Every single panel should be examined and noted for the amount of hours needed. If he just looks over the car without doing this he is surely going to be WAY off. If he is way off on how much he is charging you, what incentive does he have to work on it?


So let’s say you have a shop you would like to bring it to, you really need to case the joint. Turn into a stalker and keep an eye on the shop. You know for months that you are going to need a body shop. Watch the shops for months. Drive by during business hours and see if they are actually open. Many of these guys (remember they are not good businessmen) take their open sign as sort of a guide line. If it says 8:00 to 5:00 it is more like 9:15 to 2:00 then 4:25 to 7:00, they can’t get your car done like that. See if any cars leave. If you go by there and see the same cars sitting there and many little jobs going in and out, BAD SIGN. I have to tell you, those little money making collision jobs are dang hard to turn away. If I had a million hour job sitting there and it was the 28th of the month I am going to set it aside for the $800.00 job I can do in two days to pay the rent.

If they don’t allow you to walk around and check the place out, be wary. Look at the paint dept, does he have a booth? Is there junk and open cans all over? Is there many different brands of paint? This is usually not a good sign, he buys anything he can get his hands on. This is many times the sign of a “junior chemist”, they guy that mixes products and doesn’t follow tech sheets.

If you have decided that this is the shop you want to go to, help the poor guy. You “suggest” to him how you want to go about the money part. This is the ONLY way you should do it believe me. Don’t give him a deposit and leave the car. This is darn near a guarantee that your car will be sitting for weeks while he uses that money to buy parts for a high profit collision job or simply pay a long standing bill. Which then leaves your car sitting there with no incentive to work on it.

Here is what you need to do. Tell him that you want to do only ONE of the things on your car, at a time. You want to get a price for all of them maybe so you know what it is headed, but do only one at a time. You will pay him for one step at a time. Not because you don’t trust him, but because YOU are bad with money and that YOU don’t want to leave him hanging after the car is done with no money to pick it up.

This way it is more like he is in control and made the decision. Then you negotiate the time it will take for each step. Let’s say you have patch panels to do on the front fenders. You agree that he will have them done at the end of the week, and that they will cost $200.00. He has something to work for, he knows he will get the money and he actually does it. You go see him on Friday see the work done and give him the $200.00. Then you pick another thing to do. Just as if you were doing these things at home, break them down into bite sized pieces so he can swallow them. If you go in there and find that he hasn’t done it or he has done poor work, you can then say “I am sorry to yank your chain, I don’t have any more money, I just lost my job” and take the car, no body owes a thing. If he does not want to do this, you really need to start rethinking your choice of a shop. Either this or variation of this should be fine with him. If it is not, something is wrong.

If he really wanted to make money he would be doing this. The first restoration job I ever did where I really felt I made money was done just this way. It was a little ’58 Bug eye Sprite. I had decided that something had to be done or I would fall into the same trap as before with a car sitting forever. One of the first shops I ever worked at was a full on restoration shop. It broke the rule and was pretty big, with four full time employees. Every car had a time card assigned to it. When you worked on the car, you punched in. Then each month (these were HUGE frame off restorations on 30’s and 40’s vintage Fords) the owner would receive a bill with the times worked. If they couldn’t pay, the car left, period. The guy made money and I finally got smart (after about 12 years in business) and followed his lead. I put a sign on this Bug Eye and would post the hours I spent on it. I told the guy to come by each week. Now, when the guy came in and saw only two hours were spent, he was not very happy. That was a heck of an incentive for me right there I will tell you that! It worked great, I actually got paid for every minute I worked, unlike most restoration projects. And he actually got the car back in close to what I said. It was still late, but not ten times as late as I had done before.

Another thing I highly recommend is to take plenty of photos of the car, really detailed photos. When you drop the car off leave him a copy of them. Letting him know you have a copy. Not threatening like “I am doing this so I can prove you lied to me” more like “I can’t wait to see how different it is and you can have these before shots to show future customers”. Which is true, it is just not the only reason you are doing it. If he is doing a full on restoration for you, I HIGHLY recommend parts like chrome and interior be taken home after he removes them so they don’t get stolen or damaged. You need to have a very close relationship with the shop, if these visits make the guy edgy, you really need to find another shop.

If you have the attitude that you are genuinely interested in how this work is done, not how he will do YOUR car, but just in general. You will find that he will be much more likely to “show off” his talents than if you go in there like an untrusting customer.

Along with these photos you want a VERY detailed work order. Run like the wind if he has no work order. Still run if he has a work order that says “fix dents and rust” as the repairs being done. RUN, I say. You need to have a fully detailed work order, not for legal reasons (wink, wink) but for your own records to show the wife where all the money went. The “wife” is a great way to get things done. You need to come look to see what is done because the wife wants to see. Bring her in there, she has an excuse, she knows nothing right? So you bring her in to see what magic this guy is doing to your car so she can understand why it costs so much. Bring a friend when you drop the car off, be sure he hears everything that is said. Let him or her help you make the decision on leaving it there. Sometimes YOU too can be looking through rose colored glasses. If someone else says they have a bad feeling, LISTEN to them.

There are few things that can compare with returning to a shop to find the place is locked tight and the mail is piling up on the floor where the carrier has dropped it through the slot. I have seen it, it really happens. The good news is it is rare, just take your time and find a shop where you feel comfortable.

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Old 11-04-2009, 10:03 PM
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Very well put - I would add or change nothing. Good advice for shop owners as well, esp. the idea of a time card. Communication is the key, just like real life.
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Old 11-05-2009, 10:43 AM
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Pickg a body shop......

Hi,very good information,I also like to see their cars and talk to some of the shops previous customers.the previous customers will USUALLY tell it like it is,for good or bad.if they tell you bad storys,check with some others. 1 bad customer can wreck a business.but he may only be a guy that got in,over his head,then is unhappy because he felt he was overcharged.remember BUYER BEWARE. ask questions,so theres no surprises.
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Old 11-05-2009, 02:58 PM
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Great article. Very true, and helps the shop owner as well. I see myself in many areas there. Its funny, because I will have a car here that I'm not charging near enough, and I get kind of tired of it. Then when my deadline creeps up, I end up working sometimes 36 hours or more straight to get it done. I look at what I did in a short amount of time, and wonder to myself if I had of put the same time in at 8 hours a day, how much better I would feel right now. I have a lot of issues with not having a boss anymore. Sometimes it's nice to have someone else keeping you on task. I know that sounds odd, but it true. It so much easier to let them answer the phone, pay the bills, and collect your check. Now I have to do everything, and I normally never have any money left for me. Time to buckle down I guess, things are getting tight, and December kinda scares me to think about the workload for next month.
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Old 11-05-2009, 04:31 PM
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You MUST charge for every single bolt turned, if you aren't, you are only hurting yourself.

I remember when I first got my MIG welder. I was talking about how I can do the job so much faster. My brother said "Yeah, now you won't loose as much money when you do stuff for nothing".

If you are going to strip a car and paint it, look at EVERY single component you have to remove. Count EVERY SINGLE ONE on the est. If you have to stay at work late one night to do this, do it. At least on a few jobs so you get the idea. EVERY SINGLE bolt turned COSTS, it cost you or the customer, but it costs someone. Those quarter panel emblems on a 65 Chevelle, they are pretty easy to get off, but put down the friggin 0.2 an hour for each one. Those 0.2s add up REAL fast!!!

If you want to discount it that is your business, but at least know what you are giving up.

"When you are the boss, you get to work half days if you like, and YOU get to pick which 12 hours"

Don't get into the crap that because you own the place you have to work 15 hours a day. WORK WISER and get the stuff done like you did when you were working for others. First off, if you are going to work extra hours make it in the morning before people start bothering you. I remember getting more done in the first hour of the day (before 8:00) than from 8 til noon!

It's real easy to get into the party shop trap. The "Party shop" is the shop in town where all the people without jobs or at least after they have made their money come over to hang out and shoot the crap at your shop. DON'T LET IT HAPPEN! You have to work like you have a boss looking over your shoulder. It is SOOOOOOOOO easy to be the big shot and shoot the crap with an old friend or another shop owner who has stopped by, where are they when you can't pay your bills?
I started telling my "friends" I had a car that HAD to be done today and I hate to send them away but I had work to do. That was it, done deal, get your work done.

When you are the boss you can say "I'm the boss, I can do what I want". Then when the creditors call you can tell them "The boss isn't here, can I take a message"?

Force yourself to work on that big job EVERY DAY, even if for only 1 hour. Just tell yourself, one hour, just one hour, EVERY SINGLE DAY. First off, you know you will put a few in it once you get going. But even if you just put that one hour, it is getting done a lot faster than if you don't put any time in it!

I remember finishing up those big restoration or custom jobs and thinking how if I got paid a million dollars for this thing when I deliver it it wouldn't be enough. But at the same time if they come and get this friggin thing out of my life and pay me nothing, I'd be happy.



Start recording time you work on stuff and more important, time you waste. One of the first rules in business, You can't improve what you don't measure.

Brian
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Old 11-05-2009, 05:29 PM
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Great info in this thread. I know how important the business aspect of doing long term restorations is. It can literally make you or break you. First thing I do when I get a car is take off trim, bumpers, lights, and fenders. Then I go panel by panel taking pictures and notes of every single imperfection and marking them with a little piece of magnet (walmart magnetic photo paper in the crafts section and cut into tiny squares). Go over the list of repairs with the customer and order them by priority for a concrete printed list. I also make a detailed list of materials needed and exact cost, this is a general estimate and upfront cost paid in full. Every receipt is kept within the cars folder and deducted from the amount given and noted on spread sheet. This way the customer knows exactly where that invested money went. If I over estimated, he gets that exact amount back, if underestimated he pays biweekly for the receipts along with my detailed list of work hours. When I say detailed, if I take a smoke break, I write the time I left and picked up, if I have to wait for something to dry, it's noted. This way it's impossible to milk the clock. I just look at it from the aspect of the customer and being 100% honest in earning what you work for, nothing more and nothing less. I always keep in contact with the customer as well, calling at least once a week with an option of how he would like something done, as well as keeping him updated on progress from the list. Shop cleanliness and organization is a must, I know exactly where everything is, everything has a place and ordered (even my box of sand paper is ordered by grit and zip tied like a booklet. Any time you can't find something you own, you're wasting time and cheating the paying customer as well. I just look at running a body shop as being down to earth and friendly as I can while keeping a stern and non-negotiable hardcore business aspect where money is the essential key to everything.
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Old 11-06-2009, 01:26 AM
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That is good stuff RC. You bring up a good point, working for "time and materials" is a tough way to make money. A service business is "time factory", you have to sell the time for more than you paid for it, THAT is your profit.

In most any service business there is an "industry standard" length of time it takes to perform the service and you make money by beating that time. If you are going to do a "time and materials" where you aren't beating time, you had better be charging a decent hourly rate to make the profit. You have to get paid more for that time than it cost you.

And of course that is where a lot of bodymen get into trouble when they open a shop, they forget the overhead like rent and electricity has to be calculated into that cost of the time they are selling.

Having a well organized shop is one way to pay less for that time you are selling. If you are more efficient, it is like a car with better gas mileage is going to cost you less to drive across state, if your shop is set up where you use less time to do things, the time costs you less.

If you are a one man shop, having a place for everything and everything in it's place isn't as big of a deal as if you have employees. If you have employees it is a MUST. One minute spent by one of you looking for something was one minute paid to some guy I call "Los Tiempo" who does nothing productive in the shop. He makes you no money all he does is cost you. Los Tiempo is an employee you pay every month who does NOTHING for you, he only costs you payroll. If you have a Los Tiempo working for you, FIRE HIM.

If you are a one man shop, you STILL need to have a place for everything, if you go looking for things, you have a "Los Tiempo" on your payroll.

Brian
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Old 11-06-2009, 01:32 PM
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Geat post , with lots of great info..
it comes to late for a friend of mine , he is currently in a horrier story. He came to me in sept telling he just met a young guy who is trying to start up his body shop and willing to cut some deals. we went to meet him and show him our cars , met at a mc donalds " him and his girl friend " he looked at the 2 cars , my 68 cougar friends mavrick. he told me 1500 for mine and 1100 for my friend. now this is painted , trim polished , gaps alighed , cars will be straight ready to go to a car show.
we went down the street to his " shop " in the bottom of a building with a 4 rent sign in the front. he had 2 bays with little to no tools visable. " he was working on another car in another location" i was uneasy , but he left the mavrick there with a check for $ 500 car was to be done in 2 weeks.
we ll to wind things up , the car was there since sept 30 , after many excuses and my friend giveing him the rest of the money 600 . we went last night and took the car back, no one was around , he no longers answers his phone or returns messages. i called the building owner and he told how to get in the build and to take the car. the guy hasn't even paid his rent , he only payed the first month and has been there over 4 months.
after all that time all the was done to the car , the tailights were out trim off , hood scoup and wing were off. there was body putty over the roof that was unfinished. it was a gallon of the 3m bondo that you get at walmart.
this guy came recommended from another customer , that we now found out he has ripped off and messed up 2 of his cars.
my buddy is out 1100 the guy is out 2600 plus about 3500 to repair his cars.
sadd part is we can do nothing to this guy he can just walk away and keep ripping people off ............at least my car and money are still safe...
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Old 11-06-2009, 02:18 PM
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Brian - good post. This also applies to other 'trades' as well. In my area, we have the carpenters and/or house painters, who seem to be the worst. They start a job then you don't see 'em until they need to make a payment on their new $60,000+ pickup and the cell phone bill is past due. My wife keeps asking me why I don't hire out some jobs - my patience (or lack thereof) with these folks would probably "earn" me a 6x9 concrete room with a door for which I can't get a key.

Dave W
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Old 11-06-2009, 03:11 PM
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Take him to small claims. They will force him to pay it back. It may take forever but it will work. Sounds a lot like my shop really, as far as the rent situation goes. I haven't made a dime to go in my own pocket in months, and I dont really see it getting any better. That about what I charge too. I have to right now though because I dont have a 10 or 20 year history, and cutting deals seems to be the only way to get the work, however I do use top line materials on most jobs, and put out really good work. I have started turning down a lot of jobs, like the $500 paint jobs where the client is really picky. I will say that I dont advertise, and my shop cant be seen from any street, so that hurts alot. When I do turn a car loose I normally get two jobs from that one. I figure I will gradually raise my rates as I get more popular, and hope to retain more cash after materials, and overhead. Wow I just hate to see guys like that doing business. It makes folks like me look bad. I have to start somewhere, and I guess I'll make it or starve, but I refuse to give up.
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Old 11-06-2009, 03:32 PM
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Giving away work or cutting deals is a slippery slope. One way to look at it is if you aren't going to make money, you might as well be watching Oprah, it is a lot easier than working!

One thing is for sure, if you work for free, you will have plenty of business, but what good will it do you?

Look at it this way, if you are going to work for a week 10 hours a day on two jobs that you gave away to make $XXX dollars, wouldn't it be better to only get one job where you charged properly that you make the same $XXX dollars but only have to work half the time?

I remember a few jobs I took when when I first opened and had more hunger than sense. One was a 56 Chevy pickup that I chopped the top on. By the time I was finished I made about a dollar an hour, no kidding. I still to this day have a piece of the windshield post on a wooden plaque up on the wall of my garage as a reminder NOT to ever make a deal so stupid again.

Brian
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Old 11-06-2009, 03:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irelands child
Brian - good post. This also applies to other 'trades' as well. In my area, we have the carpenters and/or house painters, who seem to be the worst. They start a job then you don't see 'em until they need to make a payment on their new $60,000+ pickup and the cell phone bill is past due. My wife keeps asking me why I don't hire out some jobs - my patience (or lack thereof) with these folks would probably "earn" me a 6x9 concrete room with a door for which I can't get a key.

Dave W

Oh yeah, every service job, I don't care what it is. I had my house painted a few years ago, holy crap what a nightmare that was. I don't look forward to having anyone come in my home to do anything.

Brian
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Old 11-06-2009, 03:58 PM
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[QUOTE=millercustomfab]Take him to small claims. They will force him to pay it back. It may take forever but it will work.


this guy doesn't even have a fixed address. the police say they can't do anything its a civil matter . so that means hireing an expensive lawer to get a judgement against someone who has nothing. thats just throwing good money after bad.....

they are looking into fileing a civil complaint against him , i think that can be done with out a lawer for a small fee. but they will still have little chance on any recovery.

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Old 11-17-2009, 07:59 PM
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Hey Dinger, Thanks for putting me on this thread....

Brian: Good stuff as I go to contract. On a related note, what makes for a good paint job? Number of coats, primer, sealer, base, clear????? and should $5,000 grand get it done?
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Old 11-18-2009, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by joeford
Hey Dinger, Thanks for putting me on this thread....

Brian: Good stuff as I go to contract. On a related note, what makes for a good paint job? Number of coats, primer, sealer, base, clear????? and should $5,000 grand get it done?
$5K MIGHT get it done, assuming there is little more then sand, prime, paint and finally cut and buff, using all good materials. If there is any body work, it will go (way) up from there. My roadster, finally painted, not as seen in the AVATAR, the materials alone and at jobber cost exceeded $1500
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