Hobbyists return to car restoration projects during the pandemic
With time to spare and nowhere to go during lockdown, many classic-car owners have seized the opportunity to finally make progress on a restoration project – or two.
Rob Dibble saw the overabundance of time at home as an opportunity to pursue his passion for car restoration. The corporate development entrepreneur has been working remotely in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his flexible schedule allowed him to focus on the restoration of his 1969 Volkswagen dune buggy.
“I wanted to do something more productive than binging TV shows,” Dibble said. He purchased the classic open-air vehicle in August of last year but has not had the opportunity to work on it until recent stay-at-home orders freed up much of his time. “I’ve re-discovered my love for restoration over the past few months.”
The buggy is not Dibble’s first restoration project. He has restored three motorcycles and two former ambulances that he converted into tailgating buses. However, the Dune Buggy is his first vintage vehicle.
“The car had been abandoned on a beach. It was totally rusted and in bad shape,” he said. Over the course of three months, Dibble installed a new carburetor, exhaust system, wheels, brakes and headlights. He also made changes to the interior, including new seats, a new dashboard with a GPS speedometer, new carpeting and a new stereo. He also re-painted the exterior, transforming it from all-yellow to a flat grey with a light-yellow racing stripe.
When Dibble encounters a mechanical challenge, he spends time “tinkering” to see if he can solve the issue. “That’s the most fun part for me. I love trying out different solutions and seeing what I can figure out for myself,” he says.
If Dibble needs additional support, he turns to the online community of Volkswagen enthusiasts.
“They’ve been so welcoming. They help work through any challenges you have in the restoration process, send vehicle parts that you may not be able to find, and share their own projects,” he said. “I never knew there was this presence of Volkswagen fans [in Charlotte]. It’s been nice to see the community supporting each other.”
Dibble has enjoyed seeing the creative ways others have solved for mechanical problems. “Everyone is concerned about money right now, which makes it difficult to purchase expensive car parts or get restoration work done for them,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, people are taking on the work themselves and being resourceful. For me, it’s been one way to have fun and focus on something I love.”
For Jamie Orr, car restoration is more than just a hobby. Based in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Orr works with Volkswagen and travels around the world to restore and write about Volkswagens. “I was working on three concept cars when the stay-at-home orders started,” Orr said.
“I was scheduled to travel around Europe for auto shows in a few weeks. It was really disappointing not to see these projects come to life.” But the stay-at-home orders which paused his scheduled travel with Volkswagen allowed him to pursue several personal projects.
His first is a 1974 Volkswagen Golf that he found in the Nevada desert almost a decade ago. “I’ve been able to do more work on the car in the past eight weeks than I have in the past eight years,” Orr said.
Orr has 19 Volkswagens in his garage for personal projects, so his restoration to-do list won’t be completed anytime soon. Next up is a 1984 Volkswagen Golf GTI which he plans to restore on-camera non-stop. “I’m going to set up a webcam and am not going to leave my workshop until the car is ready to drive out,” he explained. “That’s one challenge I’m really looking forward to.”
Orr has also seen his social media following grow as more and more people take up car restoration projects with their extra time. “We are all finding solace and a healthy distraction through car restoration,” he says. “And the great thing is that you can do it while social distancing and supporting the suppliers and recyclers that provide the car parts.”
While anxious to get back to his travel and projects with Volkswagen, Orr sees this increased love for car restoration as a silver lining during this difficult time.
“This is something people may have brushed to the side for years. Now, we are all making space in our lives for hobbies again. Especially now, it’s important to find the little things that make us happy,” he said.
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