Everyone has an opinion about body work—mostly the guys who do body work. Like everything else I do, I researched the shit out of this one.
It is probably worth noting what I was looking for in terms of bodywork because everyone has different expectations. What I want out of my vehicle can be markedly different than what the next guy wants. I was looking to stop the rust and make the van road-ready. That’s all. Most everyone who saw Adie would say, “That’s not so bad” initially. She had some rusty spots at the wheel wells and at the bottom of the slider door, around the engine hatch and of course under the bay windshield. But upon closer inspection things grew more grim. Window leaks and some of the surface rust pulled away to reveal through and through holes. A gaping rusted wound underneath.
As with lots of bus work, you have three options: Do the work yourself; hire some dude who does this on his own; go to a shop. While I’ve done plenty of my own work on the bus I have not the skill, equipment, time, or know-how to even begin on a project like this. I vetted one guy who has his own setup in the backyard. I had no doubt that if he stayed out of jail, the work would have been every bit as good as a shop. With the bus being a business vehicle and me wanting to claim the bodywork on my taxes and add it to the total replacement cost for insurance, my dude would need to come in significantly cheaper than a shop to make it worth my while.
So I looked around at shops. And that was a wild ride. Most bodywork places have no interest in your restoration project. Yeah, you might want to spend top dollar, but that pales in comparison to what they can bilk an insurance company for when it comes to collision repair. Nearly every shop I found that does restoration work did it as more or less a hobby. One great little shop said they would hold onto the bus for a minimum of 90 days (!) and work it into their collision schedule. When business was slow, they would peck away at it. And that was one of the more expensive places I researched. I found one business—a one-man show—that only did restoration. I called him and told him what I wanted out of the bus.
“Listen,” he said, “I restore Ferraris. Classic MGs. Stuff that literally sits in rich people’s living rooms. Go to Maaco.” He then said the average cost for his work was $14K.
We spoke for a little longer and he insisted that for the work I wanted, Maaco did a great job. I’m sure they are good people, but Adie is my pride and joy. She deserves better than a roll of the dice at a Maaco shop.
I finally settled on a little shop located just four miles from my house, Spring Valley Auto. Why did I choose them? They instilled the most confidence. When all else fails, trust your gut. I liked the guys I talked to; they didn’t talk down to me. They were honest, as far as I could tell. Their shop had been in the same spot for 60 years and always family owned. You don’t get to live in a small town Midwest for several generations by acting like a skeev (Xenia notwithstanding as skeeviness is the norm). Spring Valley was not the least expensive, but it wasn’t nearly at the top of the ranges I received.
Miracle stopped by the shop and took some photos and they were happy to explain the work they were doing. They were kind to her and even sent her more photos as things progressed.
One thing to keep in mind: Collision repair always comes first, so the timeline you receive from anyone is tentative. We had a late April snow and, being Ohio, there were a bunch of fender benders, which meant the bus had to wait for a couple more days while the collision work took precedence.
Once I got Adie back, I was nearly in tears. She is beautiful. Shining like a mirror and completely free of rust. If you’re looking to invest in your bus and give her a good life, this is money well spent.