Term Paper – Part 1: Restomod and Day Two Resto
By Nick Licata, Jeff Smith, Steve Magnante & Tony Huntimer
As time moves forward it tends to distance itself from historical accuracy. In the vintage muscle car world [we] have a plethora of documentation through good old-fashioned magazines from the early days of hot rodding, but while the images hold visual truth, the spoken words of those present at the time tend to become a bit distorted as the stories get passed down from generation to generation—not intentional, it’s just a natural progression, or regression in this case.
As the history of vintage muscle cars remain anchored in time, it further distances itself from its origin. This separation can sometimes lend itself to muscle car terminology becoming a bit askew. But let’s keep in mind that while muscle car modifications shift, so should the definitions.
So, we’ve reached out to a few knowledgeable and respected industry gearheads who have been on the editorial side of the car magazine world for decades to get their interpretation of some terminology common with muscle car build styles, and if said terms are subjective, standardized, or simply need a bit of updating.
In Part one of our terminology series, we’ll introduce our panel of experienced hot rod types and let them share their interpretation of Day Two Restos and Restomods. As always, we encourage you to chime in with your thoughts, so send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff has been the editor at Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Chevy High Performance magazines, and is a current contributor to All Chevy Performance along with a plethora of other ventures he’s got cooking, including the Car Guy Confessions podcast that you can also subscribe to on YouTube.
Steve Mags began writing for car magazines back in 1991 and was technical editor at Hot Rod magazine and since then has editorially contributed to more magazines and websites than we can count, written multiple automotive books, and was host of Motor Trend TV’s Junkyard Gold and Steve Magnante’s Super Models. His vast knowledge is most evident while on the block during the Barret-Jackson collector car auction. Listen to his podcast Steve Mags Muscle Car Show and catch his always-informative column “Bowtie Boneyard” in this here magazine.
Tony has written automotive books on upgrading vintage Camaros, contributed numerous technical articles to a multitude of publications, including having a regular column in the now-defunct Camaro Performers magazine. Today, he owns Camaro.Family, the largest Camaro-only IG page with close to half a million followers, and he also manages social media for the Big Red Camaro. His knowledge of muscle cars, especially Camaros, is extensive.
So, let’s get started.
Day Two Resto
Jeff Smith: My take on this term is what you would typically do to your car on the second day you own it. This is very generational. I couldn’t afford much on my first car, a ’66 four-speed GTO, because it had most of what I wanted. I added a stereo because it needed tunes, but I quickly learned it wasn’t fast enough and those parts all cost money.
On my second car, a big-block ’66 Chevelle four-speed 360hp Rat with 4.10 gears, all it needed were bigger rear tires that I immediately bolted on. From there, I just tuned and raced it. It wasn’t until 15 years later that I added power steering and front disc brakes. All of these are Day Two mods. I think for the serious guy, nitrous would probably make a great Day Two addition.
I don’t think a blower or turbo is a Day Two swap. It’s more like week 10 or perhaps a year into the build before I would get that serious.
Steve Magnante: As the name describes, a Day Two Restoration is a car constructed to look as if was a brand-new factory unit, which was then given modifications typical to the period, in our case typically the years 1960-1975. It’s a fact that few muscle cars remained 100 percent factory stock for very long after delivery to their first owners. But let’s not let the term “Day Two” fool us into thinking these modifications were simple enough to be completed–literally–on “day two” of vehicle ownership. Rather, the term implies modifications owners were eager enough to make that they started turning wrenches within days of vehicle purchase, but in most cases, the evolution of the car could take months or even years to complete.
The engine was one of the first areas of improvement. Things like tubular steel exhaust headers, aluminum intake manifolds, open-element air cleaners (when not factory supplied, i.e. Z/28, L78 396/L72 427, and so on), high-capacity spark plug wires (usually in bright colors for increased look-at-me value), plastic-blade flex-fans, and finned aluminum or chromed valve covers, are the underhood hallmarks of a Day Two muscle car.
And we can’t forget the body, suspension, and interior. Though most muscle cars came with plenty of external “plumage” in the form of stripes and metal or plastic emblems, taking things a step further, Day Two body additions typically included hood scoops (not necessarily, but preferably functional), foglights, trunk spoilers, and (unfortunately) aftermarket sunroofs, sliced into the expanse of the factory roofskin in an effort to grab some convertible vibes on the cheap (a “crime” usually committed by the second or third owner of the car, though some dealerships peddled sunroofs as an after-sale profit center).
Underneath, suspension add-ons typically included traction bars (ladder-type on coil-sprung cars, slapper bars on leaf-sprung cars), rear axle lift kits via pneumatic bags or air shocks–complete with Schrader valve inflation points cut into the rear bumper or hidden inside the trunk or behind the hinged rear license plate (if so equipped). On leaf-sprung cars, extra-length shackles increased rear ride height. In most cases, the jacking of the rear suspension was done to allow fitment of fatter rear tires mounted to wider rims. Though the handling characteristics of “jacked up” muscle cars are rarely enhanced, the look can be very effective.
Wheel and tire upgrades are another classic Day Two issue. But it’s crucial to use period-correct items to get the job done correctly. That means classic aftermarket wheel types. Good choices are Cragar S/S, American Racing Torq Thrust, Keystone Classic, Radir, Fenton slots, and so on. For tires, non-radial, bias-ply, or belted tires with square shoulders and brash white sidewall lettering are mandatory to achieve the time-warp look. Another classic touch–of debatable taste–is the application of bright or contrasting colors to brake drums, axle housings, suspension members, and even the entire frame (on non-unitized models).
Inside, classic Day Two touches include an aftermarket vintage tachometer and three-dial gauge cluster–typically fastened to the underside of the dash. A replacement steering wheel with a wood or colored metalflake plastic hoop is typical. Factory-issued transmission controls are usually replaced by aftermarket items—regardless of manual or automatic configuration—for more accurate execution of upshifts and downshifts.
Finally, we need an aftermarket 8-track tape player with box speakers lashed to the rear package tray. Paint the bulb in the dome lamp red or green and you’re ready to properly enjoy Deep Purple’s Highway Star; “… eight cylinders all mine … it’s a killing machine … gonna race it to the ground … big fat tires and everything …”. Yeah. That’s the problem. So many Baby Boomers drove their SS396s, Z/28s, heavy Chevys, and Nova Super Sports extra hard after adding Day Two modifications, a lot were quickly used up. But we can’t deny that a properly executed Day Two muscle car really stands out from the sea of look-alike 100-point restorations.
Tony Huntimer: Day Two builds are typically centered around muscle cars from the ’60s to early ’70s; if I had to narrow it down even further, maybe 1967-73. Day Two refers to a car (of the years previously mentioned) that was purchased new at the dealer and driven home. On the second day of ownership, that car is in the garage up on jackstands getting a bunch of speed parts bolted on. Since those cars are ’67-73, that would mean the bolt-on parts would only be limited to what was available over the counter during those years. So we’re talking Lakewood traction bars, Cragar S/S wheels, Accel ignition coil, Sun tachometer, Edelbrock tunnel ram, Mr. Gasket velocity stacks, Hooker headers, Mickey Thompson finned aluminum valve covers … and much more.
Jeff Smith: I have never really liked this term because it seems like it’s just another version of a hot rod or modified car. But I suppose everything has to have a label. Labels make it quick and easy to identify a certain type of machine, so I guess it has its place. But if you modify it, it’s not stock anymore so it’s not restored. But perhaps it could mean a car that is modified but not quite as heavily as a Pro Touring car.
Steve Magnante: Restomods–as the name describes–blend equal parts “restoration” and equal parts “modification” in one vehicle, which is generally configured to look stock while packing superior acceleration, cruising, handling, and braking capabilities. Builders of Restomods seek to leave the body and most visible areas looking stock, but with hidden upgrades to improve the aforementioned ability to drive on a daily basis–and maybe even surprise a few modern muscle cars with a show of taillights.
Favorite powerplants include modern LS and LT crate engines up to and including the latest supercharged monsters. Those builders who choose traditional small- and big-blocks virtually always rely on adapted factory EFI or one of the many excellent aftermarket systems.
Carburetors are lumped in with pocket calculators and pay phones, they’re gone, gone, gone. Superchargers are growing in popularity as are turbos on the more power-hungry efforts.
Behind any proper Restomod engine we find overdrive transmissions with five or six gears (manual) or four to eight (automatic).
Suspension systems are first class with coilovers replaced by air springs capable of sticking corners like a Z06 while allowing variable ride height and stance adjustments to suit road conditions. Brakes are strictly disc type with the possibility of rotors as big as the 15-inch wheel rims we used to think were state of the art. A key factor in allowing the modern suspensions and brakes to fully bloom is the new wave of 18- to 20-inch tires. Many are Z-rated and their ultra-thin sidewalls and foot-plus tread width give traction better than a ’60s Formula 1 race car.
Inside a proper Restomod we’ll find digital gauges in tastefully arranged pods and clusters, which can be bought pre-assembled from multiple aftermarket sources. Seating is a key factor in a car capable of over 1 g and numerous sources of high-back, fully bolstered bucket seats–upholstered in fine leather, no less–are readily available.
Over the past two decades, the Restomod build aesthetic has established itself as perhaps the most popular way to render any vintage car. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see shops take Bloomington award-winning Corvettes (and equally prime Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, Impalas, and so on) and rebuild them with full-boat Restomod touches. Though the end result runs and drives far better than any showroom stocker, the level of modification is so extreme these cars are pretty much beyond any hope of return to stock. To some, this is a scary proposition, as every “stock” Chevy that’s permanently modified is “another one gone,” the greater outcome is the car’s ability to be driven and enjoyed has mushroomed. We love ’em both. How about you?
Tony Huntimer: The term Restomod is the conglomeration of the two words, restoration and modification. It originated solely to describe the restoration and modification of muscle cars (typically from the early ’60s to the mid ’70s) produced by the Ford Motor Company. I say early ’60s to include early Ford Falcons. Restomod’s earliest beginnings came from Mustangs Plus in Stockton, California. They still use the term in their literature. When the term started, the Ford enthusiasts were more interested in keeping their cars original or at least limiting the modifications of their car to bolt-on performance engine and suspension parts that made the car perform better but could be removed in order to put their cars back to stock … to retain the originality value for a future owner. Since that time, Restomod has bled over into more permanent performance upgrades that would take more than a wrench to reverse the modifications.
In the next installment, we’ll dig into the terms Pro Touring, Pro Street, and Street Freak–all good stuff.