Collectors keep some GM classics coming

Why GM offers vintage parts
  • The old-spec parts business is almost pure profit for GM.

  • It encourages “customer passion” for GM vehicles.

  • It gives some suppliers a bonus revenue stream.

  • Ralph Nader won’t like this, but General Motors still is making money off the Chevrolet Corvair.

    For the past decade, GM Restoration Parts, a unit of GM’s Service Parts Operations, has been building a catalog of obsolete parts for cars such as the Corvair, vintage trucks, all of GM’s muscle cars from the ’60s and ’70s, Cadillacs and Corvettes. More than 24,000 parts for all GM brands are available on the Internet and through GM dealers’ parts departments for enthusiasts who want to use original-equipment-quality parts to restore their vehicles.

    As the featured manufacturer at this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, GM will display a selection of its restoration parts. Service Parts Operations also will display the latest performance and appearance parts for current production vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Cavalier and Monte Carlo and Pontiac Sunfire and Grand Prix, as well as light trucks. Also in the GM display will be 28 customized vehicles.

    Muscle car mania

    In recent years, GM’s muscle cars from 1964 to 1973 have surged in value. Collectors are paying as much as $30,000 for rare examples of the Pontiac GTO, first-generation Camaro SS, Oldsmobile 442, Buick GS Stage 1 and other GM muscle cars with huge V-8 engines. The spike in values has triggered booming demand for high-quality restoration parts as battered and worn-out collector cars have become too valuable to go to the crusher.

    “The muscle car era is very, very hot, and I would expect it to continue that way for some time,” said Bob Cheyne, GM’s manager of trademark licensing. “I’m told we are getting somewhere near a million hits a month on the Restoration Parts Web site.”

    GM’s old trucks — from classic ’50s step-side Chevrolet and GMC pickups to the boxy models from the late 1960s and early 1970s — also have become collectible, Cheyne said. The changing trends of the collector-car hobby heavily influence the parts that get reproduced. Once a part is dropped from GM’s active parts inventory, it is eligible to become a restoration part. But GM won’t manufacture it.

    Outside suppliers

    Though only a small unit of the Service Parts Operations, the GM Restoration Parts business generates high profits for GM. There is almost no overhead for GM; no GM manufacturing or warehouse resource is used.

    GM has lined up about 150 manufacturers to produce GM Restoration Parts under license. The parts often are made on original factory tooling. Once a component is dropped from GM’s active parts inventory and becomes a restoration part, GM lends the tooling and charges a licensing fee to the company that manufactures the item. It’s the manufacturing company’s responsibility to package and ship the parts.

    If tooling is too worn out or can’t be located, GM makes the blueprints and specs for the part available, leaving it to the manufacturer to spend the money to produce the part. GM has blueprints for all its vehicles dating back to the 1920s, Cheyne said.

    GM engineers inspect the restoration parts to ensure that they match or exceed original specifications. Some items, such as rubber trim, are better than the original because of improved materials and manufacturing methods.

    Most of the old-car fans order their parts from the GM Web site, but new-vehicle dealers can make money selling parts for vintage GM vehicles because consumers also can go to any GM dealership and buy the parts. The order is processed at GM’s Service Parts Operations offices in Southfield, Mich., and sent to each manufacturer, branded “GM Restoration Parts.” Dealers are billed for restoration parts along with their regular parts orders.

    GM Restoration Parts likely will expand its offerings in the coming years to include the Pontiac Fiero and the second- and third-generation of the Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro, he said. There is an almost insatiable demand for sheet metal body parts for classic cars and trucks. Some of that tooling still exists in GM warehouses and could be hauled out of mothballs for reconditioning when needed.

    GM is not the only company offering vintage parts. British Motor Heritage provides genuine factory replacement parts for Austin-Healey, Triumph and MG sports cars from the 1950s to the 1980s. Chrysler group also offers a small selection of vintage restoration parts.

    Ford Motor Co. also relies on outside suppliers for vintage parts, and, like GM, Ford provides original factory manufacturing information, said Ford spokesman John Jelinek. Ford also offers a large selection of vintage performance parts in its Motorsports catalog.

    You can reach Richard Truett at

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