Where Every Bolt Matters
Tom Farrell will transform your car into a work of art
By Mike Savicki
Here is a simple test that will help identify your place on the “car guy knowledge scale.” Head out to your garage and dump that ever-expanding bucket of loose nuts, bolts, washers, and widgets on your worktable. Start a timer, then begin sorting them into piles exclusive to each and every car in your stable. Stop the timer when you are finished.
How long did it take? Remember, each and every piece of hardware started somewhere – it came off one of your vintage Ferraris, Corvettes, Alphis, and Cunninghams, or perhaps one of your old Fords and Chevys – and each part has a home. How else did the hardware find its resting spot in your garage?
A better question to ask might be, were you even able to finish?
Meet Mooresville’s Tom Farrell. When we discussed the possibility of him taking the test, the owner of Farrell Creations and Restorations just smiled. He’d be glad to give it a go, he told me, if and only if he had a bucket of loose bolts.
You see, after a 13-year career in the Penske fab shop, conducting aerodynamic testing, and building small-scale 45% models, each and every one by hand, then spending a few years honing his skills restoring classics at a larger Charlotte shop, Farrell made the decision five years ago to set off on his own, remembering in his encyclopedia of car knowledge that each and every piece of hardware belongs to a unique car, not a type or brand, but a single vehicle, no matter the age or condition.
And every bolt matters.
It starts with the car
The cars he touches, no matter the shape they are in when they arrive, typically transform to gold under his watchful eye and skilled hands. But not every old car, he says, is worth the investment.
Tom Farrell explains, “You can’t just say you want to do an old car and grab something. I try to explain to people that the car really needs to be worthy of being restored or else you are wasting a long list of things that starts with money. And if you come here asking me to restore a car, you better know what that means.
“To restore a car,” he continues, “there should be something about it. Maybe it’s a low number car for example or you know something that makes it special. One way or another, in a true restoration, no matter the level, you are going to be investing time and spending money if you plan to do it right.”
Making the decision not to restore a car with sentimental value is a discussion Farrell often has with his customers.
“Sentimentality is a hard connection to break,” he says. “The ties you have with it might run deep, but when it comes down to it, and I can show you even an estimate of the numbers, you might be better off going in a different way. That’s the double edged sword of the business.”
The choice of a car(s) can make all the difference. Find the right Ferrari, put in the necessary time and energy with exacting parts, and your seven thousand dollar barn find may be worth close to one million. Or take that hard-to-find Corvette and rebuild it to greater than exact specs and you may turn more heads than you ever thought possible at a SEMA show in Vegas.
Great restorations take time
Tom Farrell and his crew like to have no more than eight to 10 projects at once, and if you look around Farrell’s shop on any given day, you might see cars from California, West Virginia and Florida, not to mention each and every corner of Lake Norman, in various stages of rebuild. There’s no rush to the work he does either. A good restoration may take two to three years or longer if you need to track down or fabricate exact parts.
“We do take the time taking cars apart to see how they were put together,” he states. “You can take two of the same cars apart even side-by-side and see they were built entirely differently. Two Corvettes, even from the same production series, may be as different as two of my favorite vintage Ferraris, so the restoration is regulated by the car.”
When a car leaves Farrell’s shop it boasts more than simply a new look – it exudes new personality.
“I can get very particular, and I like to change cars just a bit but not overchange them,” he says. “Every maker injects a personality into the car, and each car requires a unique approach and touch. I make them cleaner and more refined knowing I’d rather have people look at a car and slowly but surely pick out what’s different as opposed to having the differences jump out at you.
“What is most difficult, but what I love about a shop like ours, where I might go from a Corvette restoration to a Ferrari to a custom build car, and I may do that a handful of times every hour of the day, is that I make each car cleaner and more refined,” he adds.
When a car leaves Tom Farrell’s shop, it takes with it the guarantee that it will never come back. Every nut, bolt, washer and widget will not only be in place, it will be perfect, even if he has to custom fabricate it himself. That’s what drives Tom Farrell to do what he loves. And that’s why he has no spare hardware bucket.
This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2016.