Tokar is frank with new customers — restoring a classic car is anything but a practical investment.

"One thing I always warn people about is that you can spend a lot more money on a car than it will ever be worth, because of the nature of the restoration process."

Tokar noted that a lot of these old cars were originally built by workers and technicians who were paid a little more than a dollar an hour.

On average, Vintage Restorations charges about 80 times that much.

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"What we're doing is restoring a car that's been all worn out," he says. "We have to take it apart — one step, refurbish or replace many of the components -- two steps and put it back together --three steps. And we're working at $80 an hour, not $1.50

"So do the math," he says. "You can end up spending $80,000 on a car that's worth $12,000.

But people will do it, he said, because of an attachment to cars that's more than dollars and cents.

"If somebody, for instance, has a car that's been in their family for 30 years, and they've had it stored in their back yard, and they decide they want to restore it to the way it was in 1960 — for them, it's worth it," he said.

"That's because, when they get behind the wheel of that car, it's like they are back in 1960. They're not worried about getting their money out of it."

On the plus side, Tokar poined out, customers end up with "an absolutely perfect product. It's going to have better paint, better fabric, better structural material than the original." But it's not going to handle like your BMW or Mercedes or whatever, because it will still have 1950s or 1960s technology, and that is what it is."

Tokar walks over to a 1963 E-Type Jaguar which is only a few steps short of being showroom -ready all over again.

"The most expensive projects we've worked on are these E-type Jags," he said. "They can be very expensive and very time-consuming to restore -- as much as $120,000 to $150,000

"Jaguars of this type just turned 50 years old last year, and because of that everything involved in restoring them, such as parts, has gone up," he added. "But on the positive side, the E-types will hold their value. You can spend $120,00 restoring one of these and you can probably get that out of it. But if you spend $80,000 restoring an MG-B you won't ever get your money back."

Tinkering Tokar

During his 25 years of ocean engineering, technology development, ocean chemistry work and instrumentation development for the federal government, Tokar never stopped tinkering with cars.

As he neared retirement, he was itching to jump back into restoration full-time.

In 1994 he incorporated Vintage Restorations and opened a small, three-bay auto shop in Ijamsville, in Frederick County. In 1998, he retired from NOAH, turned his business into a full-time enterprise and moved to a larger shop in Mount Airy.

About five years ago he bought and completely renovated a former filling station/auto dealership/woodworking shop at 52 N. Main St., Union Bridge, that now serves as his headquarters.

"We spent about a year getting rid of about 40 years of sawdust," he said.

His current facility is 10 times the size of that first shop in Ijamsville.

Vintage Restorations Limited now draws customers from all over the country. Tokar advertises his services via the Internet and in vintage automobile club journals and magazines.

"We also get a lot of repeat customers and customer referrals," he said.

"The beauty of the Baltimore-Washington, D.C.-northern Virginia region is that there's a high concentration of British car owners," he said. "There's a British car club for almost every British car that was ever made, and we draw from that crowd."

As a member of the Chesapeake chapter of the New England MG "T" Register, Tokar has also for years sponsored an annual Original British Car Day, held in the early summer at Lilypons Water Gardens, in Frederick County.

Tokar's tinkering is not just confined to vintage cars. He's also a long-time volunteer in the mechanics shop at Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum. His office walls display photos of some of the museum's world-famous antique steam locomotives that he has helped restore and repair.

He's also building a pair of miniature steam locomotives. He's working from the original specs for a Prairie-style locomotive built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which operated in Philadelphia from the early 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Eventually, he wants to run his little steam trains and offer rides to the public on the 3,200 feet of track at Leakin Park, in Baltimore, where members of the Chesapeake & Allegheny Steam Preservation Society regularly operate similar miniature steam locomotives.

"It's just one of those crazy hobbies you're involved in that nobody knows about," he said.

Which means, one day, it might be his next business.