You’ve read the car features and watched the YouTube videos, and the terms “restomod” and “pro touring” keep popping up. These are car building styles that have a lot in common, with many similar visual characteristics, but the terminology is normally not interchangeable. Asking your local hot rod shop to turn your family heirloom into a pro touring machine may result in a very different car than if you ask for a restomod—and the bill at the end of the day could look very different!
Here, we’ll definitively show you the difference between a pro touring car and a restomod, give you a list of attributes to help you choose which one you like best, and finally, show you a bunch of our favorite examples of restomod hot rods to drool over!
What Does “Restomod” Mean?
Pro touring, or restomod? This is Hot Rod staffer Steven Rupp wheeling his 1968 Camaro through the turns at the autocross. While retaining the stock silhouette, it’s all pro touring, with every performance-related component upgraded.
The word “restomod” is a combination of the words “restoration” and “modified.” Think of a restomod muscle car as one that is two parts restoration, and one part modified, and you’ll be really close. The recipe for a restomod is more restoration than modified, and those non-stock modifications are there strictly to help bring the vehicle up to or near the driving standards of a showroom-fresh performance car.
Let’s say your 350-powered 1969 Chevelle originally stopped from 70 mph in 300 feet with its original drum brakes, a pretty average or even good number for 1969. Let’s also say your daily-driven 2015 Camaro will stop from the same speed in just 150 feet. In one scenario, you may be driving your Chevelle on the highway one sunny afternoon when the car in front makes a panic stop. If your Chevelle is restored to original specs, you may well find yourself visiting a really expensive shop getting its front end repaired, or worse.
This 1969 Chevelle is a perfect example of a home-built restomod. The GM A-body is well supported in the aftermarket with brakes, wheels, tires, suspension, and powertrain upgrades. It’s got a decidedly factory vintage vibe, but with modern capabilities.
With a restomod, the goal is to retain as much of the original look and feel of your classic, while upgrading its performance, safety, and over-the-road performance (economy, comfort, infotainment) to new-car levels. If you want to do some SCCA racing, the Optima Challenge, or hit the Goodguys autocross circuit, a restomod isn’t going to be enough to take home the trophy, but you’ll still be able to have some fun without worrying about wrecking your pride and joy. For the win, you’ll need a pro touring car.
Why Not Just Restore It?
Making your classic machine safer to drive with more modern brakes, tires, chassis components, and other safety gear like three-point seatbelts might seem like a no-brainer, so why are traditional restorations so popular? For one thing, it’s usually the least expensive way to go for most popular cars where reproduction parts are readily available (Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, Challenger, etc.). Also, for many, owning a perfect example of an original ride that has no modern upgrades is like stepping into a time machine. That’s a huge reason to restore rather than modify.
The fan who is going more for nostalgia or collectability will choose the restoration over the restomod and may even choose what’s called a “day-two” look, a form of restoration that allows modifications that would’ve been available at the time of manufacture. An otherwise completely stock 1969 Chevelle with five-slot mag wheels, Cherry Bomb mufflers, and a carb/intake upgrade such as a dual-plane with a Holley double-pumper would be considered a “day two” restoration because while not stock, these are mods the original owner could’ve performed literally the next day after driving it off the showroom floor. Day-two restos are popular for the same reason showroom-fresh restorations are popular: they tug at the heartstrings the way no restomod or pro touring machine could ever do!
The Pro Touring Machine
This Charger is being built at The Roadster Shop and features many high-end pro touring upgrades. In fact, almost nothing about this “Charger” is original to a 1968 Charger. Definitely not a restomod.
At a quick glance, a restomod might look like a pro touring car (also known as a g-machine), but there are some important differences. While a restomod may have a combination of a modern wheel/tire package, safer disc brakes, lower stance with mild suspension upgrades like stiffer springs, performance shocks, some form of overdrive transmission, and a warmed-over powerplant, the pro touring car takes things to the next level. Where the restomod recipe was two parts restoration and one part modification, the pro touring machine is one part restoration and two parts modified.
When deciphering or deciding between a restomod and a pro touring machine, the emphasis on pro touring is the word “pro,” which means a car that is purpose built for autocross or road course competition, such as the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge. It also means the car is built (usually) by a competition-oriented shop, since much of the chassis and suspension is custom built for optimum geometry, on-track safety, and chassis stiffness. This means a pro touring car has near zero compromising for street driving. Pro Touring cars are, by definition, street-style cars, but they will behave and feel closer to race cars than a showroom-fresh 2020 Camaro.
The interior of a full-tilt pro touring machine. Note how every panel is being customized and a form-fit rollcage has been fabricated for both driver protection and chassis stiffness. When finished, it will be a no-compromise, track-ready machine.
By comparison, this same-year 1968 Dodge Charger interior is the one from our lead image car. As a restomod, it carries over the bulk of the factory styling, with modest improvements to running gear like a full disc brake conversion and overdrive.
Going to the 1969 Chevelle example, a restomod version might have a stock-style suspension with aftermarket control arms, while the pro touring machine would typically have a completely redesigned perimeter-frame chassis, like those from Roadster Shop or Schwartz Performance, to name two. That will certainly raise the budget, but it will also provide a solid platform for the management of much higher power levels.
Whether you’re interested in a total restoration or a full-tilt pro touring monster, you’ll want to understand the hierarchy of performance. A restoration is the process of returning a car to its as-born configuration without any mods. Up from that is the day-two look, which encompasses simple bolt-ons available at the time of original manufacture. At the restomod level, the UPS truck starts bringing bigger boxes to the garage, with disc brakes, larger-diameter wheels and tires, higher-output engines, stiffer suspensions, and overdrive transmissions. At this point, your restomod should be roughly as capable as a showroom-fresh performer such as a new Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger R/T, Corvette, or Mustang GT.
This 1967 Lincoln Continental restomod belongs to Dax Shepard, one of the new hosts for MotorTrend On-Demand’s Top Gear America series. It proves that anything can be turned into a restomod—even a four-door luxury car.
Restomod vs. Pro Touring at a Glance
- Affordability. A restomod is typically much more affordable than a pro touring machine. Can also be built in stages more easily.
- Brakes. A restomod has a brake package that’s upgraded to modern passenger-car standards. A pro touring machine will have race-caliber brakes.
- Wheels & Tires. Both restomods and pro tourers have larger-diameter wheels and tires, but a pro touring machine is more likely to sport a more aggressive rubber compound and lighter, more costly wheels.
- Chassis. A restomod will retain the stock chassis and rely on simple suspension bolt-on parts that don’t destroy or alter the factory metal. A serious pro touring machine will have a ground-up chassis.
- Suspension. The restomod is in the sweet spot for enthusiasts because most vintage chassis types are well supported by the aftermarket. A few choice bolt-ons can close 80 percent of the handling gap with a pro touring car for about a third of the price.
- Overdrive. Since the goal of both restomods and pro touring cars is ultimately to drive them on the street, an overdrive transmission is the key. A competitive pro touring car will almost always have a manual transmission, though.
- Safety. As a mostly street-driven vehicle, a restomod will only require the equipment mandated by the Fed in the year of manufacture. A pro touring machine, however, may get significant use on track and other high-speed venues, such as mile racing and open-road racing (Pike’s Peak, Silver State Classic, Big Bend, etc.). This will require significant safety upgrades in the form of rollbars or rollcages, fire suppression systems, fire-resistant attire, helmet, and rollbar padding.
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