They send you bills, and send you bills, and send you bills. If your car is worth something, the bills will get so high you will lose your car.
I'm sorry that you had a bad experience at Daron's shop, but what you are describing is a practical reality of the restoration process
. Auto restoration always costs a lot more than you might expect to have to pay, and takes far longer than anyone who hasn't done similar work might imagine. Moreover, the worse the condition a car is in combined with it's potential worth when completed is a guarantee that the car will be hard to restore and that costs are going to escalate exponentially. More than a few people get started in a restoration, find that they're over their head and have to bail out with an unfinished car. Similarly, I've known more than a few shops that have gotten so upside down with their billing and hours that they've had to go out of business. Restoration is a tricky business for everyone concerned.
For instance: restoration shops seldom do driver quality paint. But in order to get their splendid, high quality paint jobs it's sometimes necessary to do a job two or three times. Moreover, it's not at all uncommon for a restoration shop to put in many hours just color sanding and compounding a single
panel. My friend and mentor, Tony, once painted a subsequent national concourse winning Rolls Royce three times
before he was happy with the result. And, yes, his customer understood why he was being asked to pay three times for the same paint-work.
They won't give you an estimate because that way they can't send you bills, and send you bills and send you bills. They would have to stick to the estimate.
I think it's customary for people contemplating having their car restored to think in terms of regular bodyshop work where you get a written estimate, detailing the work and costs of the repairs your need done. Restorations, however, usually involve hundreds of hours of shop time and years of work.
Given the complexity of the work needing to be done along with all manner of unexpected problems that always accompany the work, restoration shops simply can't produce the kind of fender-bender insurance estimates many customers expect. The most honest shops will simply tell you that they can't tell you how much you're gong to have to pay, because that's the literal truth---they honestly can't tell you how much you'll have spent in the 3 or 5 years it might take to finish your car. Some restoration shops nonetheless will provide an "estimate" because that's what their potential customers expect. But if they do you can bet they've added an extra 50% or so to their best guess of what the finished price might end up costing.
It's probably more realistic to ask for an estimate to disassemble the car, another for stripping the paint, etc., although few restoration shops like to do this, preferring to simply charge for the work as it's being done.
At the beginning of this thread, mygtveloce commented that " . . . restoration is for rich guys, or mechanics/craftsmen. . . Otherwise, it's trouble waiting to happen . . .". I agree entirely with these comments. Speaking only for myself, I have no intention of getting involved in a full-on Alfa restoration. Don't get me wrong here: I genuinely respect those, both on the shop side and the customer side, who do restore old Alfas. While I have friends with the disposable income to finance a best-quality restoration, other friends who are mechanics/craftsmen and love the challenge of restoring their own Alfas; based on what I know about the practical realities of the restoration process, it's simply not something I want to do. Instead, my advice to one and all is this: if you aren't one of the people mygtveloce describes, the best thing to do is to simply search out the best Alfa you can find, and buy it!
And then you can enjoy driving a great looking splendidly driving Alfa. That's what I did with my pristine, entirely enjoyable, wonderfully driving, Guilia Super.