24 March 2009

Book Review: Survivor- The Unrestored Collector Car

Survivor - The Unrestored Collector Car
By Kris Palmer
202 pages, foreword by Tom Cotter
©2008 Parker House Publishing

Given the amount of attention that the unrestored car phenomenon has garnered in the last few years (I’ve written about it in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and in a White Paper for Hagerty’s Cars That Matter), it seemed inevitable that someone would write a book on the topic. "Survivor" along with Richard Letinello's book "It's Only Original Once" are to my knowledge the first major efforts on the subject of well-preserved unrestored cars as opposed to barn finds whose circumstances and “as found” condition give them a charm all their own. 

The first clue that Palmer gets it when it comes to original cars is his choice of Tom Cotter to do the foreword. Cotter is the co-director of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the author of the books, The Cobra in the Barn and The Hemi in the Barn. The king of the barn find, along with David Burroughs at Bloomington Gold, Cotter is among the leading evangelists for the automotive preservation movement.

There is an element of uniformity in restored cars. Fresh ones are often better than new, seldom driven and with a few exceptions, achieved their status because someone was dedicated enough to write a very large check. With the exception of long-term owners who for sentimental reasons make their old friend seem new again, seldom is there as compelling a back story as with a well-preserved unrestored car. Seeing one always begs the question how and why did this car beat the odds and remain untouched? And that’s where Survivor delivers for the reader— in serving up the compelling back stories attached to the cars Palmer gives the reader an attachment to them as well even if it’s just for ten to twenty pages.

Sometimes the story is tragic, like that of Red Leonard’s 1959 Plymouth Fury which with just over 3,000 miles remained like new because of a serious illness to the original owner. And some are the kinds of stories that simply warm the hearts of any car person, like the pair of unrestored Porsche 356s that Ruth and Arthur Shiffrar owned and passed on to their daughters Maggie and Genevieve. The difference Palmer explains between a new car and one that has shared in your life is that “one is a conveyance, while the other is family.”

The chapter “Preserving What You Have” is particularly instructive in explaining practical and sympathetic methods of repair and conservation and what is and what is not wise to do with a well-preserved unrestored car. It also explains how preservation classes work at major concours and what the standards are.


Survivor will hopefully not be the only book ever written on this topic, but it does stand on its own as an excellent introduction to a growing trend and hopefully a maturation process in the collector car hobby that will see it falling in line with other collecting pursuits such as art and antiques where the watchword is “leave it alone.”


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