14 August 2013

Old Is The New, New

When you’re in the business and restore cars for a living, you look for something special that you can’t make. And you can’t manufacture originality. It’s kind of intriguing if you think about it. Dad found that out the hard way with his favorite car — a totally original Ford Model A. The paint was thin on the fenders and he made the mistake of painting them.

He used to say, “There’s nothing we can’t do.” But this is something we can’t do. We can’t make a car original again, no matter how hard we try during the restoration process.

Maybe that’s why so many top restorers covet original cars when they’re spending their own dollars. When I was growing up there were so many cars that were in such great condition that we never would have restored today. But everyone wanted a car that looked new. We were taking great cars and replacing this beautiful worn leather and stripping original paint. If you paint a fine piece of furniture, you’re defacing something that’s perfect the way it is, but for a long time it was different with cars. Or maybe it was the generation. Deprived of shiny new cars when they were growing up, people raised during the Depression didn’t want worn and faded old cars.

When Pebble Beach began to accept original cars, the trend toward preservation gained momentum. In fact, to some degree, the unrestored car movement has turned the collector car industry upside down. Original cars are real treasures and I hope that they all end up in the hands of people who cherish them, not the hands of people who restore them.

Pretty soon significant collections will have fine unrestored cars from every decade to accompany the obligatory Ferrari 275 GTB, Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, Duesenberg Model J and Porsche Speedster. Personally, I think you can get a lot more enjoyment out of original cars. It’s exciting to talk about and share the history of an automobile. The condition of a car tells a story.

If pristine, you can picture it in a carriage house being wiped off by a chauffeur every day. Like my Hudson Italia. Cherished by its former owner, it was parked on carpet and covered in layers of sheets.

Not everyone gets it. They say, “Who would want to drive in that?” or, “Oh, I might get dirty.” But Europeans understand and they caught on a lot earlier. They love their cars for different reasons. Cars are more of a social thing in Europe. People take old cars to each other’s houses for dinner, particularly the Brits. They’ve always used old cars. They don’t care if they’re a little dirty and have a stone chip or two.

Unrestored cars will be more and more accepted as people understand them. No matter why they accept them, it’s the new future of the automobile hobby, and someday soon we’ll see a totally original car win Pebble Beach.

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