Featured: In Defense of the Garage Queen

In Defense of the Garage Queen

By Adam Kaslikowski
November 7, 2013
24 comments

If there is one perpetual whipping boy in the automotive world, it is the “garage queen.” These are the vehicles that are restored to conditions better than was even possible when they were first built, and then locked away inside climate controlled garages, brought into the light of day perhaps once or twice a year. They are never, ever driven but instead are trailered about the country in the quest for a piece of blue ribbon. They can range from $10,000 Datsuns to stratospheric $30 million Ferraris and Bugattis. You’ll find no love lost for these white-glove-coddled machines amongst us enthusiasts – but what if that is all wrong?

Garage queens might run against the values and priorities of those who wish to drive the past, but they clearly have their own fans. For some, the allure of classic motoring is more about the sculpture and history of the vehicle than it is about the actual driving experience. You can’t very well fault a person for his interest in that.

More importantly, they also serve a very vital purpose, even to those who turn up their noses at the site of a pristine vehicle being gingerly unloaded from an enclosed trailer. Despite the snickering and muttered curses, garage queens never fail to attract a crowd at events. This is because they are essentially a museum piece that has come to you. These pampered cars and motorcycles preserve history while the rest of us mercilessly throw all kinds of new technology into our rides just to keep them on the road.

Garage queens are the standard by which all others are judged. We as a community truly do need these perfect examples against which we can base our restorations and repairs. Without these pristine specimens, we would be slaves to ancient manuals and rotting books. Trailered motors bring these obscure and hard to find facts to life before our very eyes. This is why they always draw a mob at events. Many of us simply want to see what our cars were like before the previous owner – or indeed we ourselves – started fiddling with everything. Having a reference point is invaluable, and as such a perfect example of a vehicle should not be mocked or derided.

Garage queens may indeed be the antithesis to much that the vintage devotee holds dear, but without them we are worse off as a community. We need them, and should welcome them amongst us. Embrace them at the next event, and enjoy them for what they are – a moment in time captured and preserved for us enthusiasts to gawk at. They may not be the cup of tea for many of us, but without them we will have lost something important. We will have lost the history of the very vehicles that we hold so dear.

Click the following links for their interviews with Petrolicious: Security Guard Steps Into the Light of Automotive Photography and Photographer Celebrates Automobile Design Through Film.

Photography by Ken Brown and James Haefner

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24 Comments on "In Defense of the Garage Queen"

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Greg Porter
Greg Porter
2 years 4 months ago
I could not disagree more. As a classic auto specialist I have worked on cars in all different conditions. Often Garage Queens are in poor mechanical condition. Some are well taken care of. I do not believe that garage queens somehow preserve history. Many examples of truly important historical cars are used on a regular basis. If you go into many world class collections, like the Simeone Foundation, a garage queen is not what you will find. If a car is restored to a pristine condition it should be used in a responsible way. Also mechanical condition beats cosmetics in… Read more »
JB21
JB21
3 years 20 days ago

“Jesus Christ, it’s just a fucking car.”

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
3 years 21 days ago
I’m with Zak on this. You need both types of owners. If you’ve gone through the pain, expense and sheer hard graft of restoring an old car (most people will have to do this, there just aren’t enough gently aged cars with wonderful patina to go round). What happens at the end of that? You have a beautiful thing that displays the craft, artistry and determination of the restorers. When it’s finished that perfection only lasts a short time, that’s when you have a choice, you drive it and the perfection is ‘ruined’, or you blat around the concours scene… Read more »
Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas
3 years 21 days ago
While I have to agree that everyone has a valid point, my own feelings are with the crowd… a car not driven is not fulfilling its utmost purpose. Or, as I’ve read in the past on a classic car magazine, “a car not driven is a car in a coma.” So do you enjoy watching these corpses held beautifully preserved in jars like lab samples being paraded about, and which when their owners attempt the folly of getting them to run embarass the breed as they cannot but fart and cough? Sorry, not me. I enjoy my cars as sculptures,… Read more »
Todd Cox
Todd Cox
3 years 21 days ago
I have always considered that the garage queen is a failure of intent and among the most selfish of all things. It is doubtful that the people who crafted (by hand, quite often) these cars imagined anything other than the delight they would bring the motorist. When they are kept as garage queens they become little more than currency, to be traded when convenient, or a bragging right to thump your chest about owning without ever really truly owning the car. To own a vintage machine like this without ever engaging it is a supreme waste, and I feel it… Read more »
Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
3 years 21 days ago
As everyone weighs in, I think it’s worth explicitly stating that this article starts playing the Devil’s advocate from the title; “In defense of…”. Clearly it’s not the traditional point of view for this site and the kind of motorhead who frequents it. But the occasional article of this ilk contributes strongly to my affection for Petrolicious. I like that the editors (and the commenters) are willing to consider other viewpoints and facets to the glorious automobile. I find myself consistently frustrated with ‘enthusiasts’ who like what they like and scorn everything else. So before I waste any more keystrokes… Read more »
Adam
Adam
3 years 21 days ago
I have to agree with Bradley Price. The only argument in favor of the trailer quean is the possibility of people seeing in person the rarest, most spectacular and unique automobiles. They do not need to be modified simply because they were perfect just the way they were (not speed, handling, looks but as a whole with their faults and that indescribable x factor). But These cars are stored away locked from the public because they are to their owners just objects of investment like stock. The classic car scene is being destroyed by people who not only are no… Read more »
Jorrit Hermans
Jorrit Hermans
3 years 21 days ago

I completely agree with Bradley Price: our cars were built for the road and what lies beyond it. That’s where the experience and fun comes from.

Future Doc
Future Doc
3 years 21 days ago
I have no problem with “over restoration” nor if someone converts a classic into a modern DD with modern components. If someone want to take a car and make it the best it could have been, that is fine. Not only that, but it allows the restoration side of the auto-world to be the best they can be. It allows the craftsmen to chase perfection. My issue with “garage queens” is that many are not driven and many/most are horded away. You can not “tow” and drive tastefully. You can not “park tastefully”. They must be driven (tastefully). Otherwise, they… Read more »
caprigls
caprigls
3 years 21 days ago

In keeping with what has been said, the argument is also antithetical to petrolicious. Each video ends with “drive tastefully,” no? Furthermore, a car was and always will have a sole purpose: to be driven. The other purposes follow suit; i.e. To be seen art, sculpture, what have you. The minute you start treating even the most expensive of cars like a static piece of metal, I think one does more harm than good to the car culture at large.

Bradley Price
Bradley Price
3 years 21 days ago
I completely disagree with the thrust of this article. As Matthew Lange pointed out, these trailer queen cars are restored to levels far beyond or different from the way they were made originally. For example, Ralph Lauren’s Atlantic was never black and never had disc wheels. And not every metal surface was mirror polished. Does anyone care? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The point is that the concours/auction complex has become all about money, status, and a quest for perfection that never originally existed, and not about the cars. There are plenty of enthusiasts still driving or even racing extremely valuable… Read more »
Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
3 years 21 days ago
Mr. Price, I found this point a little ironic: “They are commodities just like … watches” 😀 I think the point of to drive or not to drive will always be personal preference. I know what side of the fence I land on but I can accept people who make a different choice. However, your point about restoring a car [i]past[/i] factory certainly merits discussion. I bump shoulders with the Bugatti community quite regularly and I would say Ralph Lauren is an outlier who fits your commodity description perfectly. Most Bugatti collectors are almost fanatically obsessed with Molsheim and the… Read more »
Bradley Price
Bradley Price
3 years 21 days ago
Xander I agree with your points and your sentiment about frustration with “enthusiast blinders.” I agree that most OLD Bugatti owners drive their cars, and even track them. That’s because most of those guys bought those cars in the 70s when they were cheap-ish, and are architects engineers and other people who admire the cars for what they were technically and aesthetically. Dr. Williamson was one of these men, and he’s no longer with us. His Atlantic is now in the Mullin museum where it can’t be breathed on by mortals. When he owned it, I saw a lot more… Read more »
Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
3 years 21 days ago

Dr. Williamson was terrific, a friend of the family. I saw the Atlantic shortly after his death on an ABC rally. Scott Sargent (of Sargent Metal Works), who had done the restoration on the Atlantic and usually has a car or two at Pebble Beach, offered to take Dr. Williamson’s widow for a ride. It was a very touching moment. Special people, special car.

Fantuzzi
Fantuzzi
3 years 21 days ago
I agree, a car that is not driven fails its main purpose. And that is especially true of sports and racing cars. The article also seemed to suggest that used cars cannot remain standard , or that most have been modified I disagree with this, “This is why they always draw a mob at events. Many of us simply want to see what our cars were like before the previous owner – or indeed we ourselves – started fiddling with everything” Surely one of the highest credentials a car can have at auction is ‘highly original’, with the classic car… Read more »
Josh Clason
Josh Clason
3 years 21 days ago
I definitely see and agree with your point. I do think though for every restored Ferrari/Bugatti/etc. there is a more typical garage queen that isn’t restored and gets driven rarely and mainly to shows if it is close. Does your opinion differ for these cars? I know we all would love to see cars driven but how will you perceive in 10-20 years an old Alfa that isn’t restored but still in incredible condition that spent those years in a garage and on a trailer? Will you look at that person less for doing or will you be gawking at… Read more »
Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
3 years 21 days ago
In the UK there are probably quite a number of classics that are used once or twice a year to drive to the Goodwood Revival and Silverstone classic. You can usually spot them as the ones broken down on the side of the road on the way home. In an ideal world the argument on unrestored cars holds, but that question is do the garage queens get the maintenance they need when they are sitting in a garage not being used? A car sitting unused can often deteriorate just as quickly as one that is in regular use, even if… Read more »
Bradley Price
Bradley Price
3 years 21 days ago
Josh, I can answer your question with this example: I know a guy who has an 86 GTV6 that looks perfect and he wins concours with it because it is a 1 owner car with 6,000 miles on the clock and is cosmetically in showroom condition–unrestored. But honestly I don’t respect the fact that he has put less miles on his GTV6 in 27 years than I do in 2 years with mine because a) he hasn’t really gotten to “know” the car and b) local mechanics have told me that his car needs work all the time because he… Read more »
Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
3 years 21 days ago

The problem with your argument is that most show queens are not capturing a moment in time because they are in far better condition than when they left the factories they were built in. Classic Ferraris were never delivered with perfect paint and millimetre accurate panel gaps so why are they ‘restored’ that way for the coucours lawn?

Josh Clason
Josh Clason
3 years 21 days ago

Does the argument change with unrestored garage queens?

Zak
Zak
3 years 21 days ago

Just buy two of everything. Problem solved. lol :p

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