Gear: Book Review: The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles

Book Review: The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 26, 2015
12 Comments

The book: The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles

Author: Fred Simeone & various contributors

Pages: 168

Purchase: Click here

Say you just purchased an original Van Gogh, or a fine piece of George Nakashima furniture. Would you repaint it simply because it looked old? This, in essence, the question that Fred Simeone and his co-authors ask in The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles.

In our recent review of The Spirit of Competition, a book which profiles the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, we touched upon Simeone’s guiding principles concerning the cars in his collection. Simply stated, Simeone believes that important automobiles should be maintained rather than, as he sees it, destroyed through the process of preservation.

With an all-star cast of contributing authors, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles, lays out Simeone’s convictions in even greater detail. Automobiles, the author believes, especially significant models from the great marques, or ones driven by famed drivers, should be handled with a matter of some delicacy when contemplating their preservation or restoration. Simeone’s tome is not a rule book per se, but rather a set of guidelines, classifications, and essays by Fred Simeone and his co-authors–among them judges, restorers, and collectors–on the “stewardship” of classic automobiles.

So, how should one decide between restoration and preservation? Simeone & Co. will almost always fall in favor of the latter, but this is not to say that restoration is always a mistake. Unlike art and furniture, cars were designed to be in motion. They have parts that are often exposed to the elements and which eventually wear out. At times, then, restoration and preservation go hand in hand.

Simeone understands this reality but he makes the case that well-preserved, original examples of significant and rare cars can sell for a large premium over the best restored examples of the same car. To the extent possible, Simeone thus favors “stewardship,” which emphasizes planning, managing, and maintenance, and which Simeone believes applies to automobiles in much the same way as it applies to an antique table and fine art.

To the authors’ credit, and despite what you might think, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles, hardly comes across as scolding in its tone. Rather, it opens the reader’s mind to new ways of thinking about the classic car ownership experience, and the insights will be valuable whether that reader’s car is “significant” or not.

Ultimately, if this book achieves its goal, it will save historically important cars from “over-restoration,” thereby by preserving tangible and intangible history in the process.

And now, Petrolisti, we want to hear from you: What should happen to your car, either while in your care or through its future owners?

Purchase The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles.

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Stephan Wikinson
Stephan Wikinson
9 years ago

My main area of interest, at this point, is aircraft, as a Contributing Editor of Aviation History and Air & Space Smithsonian magazines. (I also put in my time as a car guy as a former Editor of Car and Driver and as the author of “The Gold-Plated Porsche.”) So I bought this book to see if it applied to the world of aircraft restoration. It indeed does, and in most cases in its text, you could simply replace the word “automobile” with “aircraft.”

Unfortunately, the world of aviation routinely exceeds the bounds of the most blatant automotive over-restoration, except for the work of a very few museums, most notably the National Air & Space Museum’s workshops. There is a pervasive feeling that a historic aircraft must be flown, so the public can appreciate the sound and smell and sight of such an airplane at air shows. This, of course, requires major rebuilding purely for safety and licensing requirements.

It’s also amazing to me how casually the validity of the “data-plate restoration” is accepted in the airplane world, particularly among what are casually called warbirds. If you own nothing but the original data plate from an airplane, perhaps retrieved from a Pacific jungle or a Russian bog, it is absolutely permissible to construct an entirely new airplane around it. A number of companies manufacture the most complex components of particularly popular warbirds, notably the Spitfire and the P-51, and the rest of reconstruction is relatively simple metalwork–a framework of ribs and spars, bulkheads and longerons, skinned with riveted sheets of flat aluminum. (Aircraft have few compound curves.)

Equally disturbing is the increasing habit among the wealthiest collectors to take a basic aircraft and rebuild it as an exotic variant of that airframe, much like taking an ordinary production roadgoing Ferrari and “restoring” it as a rare racing Ferrari. I recently wrote about an American collector who is currently having two airplanes “restored” for him at a German shop: one is a two-seat Italian World War II Fiat trainer that he is having rebuilt as the far more rare single-seat, up-engined fighter version of that airplane. The other is a Messerschmitt 109 built AFTER the war by a Spanish company, under license, with a widely available Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. It is being “restored” a a proper Bf-109 with a Daimler-Benz engine.

So read this book and heed its advice. Otherwise, the historic-automobile world will, like the historic-aircraft arena, find itself without a single true, representative example of its craft outside of a very few foresighted museums.

Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey
9 years ago

The sheer beauty of Mr Furman’s photography is worth the purchase price alone.
This assumes you have some understanding of value.

Edward Levin
Edward Levin
9 years ago

+1 to Michael Furman’s comments. I’ve both read the book and discussed the ideas with Dr. Simeone, based on my experiences not only with cars but with architectural preservation and fine art conservation as well. His thoughtfulness on the subject stands in real contrast to Mr. James’ bloviation.

Michael Furman
Michael Furman
9 years ago

I must reply to Mr. James’ comments.

It is clear that you did not read the book, but instead are reacting to the review. If you read the book, you would know that the philosophy presented in Stewardship is intended to apply to a very limited number of truly significant cars. Dr. (not Mr.) Simeone’s point of view grew out of his medical training whose first tenet is “do no harm.” Once something has been altered or restored, it can never return to original. As such, it has lost something that can never be regained.

Stewardship presents its argument through the voices of a dozen experts from a variety of fields that encompass art, architecture, antique furniture, museums, concours and restoration. Believe it or not, there are cars that are every bit as important as anything man has ever made.

Also, if you ever have the good fortune of meeting Dr. Simeone, you will have met the most gracious and sincere gentleman who has devoted 60 years to the respectful study and appreciation of the automobile.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
9 years ago

I think this is a book of real substance, it really challenges owners of old cars to think about preservation in a way that hasn’t been discussed much in the past. It’s does not compare cars to works of art but to antiquities, things that have real history and need to be looked after in a considered way. Antiques and historic artifacts have been preserved in museums for years. But cars have only recently been thought about seriously in this way. We are privileged to live in a time were there are still original cars to see from all eras. It won’t last forever.

In 400 years time people maybe people will think that all Ferraris left the factory in the 1960s with perfect panel gaps and a classiche shine. That would be a shame.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers
9 years ago

[quote]What should happen to your car, either while in your care or through its future owners?[/quote]
I’m planning a number of easily reversible modifications for my car to improve the usability in modern traffic. As for the next owner, I will be saving the old parts in case that person wants to return the vehicle to factory spec. American Malaise iron is worth preserving “lest we forget” the complacency that allowed foreign companies to establish themselves here.

Martin James
Martin James
9 years ago

Funny how it is in the Classic Car world that every once and awhile an arrogant , egomaniacal , more money than common sense individual comes along once again attempting to Codify , Compartmentalize and Relegate the entire world of classic cars as if THEIR way is the only way with a fervor more befitting a Religious Cult rather than what is for all purposes nothing more than a Hobby … albeit a damn expensive hobby in some cases . Then .. to add insult to injury this individual … as it their want … goes on to not only insult our intelligence further by comparing ANY car with the great works of art thru out the ages … but then charge an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege of being exposed to his or her sermonizing and proselytizing on their ego driven ideology as well .

And .. to no ones surprise that knows the man [ or his deeds ] in the slightest … that individual in this case is once again ..

The ubiquitous , enigmatic and ever egomaniacal .. Mr Fred Simeone .

Martin James
Martin James
9 years ago
Reply to  Martin James

A ‘ soundtrack ‘ to accompany the above post ;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAAEs4Um-IU

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
9 years ago
Reply to  Martin James

Didn’t have you down as a David Sylvian fan. It kind of all makes sense now.

It’s a thought provoking read with contributions from all areas of the old car world. Well worth a look.

A very interesting walk through the archeology of an original Bugatti chassis for instance, you’d love it…

Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey
9 years ago

Great book, which I bought a year ago.
As you say ‘guiding principles,’ since every decision has to be made on a case by case basis.
What becomes crystal clear, is that people who want perfect cars, should not buy original ones.
Better to restore a car again, in order to make it perfect, than restore one that was perfectly original already.

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