Journal: What Do You Prefer: Originality, Or Restoration?

What Do You Prefer: Originality, Or Restoration?

By Alex Sobran
September 1, 2017
12 comments

There are many lines drawn in the sands of our automotive terrain—between Chevy and Ford, natural aspiration and forced induction, track cars and Sunday cruisers, between so many things both arbitrary and meaningful—but perhaps one of the most relevant to our sector of vintage enthusiasts is originality versus restoration. There are those who are ambivalent, happy to extoll the merits of both, and in truth there are scenarios where either route can be justified, but what’s the fun in not taking sides? We want to know where you fall; would you turn a slightly tatty driver into a pristine example of what it once was, or is that a misguided erasure of that car’s life?

When does the preservation of originality fall into pack rat status? A Pontiac GTO with a blown (and not in the good way) motor that’s had the grass cut around it for decades is, I suppose, original, but to continual climb of the roof-height reeds that the mower can’t quite reach is a tragic sight. It might end up as a photograph in a lazy art student’s senior thesis titled something lame like “American Decay,” but it is largely forgotten otherwise, and now wholly unable to pass its virtues onto anyone else in the future. This fate is all too common, and I still remember and hold some irrational resentment toward the guy who let a pair of 6.3 300SELs morph from running examples into stately piles of rust being turned to dirt from the bottom up. Cars don’t deserve these graves.

On the other hand, imagine this: unfortunate events have led to the need to sell your father’s GTO that he’s had since new. The paint’s showing spidery cracks and lots of fade, the seats have had their bolsters rubbed smooth or down to the foam, the dash is split, the exhaust rattles at certain spots on the tach, and it requires a certain combination of movements, a certain care, to get it to start on hot days. But all this is what made this GTO, his GTO. A few months later, the new owner sends you an email with an attachment. You’re met with an image of a Judge replica. The car has changed, the old one is dead. The memories slip a bit further away.

Yes, this is maybe more than a bit sentimental, but the following isn’t; think of just how many privateer and lesser-known race cars have been restored and simultaneously transformed into replicas of their more famous brethren. How many times has an older competitor had its original livery or body or motor (or whole hog all of it) turned into an “homage” of the works cars or championship winners? I think you can lean either way on this one. One side being marked by outrage at this killing off of an identity that will likely not resurface again (though empirically it seems that more and more owners of cars like this are undoing this type of story), and the other is a bit more nuanced. Perhaps the car would not have been rejuvenated at all if the owner wasn’t interested in recreating the race car he or she loved so much growing up, and perhaps the next generation of people like us wouldn’t be so inspired by a car that never saw podiums as opposed to seeing a damn good copy of one that did.

There’s also the aspect of value in a monetary sense. I believe it’s pretty much inarguable that past a certain point of “good” condition—and this applies to cars that have value to begin with—that past that point where a restoration clearly isn’t necessary to prolong the car’s life, originality will always trump even the shiniest and most correct restorations. But this definitely doesn’t hold true for everything, and a large amount of the vintage cars that we collectively cherish or at the very least are interested in, will fall on the fulcrum of the decision to tear it down and start over. I’m talking about the “drivers.” What do you think about these cars? What would you rather pay for: a refreshed car or one that’s showing its age? There are uncertainties inherent in both in most cases after all. How has the work been carried out? Who did it? Is the dazzling facade just that? Is it hiding innards made up of cut corners? And the car that is touted as original, how many of the model’s typical issues will need addressing either right away or soon after? And to what extent? Are you capable of doing the work when it needs doing? Capable of finding someone you trust who can if you cannot?

I could go on like this for much longer than anyone cares to read—and I’ve likely already done that for a lot of people!—so I want to turn it over to you and make this is a discussion: original, or restored?

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Elin Alexandrov
Elin Alexandrov
3 years ago

I will give an example with my car – a common ’79 E21 BMW 3 series 316, carbureted 1.6 inline 4 – the legendary M10. I got the car with the 5 speed manual transmission (which where I live is not quite common). Initially I intended to keep it old school and do a bit of restomod with dual side-draft carburettors, better exhaust manifold and camshaft. Well I almost got all of the parts when the transmission desintegrated one day when I was carving a beautiful mountain pass. I couldn’t find the same transmission in my country and used examples started from 1000$. I was in despair and tried to see if the transmission was salvageable, but alas it wasn’t. Around the same time I found a guy selling an M30B30 (six cylinder behemoth) with a 5 speed gearbox, driveshaft, full exhaust coming out of an E21. Every mods to make it work in the E21 have been made, so I bit the bullet and bought it. The work is still going and in the meantime I got a new LSD, period correct Recaro Orthoped seats and slowly began to work on converting the good old 316 into something of an Alpina B6 2.8 replica. If I hadn’t made this choice, most probably I’d have sold the car. Once it’s done it will be a completely different beast and the excitement to get behind the wheel of it will be even stronger. Yes, financially not a good decision, but the car would have seized to exist if I didn’t make it. Wish me luck!

ibast
ibast
4 years ago

There has been way too much talk about originality and “Patina” in the past decade. If the car is good and servicable and/or a particularly notable car (did it win Lemans?) then leave it, but if the car is to be used, and is now not very servicable, then it needs to be restored. That Porsche in photos is just wankery.

Rick Spartan
Rick Spartan
4 years ago

For me it is a two stage decision: I will most likely keep the exterior as is, with the exception of arresting the progression of rust and repairing holes, as I focus on what makes the car go, stop and turn. Once all the mechanicals are seen to and in good, if not better than original working, order I would focus on making it shiny again.

Jose Delgadillo
Jose Delgadillo
4 years ago

I think that it depends on the current condition of the car. A car that has been used, maintained and preserved is a survivor. These are refreshing to see at a show. The trend towards displaying “as found” barn finds is kind of silly, especially if the owner doesn’t even want to wash the dirt off! Once the condition of the car is headed towards total decrepitude than intervention is appropriate to save the car. While it is true that a car is only original once, rust buckets are not cool.

HitTheApex
HitTheApex
4 years ago

I buy a car to enjoy it for what it was meant to be, not some weathered ghost of its former self. As such, I prefer restoration or restomodding, if appropriate (e.g., Don’t restomod a car of which few examples remain).

If I care about the story, that’s what photographs and documentation – not just service records – are for. That said, I see where fans of originality come from, but let’s make something clear: Rust is a parasite that will kill the car. Neglect and originality are not one in the same. Calling a badly rusted car one with patina is a disservice to the word patina. Rust should be removed as necessary. One should not be able to knock holes in body panels and frames, structural components, areas where there is weatherstripping (e.g., around doors and windows), any area where water can drain, and wheel wells, among other things, should be checked for rust and taken care of accordingly.

While I’m on the ol’ Internet soap box tirade about rust here, albeit a bit off-topic, people should stop painting cars in black primer with no clear coat as a “quick fix” or “for the look”, as I often see done to muscle cars and Bubble Era Japanese vehicles that are “hanging on” with perhaps well-intentioned but ignorant owners, as primer actually acts like a sponge to moisture, causing the metal underneath to rust even more quickly than if it were “naked”. Live with the oxidized paint, in all its patina, leave the car bare (if you dare), or paint it. ‘Nough said.

Vic
Vic
4 years ago

I can appreciate a nut and bolt resto but I tend to gravitate toward stuff that looks like the owner had to MacGuyver just to get it there that morning.

Greg Vassilakos
Greg Vassilakos
4 years ago

I’m more concerned with keeping it stock than with the degree of the restoration.

Steve Culver
Steve Culver
4 years ago

Is it genuinely original and does it reflect some manner of care over its life? Keep it original, warts and all. I’m a huge fan of leaving cars with some “patina” and evidence of their past lives, if they were good lives. Restore the drivetrain, suspension, brakes and make the interior livable and there you go- done.

Has it been repainted? Was it left in the desert for 35 years because it was just an old car? Did the owner(s) have poor taste? Does it have no actual history? Restore it.

If you restore it, though, pay the price to do it right. It’s expensive and takes a while, but that’s the way it is. If you were extremely good at something and your competitors weren’t, wouldn’t you charge appropriate money?

dan
dan
4 years ago

Man it just depends on the situation. There’s an equal place for both. Technically the guy from Barn Find Hunters has the best philosophy. If you have the choice, do the math on resto, and see what the concours price is in that condition. If it costs more than its worth, just get it running and enjoy it. Other thing to think about is what you’re wearing when you drive it. Nothing right about showing up dirty in your seer sucker suit.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss
4 years ago

For me future work (other than keeping the mechanicals in good running order and the interior dry in the wet) depends on where the car came from. If its had a bunch of random owners then as far as I’m concerned you won’t be erasing much character other than “this is one that got around”, which personally I don’t find appealing. In the cases where the car has been neglected, I tend to favor going as far as one can go to making the car as nice as possible… that poor thing deserves a second chance in life!

GuitarSlinger
GuitarSlinger
4 years ago

A moderate , respectfully and minimal done restoration fixing whats broken , decayed or too far gone while still maintaining a reasonable amount of character and past . As an example the micro buses shown are at the extreme end of things … one eft to rot while the other over restored to the point of being a trailer queen .

e.g. When it comes to To Restore or not to Restore .. As in all things moderation is the key

Or alternatively … say to hell with it all and go resto-mod top to bottom making the thing as usable and drivable as anything on the road

FYI’ ICON and Singer are not resto-mods … they are full blown reimagined and remanufactured mods

T.C. Worley
T.C. Worley
4 years ago

I super appreciate a well-done restoration. For the sake of seeing what an old car SHOULD look like, it is awesome. But with my personal vehicles, I always gravitate to the ones that have a story, even if that story is a tough one. My cars are blemished in many ways and I love them for it. Not even a little interested in making them show-cars.