What Do You Prefer: Originality, Or Restoration?
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?