Journal: What Is Patina?

What Is Patina?

By Yoav Gilad
January 29, 2015
22 comments

Photography by Jonny Shears and Afshin Behnia

There is no doubt that a car with a remarkable history is more interesting than a car that was driven every so often to the market or to drop the kids off at school. While truly harsh damage is obviously unattractive, some light scuffing, scratches, and evidence of a well-enjoyed life is welcome. These marks and blemishes are like battle scars that become sources of pride, demonstrating that a car is an original survivor.

Along those lines, lately there has been a lot of discussion in the car world of ‘patina’, that slightly dulled finish that speaks to a car’s age and wear. We’ve encountered many cars both on the web and at events that elicit people to comment about their wonderful patina. And frequently they’re right.

But sometimes, we see an old car that looks like it served as a chicken coop, not someone’s transportation. It looks awful. And yet, inevitably, someone will comment about the amazing patina. Patina?! It looks like it’s been treated with contempt, abused, and at best was the first ‘out’ at a demolition derby. Is this ‘patina’ really desirable?

What is patina and what is not patina?

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Paul VarjakChris LeightonAndrew TheBossSean WhelanBradley Price Recent comment authors
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Chris Leighton
Chris Leighton

Patina is an indication of structural failings generated over time by rust OR art for concours events.

My 71 sedan has the former, not the latter.

Andrew TheBoss
Andrew TheBoss

Patina è un termine italiano per definire un oggetto che racconta tutta la sua storia, il suo fascino, le vicende trascorse. La patina conserva l’anima delle persone che hanno posseduto un certo oggetto, senza curarsi del trascorrere del tempo. Un misto di profumi, odori che non sono più comuni e dimenticati, parti consumate ma non trascurate che regalano una “patina” appunto che rende non solo bello qualcosa, ma unico. La patina non si compra e non si restaura. Si acquisisce col tempo. 🙂 Patina is an Italian word to define an object that tells all its history, its charm, the… Read more »

Sean Whelan
Sean Whelan

Flummoxed by this very question and dismayed by the fanatical devotion to rust and decay I blogged about this issue: http://automissive.blogspot.com/2012/07/gods-of-rust-and-corrosion-dance-on.html

Fanatically restored cars have their place, they allow me to see what cars looked like new that were normally destroyed before I came upon the age of auto awareness. But I’m a driver foremost and I don’t mind seeing the normal wear on a used and still loved classic.
The scratches on the hood from having sex with a rhinestone clad prostitute, however, may tell a good story but I’m likely to buff those out.

Bradley Price
Bradley Price

Also, as long as we are on this topic–Bugatti owners are the biggest fetishizers of patina and also the biggest fakers of it. Most Bugattis with all this amazing “wabi sabi” are made to look the way they do–not as an incidental by product of history and use. I find this to be rather distasteful and pretentious. Furthermore, I think people in our hobby have increasingly inverted the meanings of the words “preservation” and “neglect.” the cars that fetch big dollars at auction are the ones that are either over-restored or utterly f*cked while the ones that are original and… Read more »

Bradley Price
Bradley Price

Patina is fetishized neglect.

Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey

At a Concours event, patina is what everyone is looking at while they ignore the other restorations

Highnumbers
Highnumbers

The patina that I don’t like is the stuff that VW guys are really into – panel-beating dents out, polishing up the worn paint job and then clear-coating over the paint.

Sometimes they even “replicate” a worn finish on a replacement bumper or hood etc. If it’s not honest wear all-around, paint the thing and properly restore it. Saving the patina should only be about preserving the original history.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson

I agree it ‘s all about preservation and proper maintenance. Objects that have aged gracefully have their beauty enhanced by the aging process and patina is the record of a life well lived. It’s irreplaceable and not restoreable, once it’s gone it’s gone. Restoration has to maintain an objects patina otherwise it loses it’s soul. This D Type had a bit of a knock in a race at Silverstone a few years, I took a quick picture and didn’t expect to see it again for a few months. The following week I saw it again bearing it’s scars very gracefully… Read more »

Paul Varjak
Paul Varjak

That’s a C-Type, not a D-Type.

Steely
Steely

Patina is the result of regular use, regular maintenance and ongoing repair, not the result of an older bad restoration, poor paint job or use of poor quality materials. You see ads claiming full restoration 2 years ago, now wears a nice patina! No, car badly restored 2 years ago, now looks shit and needs doing again properly.

John Roth
John Roth

The car described in the following link defines patina. In my view, gentle wear and repair over an extended period. I wish I would have bought this one. http://bringatrailer.com/2015/01/17/nicely-preserved-31k-mile-1933-plymouth-pd-coupe/

Sid
Sid

I have always felt like a good patina on a vehicle is reminiscent of a broken in pair of blue jeans. Character acquired by use. Worn but cared for. There are different levels of desirability in my eyes. Daily driver patina on one end object d’art patina of the other. The later being visually interesting enough that it no longer needs to function to be beautiful.

Andrew Salt
Andrew Salt

I agree with what has been said about patina so far, but I think it is fair to say that what would be patina to one person would be neglect to another….and vice-versa.

Personally, I much prefer to see a well used,loved and cared for car with some corners knocked off it than an immaculate showroom condition as-new (or better than new) car.

Alexander Shaghoury
Alexander Shaghoury

I keep it simple to myself – patina is everything that bears signs of proper (!) use and interesting stories or great deeds. My seats are worn, dashboard buttons are shabby, some stone chips on the paint – that’s patina to me, I like it and I won’t replace it. But when I’ve scratched my car with a motorcycle clutch lever while parking – that’s me being idiot, not patina. I’ll fix that. Ill-kept cars, cars stored on the open air, crashed or stupidly-modified – to me that’s not an object for enthusiasm or preservation. The fun thing is that… Read more »

Martin James
Martin James

Jim ; Actually that Bugatti was placed in the lake in order to hide it [ if I remember correctly it was either to evade taxes due or because of the war ] But yeah I agree ….. that Ain’t Patina ! That is blatant abuse thats being over romanticized by its current owner … Mr Mullin * ( * FYI ; There are many positive things that can be said about Mr Mullin and his museum/collection …. but in reality there’s more than a fair amount of criticism that can be leveled at the man and his venture as… Read more »

Alexander Shaghoury
Alexander Shaghoury

Martin, let’s be honest – most of the museums and collections are literally barns. No rules of museums exhibitions are applied there. I think Mullin museum might be in the top 10 automotive museums round the world. Not only because of the collection itself, but for the exposition organization level and the overall atmosphere and elegancy. I also like that those French cars are mostly not over restored, the balance is good. And your points even persuaded me further – if the only thing that can be said about the museum is price of the books and attitude stance –… Read more »

Martin James
Martin James

Well to a certain extent I’m going to have to disagree . The overall theme and the collection itself of the Mullin is in my opinion … superb . I also love those Art Deco French cars and enjoy seeing everything else the Bugatti family had their hands into . But ! The wretched excess pretense and blatant bs that surrounds both the museum as well as Mr Mullin I personally cannot and will not tolerate . Suffice it to say I do not countenance fools … even extremely wealthy ones … and there is never any excuse for lack… Read more »

Martin James
Martin James

A most excellent question indeed ! What is ‘ patina ‘ in my never ever humble opinion ? Genuine patina is that which is the normal wear and tear a car is subjected to over the years when reasonably well taken care of rather than pampered … ‘ Trailer ‘ Queened …. or restored/over restored In other words … the car has been well loved , but also well used over the years by someone not obsessed by perfection but concerned enough to take care of the vehicle and/ What is not ‘ patina ‘ ? Excess wear due to… Read more »

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

Good question and I think Yoav’s piece and Jim’s response cover my thoughts quite well. I would only add that patina comes from use but also the car being maintained and cared for. Paint fades over time that is natural, but rust occurs because the car has not been maintained properly.

Martin James
Martin James

Actually … thinking about your comment for a bit … I’d disagree … albeit ever so slightly . A little bit of surface rust I find to be completely acceptable as ‘ patina ‘ That is … assuming the surface rust hasn’t been allowed to degrade into rot and as long as the surface rust is being attended to regularly … e.g. sanded down/off .. chemically treated and/or at least primered over on a regular basis if not touched up with a bit of paint now and again . Mainly because … especially with certain makes and years [ such… Read more »

Jim Valcarcel
Jim Valcarcel

Excellent question! I have wondered long and hard about this issue. My two cents…….. If a cars seats are worn due to years of use, then that is patina. If a car has been left in a lake for the last 40 years (like a certain Bugatti) that is NOT patina. That is some poor soul who ran his car off into a lake and now the car is useless. If you have 483,457 miles on your car and the front of the car is pocked with rock chips then I can accept that as patina. If on the other… Read more »