By David Schultz from the November 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car
There is one term within the collector car hobby that, above all others, has truly driven me nuts over the years, which is “original.” There may be some close challengers but to my mind, no word has been more abused. It’s abused by car collectors, car dealers, auction catalogues and even automotive journalists.
I don’t have enough fingers and toes on which to count the number of times a car collector has told me his or her car was “completely original” and, after seeing it, I immediately realized it was a restored car. Some car dealers probably don’t know the difference between “restored” and “original.” The best ones do, and say so in their advertising. The auction companies typically print what the car owners tell them about their cars; they assume the owners know what they have.
For most serious vintage car enthusiasts, it shouldn’t be too difficult to determine a car’s correct status. A Vintage or Classic car is restored, an unrestored original, or somewhere in between. This is where a category I call “maintained” comes in–a Classic car that has been restored only as necessary, to keep it on the road. That would include maintenance and necessary mechanical repairs, as well as minimal repair work to the body and interior.
My 1931 Lincoln Town Sedan is a maintained car. More than 60 percent of the car remains original, but I would never describe it as an “all-original” car. Some car owners refer to their car as original because they honestly–and mistakenly–believe that once a thorough restoration has been completed, the car is original. It’s not. For me, the correct term is “restored to as-original condition.” As the saying goes, a car is only original once. Think of it as virginity–once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I’ve seen advertisements that read “1925 Belchfire touring, completely original except for repaint, new top and interior. Call Hugo at 000-0000.” “Completely original except for….?” Are these guys serious? Or how about, “1957 Whatzit convertible, 100 percent original, frame-off restoration, every nut and bolt restored. Call Benny at 000-0000.” This is not an original car. Get in line for your restoration award, but don’t call this car an original.
Going back to my 1931 Lincoln, that car is far from being a show car, but everything on it is authentic–as originally delivered–with the exception of 80 years of wear and those areas of the car that were restored out of necessity. The Classic Car Club of America has a judging class called Touring. This is for cars like my Lincoln that are regularly driven to events. These cars are judged for what they are–cars that rarely, if ever, ride in trailers.
In my lifetime, I’ve been lucky enough to see some truly outstanding original automobiles and I’ve even owned one. I learned there’s special difficulties inherent in owning an original automobile, particularly a rare one. These cars become fragile–not breakable, but the interior, paint and top on an open car do begin to deteriorate.
My low-mileage, all-original 1923 Locomobile was mechanically bulletproof, but its top and interior had truly become fragile. The paint was slowly disappearing. As much as I enjoyed driving that car with my family, we had to cut back and finally, reluctantly, sold it rather than face the restoration issue.
I’d watched a friend in a similar situation begin what he called “minor repairs.” Once he’d started, he couldn’t stop. Before it was over, the car was far from original. However, it was now usable, and that meant he could drive it and enjoy it. In the end, we must decide how badly we want to preserve history. Do we do it to the extent that we no longer drive the car? Or do we obtain a greater enjoyment preserving the car? Then there are the spectacular show cars; they’re great to look at, but unless you drive your car, you’re missing most of the fun. A fellow enthusiast recently told me that the best award a vintage or Classic car can receive is a stone chip. A lot of truth to that.