Dirtbag cars are so fascinating that at a European classic car show they not only displayed a “survivor” car but also the tow truck pulling it out of its lair. We predict even Pebble Beach will someday have a barn (movie set type) with a classic being unearthed from the hay bales. Photo by Brandes Elitch.
Guest Editorial By Wallace A. Wyss
VT has not, in the past, had editorials, guest or otherwise. But as the world of collector cars is constantly changing, we thought we would welcome a few articles of personal comment. Let us know how you like the featureâ€¦.
Some concours call it the Unrestored class, others call it the Preservation class. Still another phrase is Survivor class.
Whatever you call it, I, for one, heartily welcome this trend.
Why? Well, after 40 some years of going to concours, I must admit that I was getting a wee bit weary of seeing â€œcubic moneyâ€ win Best of Show. I remember the year Ralph Lauren showed a Bugatti coupe at Pebble, the rumors out on the lawn were that $7 million was spent just on the restoration and that â€œevery panel had been re-made.â€
So in essence, I had to ask myself, was I looking at a pre-war Bugatti or The Worldâ€™s Best Copy of a Pre-War Bugatti? One that Bugatti’s craftsmen, for all their talent, couldn’t have matched.
But this is not a diatribe against over-restoration. Rather the reverse.
I think part of the fantasy of being a car enthusiast is being able to experience The Joy of the Hunt.
I did this as an amateur first, finding, for instance, a 300SL gullwing in Toronto after a conversation with a gullwing owner who told me off-handedly his college room-mate decades before had bought two in one day. I tracked down the car and bought it, on a lead 30 years old!
Decades later, for a short while, I was a professional car hunter, i.e. someone paid for each â€œkillâ€ or exotic car I found for investors.
I left that job but there are many more cars that I left on the trail so to speak, cars that are still out there, fabled cars that I would love to track down, say, for instance the Giugiaro-designed Bertone-bodied Mustang or the Exner-designed Ghia-bodied Plymouth XNR two seater or the Giugiaro-designed 427 Cobra roadster built at Ghia. But perhaps that odd confluence of ready money and car lust that characterized the late â€˜80â€™s will never again build up sufficient momentum to launch searchers to far-flung corners of the world in search of four wheeled treasures.
The Simeone Foundation, with a beautiful museum in Philadelphia, exhibits cars like this Alfa Romeo 1750, which was raced in the 1930s and never restored.
So it is that I welcome the advent of the â€œPreservation/unrestoredâ€ class at several concours because it shows cars fresh from the hunt as it were (Iâ€™d say â€œfresh killâ€ but itâ€™s probably not politically correct). Seeing them, I can vicariously enjoy the results of someone else having gone on the hunt –into the bush as it were–and coming back with a prize to show us.
Much more than the perfectly restored car, I relish seeing a car of promising historic value with its
as-found display of surface rust, cobwebs, and maybe a birdâ€™s nest or two. And especially welcome are scrapbooks on display from the owner that show how it first appeared when they cracked open that long closed barn door and how much trouble it was to get it out (removing collapsed timbers, etc.).
Itâ€™s a good thing for concours planners that they donâ€™t go overboard in the amount of displayed unrestored/preservation cars they allow into a given concours or what would restoration shops do if suddenly it became more fashionable to show an unrestored car than a restored one? Instead of spending $50,000 on a paint job, what about just buying a can of fake spider web spray at a Halloween shop and going at it?
Seriously, the best part about the preservation/unrestored class is that it allows us enthusiasts, veterans of the hunt as it were, to see cars with their original-but-peeling paint jobs, original bodywork (maybe even original crash damage ) before they become almost too perfect after a multi-year restoration.
Also at the Simeone Foundation is the first Shelby Cobra coupe, which has not undergone proper restoration. Fred Simeone has always preferred to collect unrestored cars whenever possible.
My best example of an owner with what I consider “the right attitude” is Lynn Park of La Cresenta, CA who owns, at last count, ten real A.C. Cobras. Among them are two or three with rusty wire wheels (the bodies donâ€™t rust, they are aluminum), tattered leather that has been munched on by mice, and hay on the floor. Lynn likes to get a freshly discovered “barn find” running and then drive it around a bit to sort the car out. He calls them his â€œdirt bagâ€ cars.
He doesn’t have to worry about denting them and can enjoy them before they become rare objects d’art.
Chuck Betz and Fred Peters, two former college professors headquartered in Orange, CA, have had fun with this trend too. I remember when they found an old Ferrari unico exemplare custom built for the late Fiat boss Giovanni Agnelli. Rather than immediately restore the body and interior they just got it running and drove it to various concours, people marveling at the old paint falling off in shards. “How can you drive a Ferrari that looks so bad?” they got asked a thousand times. Betz would always smile and answer something like “It looks pretty good to me.” Everybody loved to see it shabby because it fueled that fantasy of “if I would have had the lead, I could have beat them to it…”
There is another reason to celebrate this class. Letâ€™s be real hereâ€”there are, in point of fact, some owners who are not now and will never be the kind of owner to ever try to match Ralph Lauren on expenditures. They are good at finding the car and maybe at getting it running but, in their hands, the car will never see a restoration. So this class allows cars owned by such owners to be seen by one and all in its present state. And, maybe if the owner is lucky, someone in the crowd will say â€œHey, I got fog lamps for that same Talbot-Lago in my basementâ€¦.â€
Unrestored “Stinky” Talbot was a hit of the Quail this year. Photo by Brandes Elitch.
Maybe a more-monied owner will buy it but we as enthusiasts won’t have to wait until 2010 to see it. Because of this class being instituted at various concours, we can see the treasure now, as found. Perhaps there could be a “displayed as found” period of only a couple years during which the car makes the round of shows, and then it could be restored.
So I welcome the unrestored/preservation class as the best thing to hit the concours world in the last half century. Itâ€™s the equivalent to me of the extended DVDs you buy of popular movies, the ones that have the Directorâ€™s interview, the scenes that were cut out, etc. In fact the last DVD I bought, I enjoyed more seeing the directorâ€™s interview, set decoratorâ€™s interview, and the deleted scenes than I did the actual movie. With each dent and with a race car, the ghostly presence of faded race numbers or sponsor names, you’re getting the story behind the story which you wouldn’t get in a spic-‘n-span restoration that looks like the car just rolled out of the factory yesterday.