prefers his cars to be a little – how shall we say? – ‘travel worn’…
Those who know me and my fleet will vouch that my desire to own cars that fall somewhat short of perfection has been more than admirably fulfilled. In fact most of my cars are so far from perfect that I could be accused of exceeding the brief by a considerable margin. It wasn’t always that way, though. In fact a good few of the cars in my custodianship did, after the investment of considerable time and money, approach a condition, that if not quite ‘perfect’, was more than respectable.
But, the day one crests the long hill of refurbishment is the day that one confronts the downward slope to another restoration. The steepness of the decline is proportionate to the amount of use and the amount of maintenance that your newly restored car is subject to – and how long you keep it. This last point is key, keep your new restoration for too long and in the vernacular of the trade it becomes first a ‘recent restoration’, then an ‘older restoration’ before entering the netherworld of ‘needs restoration’.
This was emphasised for me when I took my Mercedes ‘Gullwing’ to a recent gathering at Brooklands. Roughly twelve cars turned up and mine was, by far, the roughest. In isolation, with no other car close by for comparison, it doesn’t look too bad – in fact quite good. However, parked next to a car which had emerged only days before from a restoration approaching £200,000 it looked, well, let’s be honest, more than shabby. Whether out of pity or a genuine reaction against the trend for over-restoration, several owners and members of the passing public commented that it was nice to see a Gullwing in ‘original’ condition. I eventually stopped protesting that since I bought the car in 1972 it had been bare-metal repainted twice, completely re-trimmed once and was not therefore ‘original’ at all.
In the first three or four years of ownership, I used it as a daily commuter into London. Subsequently, I made many holiday trips around France, regularly took it to the Nürburgring each year to spectate at the 1000kms, and generally racked up the miles and the fun, come rain or come shine. And that’s the rub: time takes its toll. I’ve had the car nearly forty years and its last restoration was twenty years ago, not twenty weeks.
My left-hand-drive Speedster, bought at about the same time, was treated in a similar manner. As an ex-south of France car it was virtually rust-free when I bought it and only required a re-paint and a re-trim, the term ‘only’, of course, being of relevance in relation to the then usual floor-pan-rotted UK-delivered 356. A bare metal re-spray and re-trim in gorgeous red leather by Gordon Bond (in those days the man for Porsche trimming), as well as a new hood and tonneau, and it looked a million dollars – even if it did cost slightly less than that to achieve.
Unable, due to work commitments, to take my revitalised Speedster to Stuttgart for an impending international 356 gathering, the late and much missed Porsche personality, Tony ‘Doc’ Standen offered to drive it there, where I could catch up with it via aeroplane. What Tony neglected to add was that he planned to take out most of his stock of repro Porsche panels and parts crammed into the car! On arrival my virgin leather seats had been ravished and defiled by the bare edges of Tony’s tinware. Tony, who always put mechanical perfection a long, long way ahead of aesthetic consideration, failed to comprehend my utter anguish.
A quarter of a century on, the pain hasn’t diminished but the cuts and scuffs have blended into the general patina of wear’n’tear accrued, once again, by almost constant use in all weathers. Like the ‘Gullwing’ the Speedster provokes the same ‘Nice to see one that hasn’t been restored’ comments from the public, with an occasional ‘When are you going to get it restored?’ thrown in by the uncharitable. This despite the fact that it had a second bare-metal repaint about ten-years ago. I respond to this latter comment with a mixture of feelings ranging between outrage, guilt and sadness that must be similar to those experienced by overweight young women when being mistakenly congratulated on their pregnancy.
I admire those with the tenacity and dedication to achieve a level of perfection that is far beyond my own capability, but I don’t envy them. Long ago I realised that I cannot live with the anxiety of waiting for – and coping with – the first scratch that takes the edge off that newness, rendering your pride and joy just another ‘imperfect’ second-hand car. I genuinely prefer a car with patina, the more the better.
A friend has just bought an Hispoano-Suiza which looks as if it has not been restored once in its eighty-odd years: the fabric body is crazed and the leather seats torn, but it’s mechanically tip-top and carries with it all the dignity of age, and an interesting life well spent. Perfection! What a pity that patina doesn’t come in a spray can… DM