FEB 25th 2015

Not all cars are restored equal... So what should you watch out for?

Here’s a question I bet you can’t answer without thinking about it: What is a restoration? Probably the closest you will get to consensus on the correct answer is ‘how long is a piece of string?’ or, more pertinently, ‘how much money do you have?’

Finding an answer really shouldn’t be that hard, but it is a question that divides the classic car world. To make things more confusing for the uninitiated, there are a variety of different descriptions for restorations – we have the full restoration, the sympathetic restoration, the nut and bolt restoration, the older restoration, the mechanical restoration, the cosmetic restoration and a number of other different descriptions and configurations.

“The car was described as concours condition and fully restored, but the suspension and brakes were seized. I’d call that a ‘sympathetic’ restoration – the kind that is sympathetic to the seller’s wallet”

The question was prompted by a visit just a few short weeks ago by a fabulous looking and very valuable classic from one of the great marques. The car was described as concours condition and fully restored, but the suspension and brakes were seized which would preclude it from being described as either of the former. The car had a fresh coat of paint on top of the original but the engine bay had managed to escape the aim of a spray gun. So what sort of a restoration was it? I’m going to plump for a ‘sympathetic’ restoration – the kind that is sympathetic to the seller’s wallet. A more accurate description would have been ‘it’s had a lick of paint and we needed to do a few things to get it running properly’, but the car certainly looked magnificent from 20 feet. In actual fact it hadn’t been restored at all.

As far as defining what ‘restored’ means, I’m going to settle for ‘restored to its former glory’– anything else is just upkeep. An older restoration is simply a car that is due another one, a mechanical restoration is a car that hasn’t been looked after properly and a cosmetic restoration is a car that has been prepared for sale. If you are thinking about getting a car restored or buying one that has been restored already, there are a number of simple questions you should be asking – who, when, where and how. These questions should help you spot the difference between a car that had the dents filled and a fresh coat of paint by an enthusiast in his shed in Massachusetts 15 years ago and a car that has been professionally restored by a marque specialist using modern techniques recently . The saving you will make on the first car will only be fleeting.

A car can only be original once and those cars are about as easy to find as unicorn tears these days – ‘survivor’ is a word that is increasingly used for those cars and a good one at that. Phrases such as ‘restored preserving as much originality as possible’ ultimately just confuse the issue, which is almost certainly the reason why they exist.

Edward Legge is Director of Commercial Development at Classic and Sports Finance.

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