Is It Really Your Car?

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The Everglades existed for thousands of years as a tropical wetland. In 1880 it was decided that the Everglades could be improved.

By 1947 over 1,400 miles of canals had been built to improve the Everglades. As a result of all these improvements we are now in the middle of a $10.5 billion 35-year restoration project. We were not good stewards of the land in Florida.

Stewardship is taking good care of an object that has been entrusted to your care and management. It could be 1.5 million acres of wetlands in Florida of it could be a Ferrari Barchetta. The concept is the same.

If you are the steward of something you really don’t own it in the conventional sense. You’re simply taking care of it for a while. A lot of people  feel that they own the car that’s in their possession. They regard their cars much the same way the people who owned the land in the Everglades felt about the swamp. It’s my car, or my land, and I can do with it as I wish.

Many of us have treated our cars as if they were a swamp. Imperfections of any sort were bad. Everything had to be perfect. Restoration projects traditionally included repairing flaws that had been in place when the car was produced. We changed our cars to some new standard of perfection.

The original history of the car was removed and a new car was displayed on the show field. These show cars became historical fictions.

Our cars began to resemble the historic recreation of Williamsburg Virginia. A lovely place to visit but a town that bears little resemblance to the original.

We created perfect Austin-Healey 3000s and Jaguars with flawless shut lines. Colors never seen at the factory were protected with clear coat. No one ever thought of these cars as part of our cultural heritage.

While all of this was going on there was a growing respect amongst collectors for historical objects that had been maintained and preserved. If previous owners of an historical object had protected the object, there was no reason to alter, or restore, the object. Putting a new face on a Rittenhouse clock was thought to be an affront to the original craftsman.

Stewardship is about the management of an object. The possession of an historical object incurs legal, social and ethical obligations. An object is held in trust for the public and made accessible for the public’s benefit. Stewardship ensures that the object, which you possess, is available and accessible to present and future generations. Your responsibility is to provide proper physical storage, management and care for this object.

Restoration and Stewardship

The primary goal of stewardship is to prevent further deterioration. A restoration on the other hand is permanent change. Replacing significant parts, whether original to the car’s manufacturer or not, alters the historical integrity of a car.

If someone doesn’t understand how a component was designed performs a restoration, they may cause irreversible damage. The original maker’s work is no longer intact. Both the car’s function and research value will be diminished. The restoration of a car is a huge step and one that should not be taken lightly. If the decision is made to restore a collectible car, each step of the process must be carefully considered and always fully documented.

Your Car Was Built to Be Disposable

Cars are functional objects. They’re out in the world. Every historically significant car was at one time just a used car. More often than not, a car has been poorly repaired over the years. They got damaged, things broke, and then they got fixed. Getting to work in the morning was more important than being a good steward of the car.

No one ever manufactured a car to last several hundred years. In this respect, cars are very different from paintings. When an artist finishes a painting they expect it to last forever. When a car rolls off an assembly line, or out of a carrosserie, the hope is that it will get past the first year without a major failure.

One prominent Porsche racer related how when they returned from LeMans, all the 935 parts would be placed in a huge pile in the shop. As the cars were assembled for the next race, parts were randomly pulled from that pile. Today this same shop carefully stacks all the parts from the various cars in separate piles, so when the time comes to sell they’re actually selling the original car and not a random collection of parts.

No one is expected to preserve every car. After all you never preserved all the drawings you did in the fourth grade. It could be said though that you were a poor steward of your early artwork. As the decades pass, will it matter if the car in your garage is preserved? Or, will people say that you were a poor steward of the car you currently have stored in your garage? Will someone have to restore your swamp at some point in the future?

Maserati never built a racecar this nice. In the process of restoring this car a lot of the original craftsmanship was removed. The front suspension here is really an historical fiction.
Maserati never built a racecar this nice. In the process of restoring this car, a lot of the original craftsmanship was removed. The front suspension here is really an historical fiction.
Racecars present a unique set of problems. They were altered on a weekly basis. The car at the end of the season is very different from the one that started the season. Preserving these unique features is what stewardship is all about.
Racecars present a unique set of problems. They were altered on a weekly basis. The car at the end of the season is very different from the one that started the season. Preserving these unique features is what stewardship is all about.
At one time this GT40 Mk 1 was just a car on the Ford dealer’s lot. Stewardship was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. By 1969 this car had been repainted and a Mk III rear window installed. Larger rear fender flares were also added. The first few owners of this car had no idea about stewardship. Now the question is whether this car should be preserved in its current state or if it should be restored to original. Is stewardship even a factor considering all of the alterations that have taken place? (Photo courtesy of Hemming Motor News)
At one time this GT40 Mk 1 was just a car on the Ford dealer’s lot. Stewardship was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. By 1969 this car had been repainted and a Mk III rear window installed. Larger rear fender flares were also added. The first few owners of this car had no idea about stewardship. Now the question is whether this car should be preserved in its current state or if it should be restored to original. Is stewardship even a factor considering all of the alterations that have taken place? (Photo courtesy of Hemmings Motor News)
This is a Corvette that was raced during the 60’s. A tremendous amount of work went into replicating the light bracket.  Then it was given a finish that the original fabricator never imagined. This raises an interesting question: Is this bracket a historical fiction or should we consider it to be a properly preserved part of the car?
This is a Corvette that was raced during the 60’s. A tremendous amount of work went into replicating the light bracket. Then it was given a finish that the original fabricator never imagined. This raises an interesting question: Is this bracket a historical fiction or should we consider it to be a properly preserved part of the car?
This Porsche 935 steering is a great example of preservation. It would be no major expense to recover the wheel with new leather but that would permanently alter the car. This is the steering wheel that was in place when the car won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Perfection is not the goal here. Preservation is.
This Porsche 935 steering is a great example of preservation. It would be no major expense to recover the wheel with new leather but that would permanently alter the car. This is the steering wheel that was in place when the car won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Perfection is not the goal here. Preservation is.
You've never seen these Weber stacks before. They’re plastic and they’re extremely rare. They’re also part of the history of this Porsche. The current owner (caretaker?) of this car has two choices. These plastic stacks can be cleaned and put back in place or some bright shiny metal ones can be installed. Stewardship is about the management of a historical object. Replacement of these stacks would alter the history of the car.  It would fictionalize the car.
You’ve never seen these Weber stacks before. They’re plastic and they’re extremely rare. They’re also part of the history of this Porsche. The current owner (or is that caretaker?) of this car has two choices. These plastic stacks can be cleaned and put back in place or some bright shiny metal ones can be installed. Stewardship is about the management of a historical object. Replacement of these stacks would alter the history of the car. It would fictionalize the car.

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