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Survivor Obsession #7
Thu Aug 30, 2018 06:51

"Patina" is not a good excuse for "Shitbox"

There does seem to be some confusion about what constitutes a survivor. To be clear we aren't talking about some toff running about hunting "barn-finds" to be to be bought from some widow for a wink and a fiver, next to be seen complete with dust and rodent faeces intact at Barrett being auctioned for a cool half-million or so, a practice I find abhorrent if I'm honest. Why that loathsome activity is televised on "Velocity" and celebrated in the collector mags as a legitimate segment of the American car culture is telling.

The real "survivor" scene is being perverted to justify this thievery so often accompanied by the fluttering of vulture's wings. Yet there is precious little press devoted to what really is the preservation and driving of original cars, why its appealing, and what nostalgia is awakened thereby. So, lets be clear on the first point so as to understand why barn-thievery and widow-winking have nothing in common with the survivor world.

Survivors are cars that present themselves, importantly as living and breathing machines doing what they were intended to do, with their life's history intact. They have bumps and warts but they aren't scrap. A survivor car is one that has not been destroyed by the restoration people (unintentionally perhaps, but the originality and history are destroyed regardless) in an attempt to reset the clock to when the car was new. I'll be fair though. Like all lines, that one can be a bit fuzzy too, for an older restoration done by an uncle or mentor can be meaningful enough a piece of very personal history to appeal to the current owner. He or she would never consider tearing it down for exactly the same reasons. I'll stick with those cases being important exceptions; very important, but exceptions nonetheless.

In my case, I found my cars in decent solid shape and each at the end of the previous owner's ability to house them. Two of them had also stumped their owners a bit; both guys being muscle-car guys. Luckily, I also found them before the narrow-minded who only know the car hobby as a form of taxidermy.

Unfortunately, the advice meted to the novice in the hobby in America involves finding the best example one can afford then tearing it limb from limb, often never to be re-assembled again because "this is too hard". I say "unfortunately" because that best example quite often is a good survivor. If you are reading this and restoration is your hobby, welcome and good for you for having both a sense of curiosity and of humour. I'd be very pleased if you take this away with you. I shall now plead the case that the aforementioned common advice has folks often finding a solid and original car, and once it gets taken apart the history is gone.

How about instead, advise the new guys to your world to find an old resto to redo, for the history is already gone and there are plenty out there. When it is together again as a mingle of two or three cars, a lot of parts from Moss, and the loving hands of the guy putting it back to new condition, make it a work of art and personal expression; a thing of beauty. However, it no longer is a car assembled in Coventry or Abingdon or Oxford. It is a beautiful handbuilt car made in a garage in Georgia.

So, bad advice to find an original in the best shape possible to stuff and mount. If you find one, consider instead coming over to the Dark Side, or at least passing it off to one of us if driving and preservation isn't your thing and never will be. The driving bit is self-explanatory, so lets look at preservation for a moment. Rather than restoration, which resets the clock, preservation winds the already running clock and keeps it happily ticking away. To that end, driving and maintaining the car as a living thing is the longterm goal. You are the most recent caretaker of a car that defeated the odds somehow.

Often these cars are found after a period of dormancy, so the first step is to wake it up. The three that live here all have gone through that period, the latest being my Spit. Unlike the barnfind bit, the idea is to wake them rather than merely collect corpses. So, after replacing seals and fluids and worn mechanical bits, sorting the electrics, we breath not only life into the car again but bring it back to a safe, solid, and well-maintained state. Then, the car is ready for you to add your experiences to what has already been a long rich life. That really is the name of our game in a nutshell.

The Spit just had the old paint buffed up (thankfully British paint is thicker than American of that era so there is something to buff) as the last step in that first phase, a very enjoyable period of eight months of diagnosis and repair. It is awake; back where it should be. It looks cared for but not all stiff and new. All the systems work. The car is safe, and the car is reliable. Like the title of this piece suggests, a survivor is not a car on its last legs, and "patina" is too often a word used to jack value where there is none by the auctioneers, flippers, and "purveyors of fine classic motors".

Earlier, I mentioned a nostalgia component; though the history is important, the whole picture (at least for me) is not just for history's sake. Many of us cut our teeth on MGs and Triumphs if we didn't on aircooled Volkswagens. Indeed, in my formative years, it was both. I studied the Gospels according to both St. John (Muir) and St. Dick (O'Kane). While the rich kids had muscle cars, we found whatever simple ratbag we could find and rebuilt them. We could barely afford insurance and petrol, so a simple VW, Triumph, or MG that was tatty around the edges and the engine blown was "in budget" for starters. We couldn't afford dealers and garage fees so we learned how to work on 'em ourselves, "Keeping our Volkswagen Alive for the Compleat Idiot" and "How to Repair Your Foreign Car, a Guide for the Beginner, your Wife, and the Mechanically Inept" our bibles. There was nothing like the amased elation of the first roar to life of your first engine build, step-by-step from the book. We drove (and drove hard) on the cheap and by our own hand, and It Was Good.

Finding an original car now and doing the same thing again is an absolute joy. It doesn't have to look like the Camaro did when Daddy bought it for us out off the showroom floor simply because we never experienced that, so resto-to-showroom just isn't our thing. Rather, a down-at-the-heels low-budget car that, by our own industry and cleverness becomes a taut car again, that was our youth. Perhaps thats why so many of us are attracted to LBCs and aircooled VWs in survivor form and budget. We never knew muscle, Porsche, or Ferrari, and we still don't. They are still for the rich kids.

We never knew "new", but we do know "good".

    • Unfair to muscle cars - mike, Thu Aug 30 09:09
      In my opinion American muscle cars were or are unfairly treated by the classic car brigade. Also you're a bit unfair to assume that they were the province of well heeled oafs even though that was... more
      • Waxoxl is the name? - Alex, Sun Sep 2 05:07
        Messy stuff. These days 'Dinitrol' is the preferred rust proofer.. Not sure that a ground spike is much help in preventing galvanic corrosion process in cars - maybe in a building?
        • If my memory serves... - sarge, Sun Sep 2 09:31
          ...the whole galvanic corrosion thing requires dis-similar metals in intimate contact, an electrical field, and some sort of electrolytic presence, such as saltwater. Bits of one material therefore... more
      • I think I remember the adverts... - sarge, Thu Aug 30 13:53 WaxOyl. Tetroseal is another; wax treatments are still popular. I'll stick with what I said about musclecars and their place in the culture of my youth. That was a definer between the rich kids ... more
        • I love big engines - mike, Fri Aug 31 08:56
          So we can put all that nonsense about heat engines behind us, right? Well frankly yes and if that makes me a hypocrite so be it but I can easily hold two opposing views and frequently do! Anyway back ... more
          • My list of ten... - sarge, Fri Aug 31 09:43
            actually are pretty inexpensive cars, with some surprising omissions. Neither inexpensive or on the list is an E-type. Its a car to be seen in, but not a car to drive, a gorgeous thing but absolutely ... more
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