I have been following some spirited discussion on the AACA forum pertaining to restoration, street rods and when the line between the two is crossed. I must say these discussions have sparked some contemplative thought.
If a 1951 Chevy truck came with a 216.5 c.i.d. six-cylinder engine can it still be considered original if it now runs with a 1954 235 c.i.d. six cylinder engine? Would you consider it original if the original engine had been updated with insert bearings and a full pressure oil system?
What updates are acceptable before the originality is lost and if the vehicle is a regular driver what updates can be accepted to ensure the vehicle survives for another twenty, thirty, or forty years? Conversion from six to twelve volts, is this acceptable or does it depend on the extent of modification? Seat belts, turn signals, rear axle changes for highway speeds, all may be needed to make a vintage vehicle usable in modern conditions. Would this be acceptable?
Though my interest in street rods is less than zero there is a place for historic street rods or their recreation. As an example consider the faithful recreation of a 1933 Gilmore Gold Cup Racer by Don Small.
It should be noted, however, that even though most components of this car including dash, steering, light switches, etc, are restored originals he did not cut or customize a rare, original, steel bodied roadster choosing instead to go fiberglass. Perhaps he understood that original cars from the 1930s, or 1940s, 0r 1950s, or 1960s, are no longer mere used cars. They are historical artifacts.
This, as well as the increasing scarcity of original cars and the increasing availability of fiberglass bodies leads me to question the reason an individual would cut or extensively modify an original car. Mere selfishness or need for artistic expression can not explain this.
I would venture a guess that there is a societal element in this discussion. That element is a lack of respect or appreciation for history.
As the book review writer for Cars & Parts interesting books cross my desk rather often. One, however, I only found interesting in the same manner I find fascination with the technical aspects of the bombing of Dresden during World War II.
One section of the book discussed acquisition of suitable vehicles fro transformation into a street rod. It advocated deception as the owner of a 100 point restoration may not be willing to sell if they know a car is going under the torch.
I would have had trouble in the mid 1950s with seeing an original Model A cut and roded. Today, though I can appreciate the workmanship of a well built custom car or the engineering involved with transplanting modern mechanical components into a vintage chassis, it disgusts me to see an original car cut.
I understand that money is often a motivating factor in conversion as well crafted custom cars and street rods often command higher resale values than original cars. Still, there must come a point where we feel an obligation to future generations.
In recent years I have seen incredibly rare cars such as a Hupmobile Skylark turned into street rods. Painstakingly restored vehicles that are as a window into another era have been transformed into another street rod with Chevy drive train.
Somewhere in between obsession with originality and total disdain for anything original are those vehicles maintained and driven as intended. This leads us full circle to our original topic.
Where is the line crossed between originality and conversion, between customization and destruction?
In recent years there has been a trend in the old car hobby towards creating drivers rather than show cars. This is true in both camps with the rise of the rat rod and rough but dependable original vehicles as regular drivers being the result.
Blurring the lines between originality and customizing is the availability of quality fiberglass bodies, reproduction vintage speed equipment and accessorises, modern electronic components designed for older vehicles such as digital dashes and stereos designed to appear as original units. Approaching this from another angle one could ask what constitutes an original car.
If in 1958 an owner of a new Pontiac bought after market wire spoke wheels and you bought that car today with those wheels still on the car would this be considered original?
In 1937 my wife’s grandfather bought a new Ford. He drove it home and with only fifty miles on the odometer proceeded to improve on factory design by adding a hydraulic brake system, shaving the head and other slight modification. If this car survived to this date how would it be viewed?
If you were to restore a 1950 Hudson to complete originality with the exception of having added the Twin-H system how would the car be described? Can the addition of sealed beam lights to a 1934 Chrysler be seen as modification or customization?
Ultimately it comes down to the old adage beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Perhaps, however, what is needed is tempering this philosophy with a sense of repsonsibility and appreciation for increasingly rare historical artifacts with wheels.