Carini: My dad taught me to love original cars, not just perfect ones
When we drive our cars, they collect signs of that use—patina, in collector-car speak. The latest issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, in which this article first appeared, explores the delight found in such imperfect cars. To get all this wonder sent to your home, sign up for the club at this link. To read about everything patina online, click here.
Back in the mid-1950s, there were lots of great unrestored cars in barns and carriage houses. At the time, if someone bought an old car in decent condition, it was common to have it completely restored.
My father loved Model A Fords and was constantly on the lookout for cars and parts. On weekends, we’d hit the road in his ’49 Plymouth wagon, towing a trailer. We’d stop at Ford dealers all over New England and ask for new-old-stock Model A parts in the rafters or on shelves. During one trip to Vermont, he asked if there were any old Ford parts out in the dealership’s storage area. Dad walked out back and saw a Model A 400 with roll-up windows and bucket seats. Built in 1931, it was one of the rarest Model A’s. It was totally original, and he bought it on the spot for $300.
Once home, Dad cleaned it up and took it to a Model A Restorers Club meet at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. It was so nice that in judged competition, it was beaten only by a perfectly restored car. At the time, my parents were having a house built and needed the money, so my dad sold the car to a Michigan doctor.
We’d also go all over the Northeast to car shows, and there were a couple of show regulars who were really into original cars. They were often shunned because their cars weren’t as shiny and bright as the recently restored ones. Dad and I visited the Harrah Collection in Reno before it closed down and saw that many displays included restored and unrestored cars of the same model. Dad found this useful because he was always learning from the original cars: Are the stripes the right width? What kind of plating was used on the nuts and bolts?
Dad was in the restoration business—which sometimes meant restoring pretty decent examples—but he appreciated originality. One guy brought a big Packard 745 or 840 to my father’s shop to be restored. Instead, Dad suggested repainting the fenders and splash pans and restriping the car. The Packard looked great with freshly painted black fenders, and he’d saved a mostly original car.
I’m a painter and restorer, but I’ve developed a real love for unrestored cars. To this day, I contend that nothing drives better than a well-maintained original car. Though my father used the originals as a guide—to learn the correct way to restore a particular car—I learned to appreciate these original cars as art. When I’d visit a girlfriend in Boston, we’d go to museums and galleries and just gaze at the paintings and sculptures. That, along with the visits to Harrah’s and the Long Island Automotive Museum—which also featured unrestored cars—reinforced my appreciation of originality. Additionally, over the years, I learned when not to restore a car.
Back when I was painting a lot of Ferraris, an owner wanted a full repaint of his 250 GTE. Instead, I buffed and detailed it, and I persuaded him to stick with the original paint. That project helped me realize that there are several ways to bring a car back to life.
I first saw an unrestored Hudson Italia when I was about 15. I stayed in touch with the owners until it finally became mine, 38 years later. Upon seeing the cracks in the original paint, most collectors would have restored it, and I might have, too, had I managed to buy it when I first saw it. Years later, it is the only original Hudson Italia, and I truly appreciate it for its originality.
Over the years, I’ve had more than a dozen unrestored cars. The best was a 1921 Stutz Bearcat. Bought new by a Boston surgeon and found in Georgia with its cylinder head off, the car still had its original documentation stored under the seat and all its tools remained. When I saw it, I knew I had to have it, and I had the transporter there before the seller could change his mind. After assembly and lots of cleaning, I took the car to Pebble Beach, where it won the coveted FIVA trophy for unrestored cars.
I no longer have the Stutz, but I’ll never let the Hudson Italia go, and I’m thrilled to have an unrestored 1954 Arnolt-Bristol Deluxe, a 1953 Hudson Hornet, a 1956 Fiat Viotti Sport Coupe, a 1910 Chase truck, and a 1953 Studebaker Starliner coupe with just 7000 miles. Restored cars can always be restored again, but these jewels will only be original once.