The automotive world has a love affair with restorations. The idea that we can return our beloved automobiles to their exact condition when new, preserving them for posterity, is appealing for a whole host of reasons. The process allows us as owners to effectively time travel when we drive it—so long as we don’t catch a glimpse of any graying hair in the rear-view mirror.
Do all cars need that kind of work to be useful or appreciated though? Perhaps not all vehicles warrant a restoration, and some might be best served by simply locking in the current condition. Treating it as an artifact.”I feel like it’s a relatively new concept in the car world,” says Braeden Howard in the second installment of the Historic Vehicle Association’s The Conservator’s Mindset.
A prime example of such an artifact is the 1920 Ford Model T depot hack (a sedan that received a custom body to be more akin to a truck or station wagon) that Braeden’s father, Brian Howard, presents. It’s a great, original example of what a Model T would have looked like in regular use so long ago. There is a lot we can learn from preservation techniques and how they can apply to objects today, he says. How best to use historically significant pieces like this is the subject of fierce debate. Brian would always prefer the vehicle remain functional, but when that functionality may cause damage it becomes a lot tougher to balance the priorities of use versus preservation. He tends to lean on what will keep the artifact intact for the future.
This particular Model T is not a one-of-one or anything—these machines are old, but there are still plenty of them out there. For that reason Brian is keen on keeping this T in working order. Certainly, the car has undergone work to preserve the finishes and stop any deterioration. He was also careful to document or mark any pieces that were changed or replaced, as he does not want his work to be interpreted as the work of the original maker.
The toughest part about the restoration vs preservation discussion is that there is no line in the sand, nor correct answer for every situation. It will always be a conversation unique to each specific vehicle or artifact, but guidelines are always helpful. Share your thoughts on what vehicles should be preserved or restored, and how, in the Hagerty Community below.