Letter to readers, December 1989

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How many more?

Dear Reader,

The letter from Nigel Musselwhite in last month’s issue of Motor Sport, about the copy of the MG Ex120 record breaking car that he made in 1973, was most welcome, encouraging more openess and honesty in the old car world. I well recall appearing with the little single-seater MG, which he called a Replica but which I called a fake. Was it really sixteen years ago?

We agreed to differ on the description of the car, for in my book a replica is “another one by the original artist” and a fake is “something that is not what it purports to be”. An MG Midget from the overhead camshaft days it undoubtedly was.

He explained his reasons for building the car, for his own enjoyment and satisfaction, and he certainly had a lot of fun with it. “But”, I said, “What happens if you sell it, or if you die? The next owner might not be as open and honest as you.” I have been saying the same thing to enthusiasts who have built fakes, from Grand Prix cars to Austin Sevens.

I hope that Nigel Musselwhite’s letter will encourage more people to be honest and fair when it comes to making fake famous old cars. They may be well-intentioned copies of famous cars, but they are not real in an historical sense, and calling them “replicas” does not make them any more real.

When I read about the number Ex120 on certain parts of the car being pattern numbering, also used on D, J, L and P type MGs, I had to smile. It reminded me of a man who was constructing an old car recently and was claiming an identity for what was a home-made fake, on the grounds of finding nuts stamped 8. In the short run of racing cars of the type made by the original manufacturer, there had been a run of eight or nine cars, so he was claiming to have restored number 8. I often wondered if he realised that UNF and UNC nuts are marked with an identifying symbol that looks very much like an 8 !

Many years ago a chain-gang Frazer Nash “bitza” was constructed and given a very original looking body, in fact so original looking that when the car appeared complete with the registration numbers from a 1925 car, there were those who were prepared to believe that it was the 1925 car rebuilt. Equally there were those who knew it had only recently been constructed and had no right whatsoever to the 1925 number. Eventually it was “sold abroad” and out of sight, out of mind, so the embarrassment to annoy people was eliminated. Many years later it returned to the UK and was advertised for sale as possibly being the oldest known Frazer Nash. The trader who was selling it had a very high price on it, even for the time, but when challenged about its origin, well-documented in the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC, he gave that well-worn trader’s reply, “it was bought in good faith”. He then went on to explain that as he had paid “Replica price” for it, he would let it go “to the Trade” (another well-worn phrase) for a much lower figure.

This was the first time I had heard the phrase “Replica price” and it caused a friend of mine to ask if the trader would have taken “Replica money” for it! It was never explained what “the Trade” did with it when they bought it off their fellow trader, knowing it was not what it was pretending to be. Did they break it up, sell it as a genuine fake, “pass it on to the Trade”, or merely push it out onto the open market? There was another trader a little while back who was giving an interview to a journalist and upholding his facade of “Honest Joe Dealer”. He said he never sold bad cars; if he found he was lumbered with one he “passed it on to the Trade”.

The Frazer Nash in question surfaced again recently in a private owner’s hands and had been re-registered with a nondescript period registration number, so the car is no longer pretending to be something it is not; but what happened to the original famous registration number?

Building fake cars has been going on for over 40 years to my certain knowledge, so some of the cars are now getting very old. To the dealers “old is valuable” and so they put the price up “as high as the market will stand”, to use more Trade patter. Many of these fake cars have out been seen for a long while, like Nigel Musselwhite’s MG Midget, so how many more are going to surface at auction sales? The descriptions in the glossy catalogues will be very carefully worded so that they do not infringe the Trade Descriptions Act, and the cars will hopefully sell for unreal prices. Phrases like “to the best of our knowledge”, “it is reported that …”, “this car is said to be …”, “the owner states.. “this car is of the type…”, “VSCC accepted…” and so on ad infinitem and ad nauseam. While there are buyers about, you cannot keep a good Motor Trader down.

Such cars as SS 100 Jaguar, MG K3 Magnette, Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, “Competition” Delahaye, BMW 328, Le Mans V12 Lagonda, T.T. Lagonda, racing Riley, racing Amilcar, various Maserati models, even more various Bugatti models, Le Mans Bentley and so on, have all been built and “gone to ground”. The list is endless. Is the time ripe for some of them to start reappearing, especially now that the real cars have had “bench-marks” established for them by the auction world? If a real “Masbugalfa” has been shown to be worth £1M (jargon for one million pounds) then a nicely built fake must be a snip at £500,000. It only cost £100,000 to build, so we’ll make some more. “Because the market needs them, old boy.”

Yours, DSJ.

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