Veteran to classic: Body Problems

No, not mine, although I do have them! I am referring to car bodywork in the context of the now much-discussed originality. One wonders whether it is the mechanical aspects of a car or its coachwork that is the more likely to undergo change, along the years? There are good reasons for the former departing from the original, due to wear and breakages, but less so for the body to be altered, unless after an accident or to improve some aspect of it.

Somewhere, maybe, there exist cars which are completely original, apart from the air in their tyres, the tyres themselves perhaps, the water in the cooling system, the lubricants and the licence on their windscreens. The common run of vintage and older vehicles cannot claim such perfection, in spite of the name of the game centring on originality, and marks being awarded or deducted in competitions for this virtue, so it is a matter which cannot be ignored.

Yet absolute originality, like a virgin in a brothel, is elusive. As this is the 80th year of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, I have been re-reading our account of AX 201, published in 1977, and have been reminded that even this uniquely historic motorcar, restored by Rolls-Royce itself, departs here and there from its original specification. I can think of other cars which look at first sight to be decently original bodywise, but which, in fact, are not.

One is a little 1922 French car carefully restored after the war, so well that one who had driven it many years before when his father owned it, offered congratulations on how closely it had been kept to its original form. However, he revealed that in the beginning its dickey was just a receptacle for touring necessities, so its lid opened forwards. But when he and his sister were of an age to be taken out in the car this was converted into a proper dickey-seat, by having the lid hinge backwards. Just one item of non-originality which would pass unnoticed by most people, including competition judges?

Another case concerns a slightly later light-car, the Mulliner body of which looks original to the uninitiated. But it never had a door on the driver’s side, as the right-hand brake and gear levers would have made it pretty useless anyway, until a later owner added one, which made it necessary to mount the spare wheel at the rear.

There must brother cases like these where only a one-make specialist would detect unoriginality. It really is very difficult to know when a car is reasonably original, which is why contest judges can be in an invidious position unless they are specialists at a one-make competition. I used to be asked to help at such events and once deducted marks from a Trojan entry on account of it having what looked like oversize wheels and tyres. Imagine how bad I felt when I was confronted by the car’s owner a very long time afterwards, who informed me the wheels and tyres were correct for his particuler model—which is not to say they were the original ones.

Taking originality too far brings many problems and I just wonder which is worse in the eyes of the purists: a car with original bodywork but changed mechanicals, or one that has a hacked-about body on a decently original chassis? A sort of chicken and egg conundrum! I suppose you might say at least the former looks as it used to, whereas engine and chassis mods often go unnoticed. But those who pride themselves on their original cars, who judge such at Club events, put them on Show stands or sell them, may have much on their conscience unless the matter is thoroughly investigated, and forever borne in mind.

Even as I was writing this, I came across another aspect of the matter. The owner of a 1915 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce Alpine Eagle has replaced the car’s former vintage closed bodywork with an open replica of the body on James Radley’s victorious 1914 Alpine Trial car. This gives rise to the question of which is preferable, an Edwardian car with a vintage body or an Edwardian car with a replica body. As a passing thought, I suppose that unless one is going to use one’s old car almost every day, which alas is becoming very rare, one should surely go for open bodywork on the grounds that it would provide more enjoyment in the vintage tradition than an old car with a closed body. WB