Sir, (from the Lord Raglan)
DSJ’s article in your March issue on the making or faking of historic cars raises issues which deserve to be aired, yet I feel that a more relaxed attitude than his can be taken without harm. The term “historic”. like “original”, can beg a number of questions if strictly addressed. For instance, Alain de Cadenet’s P3 Alfa, which DSJ praises, came in bits from South America, and has a new body. It is a fine effort by Alain, who has thus produced one more car for us to enjoy: but it is not wholly original, and to that extent is not, on one legitimate interpretation, historic. The problem is, as the man said, if you are going to draw the line somewhere, where are you going to draw the line?
I do not know where a truly original GP Bugatti is to be found. The Targa on a dais at Schlumph’s has the rippled look of original bodywork and may have been kept back by the factory for sentimental reasons, but as a rule Ettore sold his works racers. He semi-mass-produced over 350 others. Most of these led a hard life, passing through many hands before recently becoming collectors items and thereby attracting more attention than otherwise they would have done.
As 90% of the parts are interchangeable on all Bugatti GPs (always one of their attractions) from early days these were swopped and cannibalised. Also engine and other part numbers were jumbled at the works and identities were changed at frontiers, all without thought for future historians, and quite to the confusion of those who are attractedto cars for their historical associations only.
The Bugatti Owners’ Club’s highly effective parts service started some 20 years ago with the purpose of keeping the cars going when the works ceased supplying. (Until 1961 Molsheim offered “spare parts for all models”) First Molsheim and then BOC spares have enabled many people, including me, to restore, drive, break and rebuild our cars without prohibitive expense.
Inevitably, helped by soaring prices, some virtually all-new creations have appeared, though these contain many parts the club does not offer. The club also tries to keep an accurate register of cars in spite of this being liable to upset friends as well as helping to frustrate rogues !
I do not think it wrong to copy, provided it is done well. The Romans replicated Greek sculptures, and the art world is stuffed with replicas and fakes, many of them well known, and which are nevertheless in demand because they may be the only way the relatively impecunious can own something like the real thing.
What is important in all this, as DSJ says, is not to be fooled; and to remember that unprovable or unsustainable claims are made through pride of ownership as well as for money. Just as no sensible person would buy a Rembrandt without most carefully checking its provenance, so every car bears examining for its historicity. The rule has always been caveat emptor. It needs to be caveat spectator and caveat scriptar too!
Raglan, Usk, Gwent