DSJ looks at fake cars
I cannot remember how long ago it was that I had a “tick” about a fake racing car that was built and was passed off as the “real thing”. I was not worried about the profit the builder made, that was his affair, but what I objected to was the distortion of known history. Motor racing to me is a form of religion and I get very upset when someone despoils it with spurious historical facts, especially when the truth is well-known and well documented.
At the time someone said “Don’t fuss, it is only one racing car, and everyone knows that it is not the real thing”. Since that time the building of fake cars has proliferated, both racing cars and sports cars. Apart frorn the makes Trojan and Belsize-Bradshaw, almost every make from AC to Wolseley, has had facsimiles constructed, some of them openly and honestly made up from spares and new parts, others lurking behind a snippet of uncertified history, as being the real thing.
Over the years I have monitored most of these activities, viewing one-off cars in the making, and small production runs in an organised factory. The world of collectors, auctions, dealers, specialists and so on, conjure up numerous words to describe these fake cars, the feeling being that if a certain word is used often enough it will be accepted and will take on an air of respectability, even authenticity. The most popularly mis-used word is “Replica” and last month in Motor Sport one of our advertisers coined the classic phrase of all time when he described a totally fake racing car as an “authentic replica”. Recently, an article appeared in the Bulletin of the Riley Register that sums up the whole situation so well that we feel disposed to quote it in full. It was written by Dr. David Styles, the Registrar and Historian of the Riley Register, and we are pleased to acknowledge his co-operation and also that of Tony Bird, the Editor of the Riley Register Bulletin. It was published under the title “Preserving the status-quo”, as follows:
“Over recent years, there has been growing controversy over duplication of cars which have been built from either collections of original spare parts or newly-manufactured components — or a mixture of both— to the original specification of a type. It is wholly appropriate that concern would emanate from the question of how to differentiate between originals and duplicates, both now and in years to come. This is an especially difficult matter to deal with for those clubs which provide competitive events for cars of certain ages, particularly if they allow “specials” built in the spirit of the period they aim to represent. What is an original car for the purposes of acceptability to a marque or period-related club, such as the “Ancient X Register” or the “Vanquished Old Car Club”? This is perhaps one of the most vexed questions lying behind the whole problem of controlling proliferating “copies”, “reproductions” and “modifications” of old motor cars.
“This article is offered in the hope that it might help to ease the concerns of car owners, club organisers, regulators and officials in general, by assuring them that restriction and vetting are to the overall benefit of everyone who holds a genuine interest in the hobbies of collecting and owning cars, or running and organising clubs for the older cars in our world which would otherwise be consigned to the scrap-heap and leave us with no automotive heritage at all.
“Some may ask: “Why all the fuss?”. Well, it seems there are people around in this world who proclaim an interest in old motors, and who may indeed nurse a genuine interest, but whose stronger concerns are more pecuniary than aesthetic! We must recognise that old cars have become investments, whether we like it or not, and that there is a body of people who buy old cars only as a further means of maximising their investments, while minimising their liability to taxation. Such people often fall easy prey to the guile of would-be sellers/profiteers and so, of course, the occasional innocent enthusiast also becomes ensnared from time to time. Sometimes it is not as clear-cut as that — sometimes the investor and the enthusiast face a situation where they have bought in good faith an original item which simply wasn’t quite what it held promise of being—but that is another problem.
“It is true that cars are offered for sale which are proven, upon careful investigation, not to be what they are purported. Now that may be for a number of reasons — firstly, dealers who sell cars don’t always know a great deal about the products which pass through their hands, with the consequence that one day they will inevitably find themselves faced with a car that is said to be something, looks like it and so is accepted as “it” and it is offered for re-sale on that basis. There is nothing wholly dishonest in that, but it does reflect a certain lack of diligence on the part of the dealer. There are also people who deal in old cars who will blatantly buy and sell a car knowing it to be suspect, but claiming immunity on the basis that they “bought it in good faith”.
“Then there is the dealer — or private individual for that matter — who has a “box of bits” from which he conjures up a car. He sets about “preparing” that car for sale, knowing it to be one thing, or not to be “something else”, but offering it as that “something else” —often making it look almost indistinguishable from the original it purports to be in the process. Now that is misrepresentation, to put it at its mildest, and fraud to put it at its bluntest. This misrepresentation can range from putting together a better-than-50, collection of factory-produced bits into a car, using a factory-built chassis frame, to manufacturing an “original” chassis frame, and assembling the resultant collection into a “rare” and fine original example of the marque.
“So where do we begin to unscramble this business? Well, there seems no harm in an original chassis frame being restored and fitted with an original body frorn another compatible car. For example, if someone takes a “Blunderbird Ruby Limousine” chassis and fits to it a “Blunderbird Ruby Tourer” body, he or she still owns a “Blunderbird Ruby”. In the interests of preservation of a model, there is no reason to be offended at such an action taken in the interests of keeping one more “Blunderbird” on the road. After all, the result would be a catalogue model rebuilt to catalogue specification.
“It seems perfectly reasonable to accept a car as a restored original if it can be demonstrated to have been re-constructed, with reasonable evidence, to a factory specification it was believed to have had when originally built. Built or registered might both have to be accepted here, as many car manufacturers have fitted more than one body to an individual chassis before it was finally registered and sold. In such a situation, which is the “original”, when that word means — in this context —”as first made”? A benefit of any doubt must be conceded here, especially if a majority of the car is original to its maker (accepting re-built engines, gearboxes and axles as “original” for the sake of this definition). This would allow the replacement of a chassis frame with another, compatible, one and it would allow the fitting of a newly built body to original makers’ specification.
“However, if an original chassis has been restored and has a newly-built body mounted on it of a type positively known never to have been fitted to that individual chassis, but is of a factory-catalogued design, then this becomes a “copy”, “duplicate”, “facsimile” or more politely, a “reproduction”. If the chassis is modified in some way and a new body of non-standard design is fitted, then the result simply becomes a “special”.
“What about the individual who, in simple honesty, buys a sporting chassis with either no body or a rotten body and builds on to it a racing-style body resembling an original factory design? Then the chance arises to acquire a defunct registration number from an original works team car, “so why not use it?” While that is really a matter of judgment, there may be no reason why he should not use it — unless he deliberately intends to deceive, or is there? Whatever the intentions, there is now a serious danger, for whilst such a creation, or re-creation, can be the realisation of one person’s dream, it can also be the beginning of another’s nightmare. Such a car is a fraud-in-the-making, for it remains a production sports car chassis with a “duplicate” body and can best be described as a “special” or a “reproduction”. All that has to happen now is for the car to be sold to someone who sees an opportunity to cash in. Once the cashing-in is complete, so is the fraud.
“Under no circumstances should anyone condone the deliberate construction or “re-construction” of a car with a conscious intention of deception—and it is of such cars that we have to beware. However, there are cars which are built long after their time which are genuine “duplicates”, aimed only at being used in competition or to illustrate what the original looked like “in the flesh” — these are generally accepted as honest reproductions and are given adequate publicity, usually, to avoid misconceptions. Of those cars built with the intent to deceive, let us remember that there are ways of authenticating “fudged” chassis numbers and I believe that where people are found to present cars for acceptance as “originals”, knowing them to be otherwise, any club committee should exercise its right to withhold or withdraw membership and publicise the facts surrounding the reason.
“Now let us examine a particular aspect of this situation. In Riley terms, we must first recognise that many cars were built by Riley (Coventry) Limited as one model, or with one body type, only to be fitted with another body before sale to the public. In some cases, factory-built sports and racing machines had their original bodies removed and were sold as rolling chassis. The question here becomes: “What is such a car?”. For example, at least one surviving Riley MPH could be re-bodied as a TT Six and we would have no right to dispute its eligibility as an “acceptable original” car. Two, TT Riley Sprites and a production Sprite were re-bodied with Pourtout bodies for the 1937 French Grand Prix sports car race; we must recognise that either body-style would be acceptable on those cars, even if they were completely re-bodied in 1986.
“I believe we should be willing to accept a “minimum 50% Original Maker” basis — that is to say a car must be proven to have at least 50% original components and either the chassis plate or the original frame. However, if someone comes up with an original chassis frame bearing the same original number, then in line with tradition, the chassis must be accepted as the original vehicle. We know that chassis frames can sometimes deteriorate and need to be replaced, either with factory-made or professionally-made examples and don’t forget that many cars went back to their manufacturers for major repair after an accident, only to emerge with replacement chassis frames). In this respect, remember also that many racing cars (such as E.R.A.s) still used in competition are accepted as “original” cars, despite having had the chassis frame replaced, in some cases more than once. And we have to accept that body restoration can often leave very little, or even none, of the original in the process of restoration. Should a car be debarred from being accepted as an “original” for that reason? I think not.
“So, how are we to define these “offenders of the faith”, these “mavericks”? Well, let us try to dispel one offensive definition immediately —”replica”, an annoying description used by those who would profit from manufacturing “copies”, however authentic and sometimes excellent copies they may be. In the same way as an “original” can only be made by the originator, the car manufacturer, so can the “replica” only be made by the originator. Example! The Frazer Nash TT Replica— a car made by the originator in the image of the original, after the event, by Frazer Nash for sale to the general public. A “restoration” is a re-construction of the original, using as many of the original components as possible. A” copy”, “facsimile”, “duplicate” or, as it is usually referred to in the furniture business, a “reproduction” is a first construction of a car identical to, or at least resembling, an original. All vehicles falling into these categories are acceptable in their place — it is the “duplicate” aimed at any kind of misrepresentation which has no place here, and under no circumstances is it acceptable.
“In the final analysis, it comes down to individual cars and the interested parties have to be willing to examine all evidence offered in support of authentication of a car, as well as, where considered necessary, an actual examination of the car itself. In essence, the whole business of fraudulent cars has been around for many years and, as far as Rileys are concerned, one of the objectives of my writing my book “As old as the Industry” was to dispel much of the deliberate “mystique” which has been nursed by the innocent and the mischievous for many years. With the excuse of “mystique”, fact too quickly becomes fiction, which in turn can, and does, too readily find itself presented as “Faction”. The Romans, of course had a word, or rather two words, for the whole situation and they hold as good today as they did then: “Caveat Emptor”…
If you have read the foregoing carefully, I would suggest that you go back and read it again, even more carefully and at the same time take in the following observations and examples that I give to support or enlarge on many of the things that David Styles has written about.
In the opening paragraph he refers to the matter of differentiating between originals and duplicates in years to come, and the problems facing clubs who provide competitive events for cars of certain ages. The series of “copies” of the 250F Maserati that have been built by Cameron Millar is a classic example. All eight cars have the serial letters CM stamped on the chassis tubing, but what happens if somebody removes that serial number in twenty years time? The VSCC are faced with this problem, and the HSCC will have it arising in the future.
He then goes on to talk about investments, and this is a field very close to the Bugatti world and the world of old Grand Prix cars. Already there have been cases of Grand Prix Bugattis of doubtful origin bouncing back on the vendor with threats of legal action. Equally there are cases of Riley and Frazer Nash sports cars sold as something they are clearly not, coming home to roost when the buyer finds that they were not built by Riley (Coventry) Limited or AFN Limited, the makers of Frazer Nash cars.
On the question of dealers not knowing too much about the cars they sell, or wanting to know too much, it was many years ago that a friend of mine bought a Brooklands Riley “with a special three-bearing crankshaft”. The friend knew little about Rileys and drove the car flat out everywhere, happy with the thought of the special racing crankshaft. When we came to overhaul the engine we removed the sump and found a perfectly standard Brooklands Riley two-bearing crankshaft. We were very impressed with its strength! Then there is the pure misrepresentation by a dealer. I still have the letter written to me by a long-defunct dealer in sports and racing cars, in which an Austin 7 single-seater was described as the reserve car for the Austin works team. It even went on to elaborate how the Austin factory was running two twin-cam single-seaters and one side-valve car, and the one they were trying to sell was the spare side-valve car. It was actually quite a nicely home-built Austin 7 special, with no connections whatsoever with the works team, but the dealer’s story sounded much more exciting, except that it was a load of cods-wallop.
Then there is the question of changing bodies to make a dull saloon into a more interesting tourer. This has happened to nearly every 3-litre Bentley saloon and most of the 4-1/2-litre Lagonda saloons, except that as there is a shortage of original tourer bodies, new ones are being made and some of them are very good copies. However, they might be described as Van den Plas “style” bodies, but no way can they be called Van den Plas tourers, though they do remain Bentleys or Lagondas. This then takes us on to sports cars being made out of saloon cars, even to altering the saloon car chassis to make it like the sports car version. There are numerous examples of this skulduggery, ranging from SS100 two-seaters made from SS saloons, through Delahaye 135 “Course” to Ferrari Californias.
On the question of registration numbers, this has long been a problem, and there are quite a few cars bearing famous and known number plates which never belonged to the car in question. By acquiring a famous works-team registration number and putting it on your exact copy of the original car, does not, and never will, make your copy the original car. There are blatant examples of this in the world of Riley, MG, Frazer Nash, and others.
As far as one person’s dream becoming another’s nightmare, this invariably happens when a car changes hands and the new owner talks himself into believing he has something that he really hasn’t got. If there are enough changes of ownership the origins will become lost and another “genuine” car is in circulation. As far as Club Committees taking a strong stand, this is a splendid idea but it could prove embarrassing for some clubs who are known to condone “copies” and even give them original numbers and identifications.
When David Styles comes to the matter of accepting “a minimum of 50% original maker” he is in a mine-field and many clubs have discussed this problem in great detail. Do you take 50%, in weight, or 50% in volume? No-one seems to have come to any hard and fast decisions on this, but with the older type of car the chassis frame has to be the most important part of your 50%. However, as is pointed out, many racing cars have been crashed and rebuilt on a new chassis frame. It is still the same racing car, but no longer the “original” racing car. I have the remains of an old Grand Prix car, originally built in 1924, and it was Number 2 of a team of three cars. The chassis frame is clearly stamped No 2/26, because it had a big accident while it was racing as part of the works team and the factory rebuilt it on a new chassis frame. Being engineers, rather than assemblers, they duly stamped the new frame with its correct identification. The car was still Number 2, but the frame was 1926, not 1924. Now, the problem arises when someone finds the old bent frame stamped No 2/24 and claims to have the original No 2 car. In my opinion he can never have No. 2 car, nor can he resurrect, re-construct or reclaim No. 2 car. All he has is the discarded and scrap chassis frame that was originally on No 2 car when it was built in 1924. This little problem applies to a number of Grand Prix Bugattis in existence today. While my Grand Prix car may not be “original” it is certainly “genuine”. There are dozens of examples of this problem, right up to the present day.
One problem that David Styles did not touch upon is the practice, prevalent in the “Restoration” business, of splitting a complete car into two separate “lots” called “basket-cases” in the trade. A complete car is dis-assembled and one customer gets a chassis frame, back axle, radiator and bonnet, while another customer gets the engine, gearbox, front axle and scuttle and tail. Odd bits like wheels, brake drums and bits and bobs are sprinkled between the two baskets. Customer number one is in America, Customer number two is in Australia, and hopefully they will never meet up. The small ads start appearing, searching for missing parts to complete a rebuild. It takes a long time, but eventually we end up with two cars, both claiming to be “genuine”. I know it sounds fanciful, but believe me it has happened many times, and some of the results are coming home to roost.
This whole business, and it is BIG business in some quarters, is one that seems to occupy the minds of almost anyone interested in old cars, either because it offends their sense of what is right and what is historic, or because they have a vested financial interest in the Business. It is certainly a topic for heated discussion in any bar or paddock and while there is little hope of solving all the problems the best thing to do is to come out into the open and say what you think, loud and clear, as David Styles has done in the Riley Register Bulletin. — DSJ