Andrew Frankel: Classic car perfection means airbrushing its history

“If all evidence of a racing car’s history is lost, so is a dimension of its character”

Toddled along to the Salon Privé press day to see what was around and was immediately drawn to the centrepiece of  the display of yellow cars on the main lawn. It was a Ferrari 250 LM looking for all the world like the car that had come second at Le Mans in 1965. Indeed, it was explained to me, it was indeed that car, it having recently returned from the factory having had a full restoration to Ferrari Classiche standards.

There is now not a mark on the interior, not a blemish on the paintwork, nor a clip out of place or incorrect specification under the engine cover. It’s not just a question of being able to have your breakfast off it, you could perform open heart surgery on it, it is so astonishingly perfect.

It is fascinating to see such a famous and important car that is now exactly as its maker intended, down to the very last detail. No more wondering about whether this hole was always in that precise location or whether that linkage always looked like that: it is as correct as can be achieved today.

Yet so too has it lost something. I used to race a 750 Monza that had been driven by Masten Gregory at Le Mans in 1955 who, in another LM and sharing with Jochen Rindt, beat this very LM to the flag 10 years later. And the Monza bore its war wounds with pride; when I was aboard the car, surrounded by the scuffs, scratches, dents and dings made by all those who’d gone before me, it made me conscious of that car’s entire story and proud beyond words to be playing even such a minor role in it.

I understand that the 750 Monza has since been made perfect via extensive restoration too, airbrushing away its entire history. It is of course for owners to do as they see fit with their possessions, but to me a racing car is what it’s done, every bit as much as what it is, and if all visible evidence of that is lost, so is an entire dimension of its character too.

The Munich Motor Show took place in early September, the biennial replacement for famed Frankfurt show around whose halls I used to trudge ever more wearisomely as the day progressed. It was a show you had to attend if you were any kind of automotive news journalist, but we all absolutely dreaded it. You’ll think I’m exaggerating when I tell you it was a mile long from end to end but I am absolutely not. So there was no chance of ordering your day and which stands you’d visit, you just had to start at one end then slowly grind your way down to the other. Which would have worked well enough were it not for the fact you might be called to interview some grand fromage at a completely different end of the show to the one you were in.

“Estates will bounce back for one simple reason: they work”

Few were the Frankfurts in which I didn’t rack up a dozen miles or more on the hoof. Fine in training shoes, less amusing in brogues. I was once stupid enough to attempt the show on a brand new pair of said stiff-soled shoes and when I finally limped into my hotel and got to remove them my feet were best described as bags of blood. That said so too do  I remember the pleasure of taking them off being so exquisite it was almost worth the agony of having them on, but not quite.

Munich, at least for now, is a smaller affair which does not mean it was lacking in interest. By far the most significant car unveiled was the BMW Vision Neue Klasse which, while a concept, previews an entire new design language for BMW. The terminology used here could not be more significant, for the original ‘Neue Klasse’ was the family of affordable saloons launched by BMW in 1962 which, it is no exaggeration whatever to say, utterly transformed its business, turning it into the mainstream manufacturer it has been ever since.

The new car may not be gorgeous, but its lines are clean, distinctive and well proportioned. The increasingly hideous grilles with which BMW has seen fit to adorn its product recently are notable only by their absence too. BMW says the Vision Neue Klasse does not preview one particular model but is instead representative of the approach it will take with its entire model line-up in years to come. Interesting however that the first car likely to be based on the new EV-only platform and reflect this volte-face in design approach, will be the new 3-series, probably due in 2025. I like what  I see, and it’s a very long time since I’ve felt moved to say that about any BMW.

I read a lot about the demise of estate cars, that even Volvo will stop selling them in the UK. But reports of their impending death are exaggerated. No question that, at the moment, people are far keener to be seen in heavy, imposing SUVs, but as I have said before, the question remains for how long.

I’ll spare you a lengthy extemporisation on the shortcomings of such cars and observe simply that estates will bounce back for one simple reason: they work. Little heavier than a saloon, usually barely any less good to drive, sometimes actually more attractive and often not that much more expensive, estates, in short, make sense.

They did then, do now and will, one day in the future, do so again.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel