Recreating the classics

Historic Racing

As you may have read, Jaguar announced last week that it’s going to build the six ‘missing’ lightweight E-types, which is another way of saying that back in 1963 they planned to make 18 but for one reason or another only got around to selling a dozen.

Of course all the speculation concerns what Jaguar will charge for a new lightweight, each one built in house and said to be ‘identical’ to the originals. Naturally neither Jaguar nor anyone who has been offered one (these cars were never likely to be destined for anything as vulgar as public sale) is saying what one will cost but all the speculation – idle and otherwise – suggests if it’s not a million pounds it’ll be as near as makes little difference.

Whatever is charged, it will likely bear no relation to what the car cost to create but, rather, what the market will stand. To know that you have only to contrast that putative million to the ‘mere’ £300,000 Lister Cars is asking for its new Knobblies. The Lister will be a simpler car for sure but still come with a full Crosthwaite & Gardiner powertrain and, I am sure, be no less faithful a recreation than the E-types.

I have no problem with this: customers will enter the transaction with their eyes open and, besides, if the Sanction II Aston DB4 GT Zagatos of the 1980s are any guide, never be cheaper than when brand new. The Zagatos were not built in house, but by Aston experts RS Williams and continue to command seven figure values to this day.

But what, I wonder, should we think of the cars themselves? In what sense is a lightweight E-type made by Jaguar in 2014 entitled to be considered original, like those made in 1963? It won’t be like the small run of Ford GT40s constructed in the 1990s from original spares that can claim therefore to have existed in period, merely in unassembled form. So far as I am aware there will be no 1960s componentry in any of them. And as for bearing the next six consecutive chassis numbers from the originals, well that’s just common-sense marketing.

On the other hand, a new lightweight will not only be as fine to drive as an original (and I can tell you through the kindness of an owner who once let me drive his perfect, standard car that it is nothing less than magical), it will also be as beautiful and as entitled to call itself a lightweight E-type because, indisputably, that’s what it is.

Each car should be entitled to full FIA papers and, should organisers want them, race anywhere they are eligible. After all, a Historical Technical Passport in no way requires a car to be original, but merely to be in original specification and that is a very different thing.

As is so often the case, it comes down to honesty. There is today an Aston Martin Project 214 being raced across Europe that didn’t exist in period. Only two DP214s were built in 1963, the location of one is well known, while the other was cut up and destroyed following a fatal accident at the Nürburgring in 1964. And the first person who’ll point out this 214 is not original is its owner. He has it because it enables him preserve his very real Project 212, of which there is and only ever was one.

Others are less scrupulous and stories of cars claiming to be original far outnumbering original cars known to have been built have been rife in the industry. Manufacturers didn’t help either: in the 1950s it was common practice among teams to transfer a chassis plate from a wrecked to a brand new car and, conversely, issue new chassis identities to cars that had been substantially rebuilt but may or may not have been still entitled to the identity of the original.

And if you think matters are murky now, they’re only likely to get worse. One of the reasons Mercedes-Benz took a dim view of a batch of unauthorised replica W125s being made is not that they might be passed off as original now, for that is inconceivable. But for a company looking to preserve its heritage for decades and centuries to come, it knows how much value would be added to any replica if at some stage in the distant future some future owner were able to manufacture some history for it.

If there were an easy solution to this question, it would be in place. A couple of things seems certain however: the more questions are asked about the authenticity of individual cars, the more the value of car with undisputed histories will rise relative to those that raise the odd question along the way. And the more tempting it will be for manufacturers to issue re-creations like the lightweight Es which are profitable for them and, if nothing else, untainted by any complicated past for their owners.

In fact all that surprises me is that more have not joined in. What, for instance, could Ferrari charge if it decided to make half a dozen Maranello-built 250GTOs, each to its own customer’s specification? I don’t know, but I expect it would make a million pounds for a lightweight E look quite cheap…

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