FINANCE ENQUIRY

What is “originality” – and is it important?

By Edward Legge | Buying a Classic | 1 Comments

Take some time to think about that. ‘Original’ is a word that gets kicked around so much in the classic car park that it has been bent completely out of shape. Highly original, completely original – what does that actually mean and can anyone reach a consensus on the definition? Just like patina, the word has lost its meaning and now serves as a vague and righteous hint that a car is ‘as it should be’. I disagree so I’m going to do something that I am sure is a cardinal sin amongst writers – I am going to reference the dictionary. Fortunately I’m not a writer, so I’m going to do it with a clear conscience.

Original:  (adj) present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest.
 
There are various reasons why the use of the word “original” when describing a car really gets my goat. Firstly, despite being told by all-and-sundry that buyers prize originality above all else we were able to agree very quickly in the office that we couldn’t remember the last time a buyer had specifically requested an original car. What they actually want is the best car available to them for their budget. I can wholeheartedly agree that what most of us want is a car that has the same general specification as the day it left the factory – but what is on the originality hit list? The chassis it left the factory with would be nice, original engine, original gearbox, and original paint colour should do the trick. What people generally don’t want is the wrong parts and trim, so no modern Recaro seats or graphic equalisers in an E-type – all obvious stuff. But do they want the original items or a modern facsimile of them?

Would you want to buy a beautiful old house that needed a new roof, some structural work, a complete re-wire, new plumbing and heating and that had no internet access? If you did, would you keep it that way or would you make take the necessary measure to get it into tip-top condition and invest in that most basic of human needs – Wi-Fi – to make life more pleasant? I’m guessing I know the answer and the same goes with cars.

‘Don’t even get me started on concours condition – surely the only means to keep them that way is to make sure none of the old bits remain but what you are left with is a car that is just as it left the factory, albeit with a whole load of new bits. Original? No.’

Take a look at any ‘original’ car and if the paint is shiny, the seats don’t have holes in them and the engine starts ‘on the button’ then it almost certainly isn’t original. It’s nice to kid ourselves that it is the same car that left the factory though, isn’t it? Even manufacturers are happy to re-stamp and certify engines (not to mention chassis) because they know that the powertrains of old cars are a definite case of Trigger’s Broom – it doesn’t matter how many heads they have had.

Consider also why so many Aston Martins and Jaguars have ‘desirable upgrades’. They are desirable because they solve the inherent problems people experience when driving them, not least of which is breaking down. Do these detract from the desirability of the car in any way? I’d argue that for certain marques they make the cars more desirable – in the US mods and upgrades are a way of life. Don’t even get me started on concours condition – surely the only means to keep them that way is to make sure none of the old bits remain but what you are left with is a car that is just as it left the factory, albeit with a whole load of new bits. Original? No.

Do owners really desire originality above all else? I’ll let you decide in your own mind what ‘original’ really means and how important it is to you but we shouldn’t let the originality obsessives abuse the term for their own ends. ‘Buy the best and forget the rest’ is a great mantra for classic car buyers – a truly original car will invariably be a basket case so a well fettled and sort-of-original car is probably what most of us should want.
 
This article originally written by Edward Legge appeared on GRRC.Goodwood on 17th June 2015 and is reproduced with Goodwood’s permission

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