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Renovation, Restoration, Preservation, Conservation or Ruination? That is the question.

Sometimes I just tears me hair out. Yes I know I don’t have a lot of it left, but that is where most of it went in utter frustration. It does not matter what term is applied, but restoration or renovation roughly implies the same thing in that you end up with something more or less like it started life. What winds me up more than anything is when either is carried out without any consideration of, or for the original, or ends up in the final category, ruination? This is most prevalent in full sized projects, and I have a couple of examples that demonstrate how in my view, not to do it. On a recent trip, one of the exhibits we saw was an 1899 Panhard car that had been owned by CS Rolls of Rolls Royce fame. Now, this car had a pretty well documented history and photos from throughout its life, yet the car as presented and restored by a very hard working and well-meaning bunch of volunteers was unlike it had been at any stage in the previous 114 years. There can be no excuse as the evidence was there, but equally, there was no intention of financial gain. The other was also a car, a very nice looking 30s prestige open sports model, except it wasn’t. The chassis and motor had come from a very sedate salon of the same make, and everything else was false. £150,000ish from a distance, about a 1/10th of that if examined more closely. Buyer definitely beware!

On the same theme there have been several instances lately of aircraft restorations where the finished model is not what they started with, yes the B version may be rarer and more valuable, but yours was an A and always will be despite all the alterations. Now some might say that both genuine cars and aircraft are plentiful and so it does not matter if a few wrong uns are turned out, which is all very well if the are so wrong and badly done that even the most dim witted punter in the future can figure it out. It is when they are done to such a high standard that only an absolute expert or some serious forensic work can spot the con. This leads on of course to the quite deliberate fakes where the only consideration is to deliberately deceive, and contrary to popular opinion, the fake may be exceptionally well made and possibly even better than the original. After all, it cases of high value, it is often the name that is being bought, not the object. Just look at the number of Maserati 250Fs that are about compared with how few originally left the factory.

So how does this affect us? Well, there is a caveat in that if you have paid the money for something then it is actually yours to do what you want with, but I believe we should have a bit more responsibility than that. These then are my thoughts on the matter, which you may agree or disagree, abide by or ignore completely, but there is one overriding principle, if there is history attached, then that to my mind should be preserved, and certainly never compromised purely for commercial gain. At each stage I shall cite examples to illustrate my thoughts, and what better place to start than the two most recent acquisitions of your Editor.

Red Fox is a named car built by Jack Morgan and almost its entire history recorded. It has been in the builder’s family since the day it was made and any alteration along the way were down to Jack. I cannot conceive that anything more than a gentle clean would be appropriate, which puts it firmly in the preservation and conservation categories.

Compare that with its stable mate, Lucy Gascoigne’s lovely MG, a collaboration between Jack Gascoigne and Jack Morgan. This car had also been with the Morgan family since the 1950s and carried much of its history in its paintwork. Yes, the new owner, not from this side of the Atlantic, treated it to a totally unnecessary and entirely new paint job. Urgh!

As raced by Lucy Gascoigne for many years New paint job

The other acquisition was most of an M&E Challenger in pretty original condition. Now this has no history, is commercial, and not particularly rare, but is missing some important parts. The Special version with the Stentor motor fitted is well recorded and photographed and every part for the installation is known and shown, but for the front engined versions, details are scant. Certainly the way the motor is shown in the catalogue is impossible as a body could never be fitted over it, but as far is known there are no details anywhere of the engine installation or how to go about it.

So to complete this, as with my own M&E ERA and Austin, there has to be some guesswork and a bit of trial and error, but trying to stick with materials and construction methods used for the rest of the chassis. Unfortunately whatever is done will never be quite right, as what was right remains unknown, despite scanning many photos.

This strange situation also exists with the E&M Maserati and the 1066 MRC, as the drawings and photos are unhelpful when it comes to the details required for an accurate renovation. I have never knowingly seen an original E&M fuel tank or installation and as far as is known these did not exist for the 1066 either. No details of how to attach the 1066 body to the chassis were ever published either, so that is again suck it and see as there is absolutely nothing to locate it or keep it in place.

You can be faced with a similar problem and even less information with home built cars that do not conform to any of the known plans. Geoff Holden had to deal with this when he acquired a larger version of the Gascoigne MG that has so far eluded any attempts at identification. The car was complete, except for the motor and ancillaries, obviously well made and a ripe candidate for the do nothing except replace the missing bits level of restoration. The only trouble was, what was missing, in particular, the motor. Given the size of the car, its approximate date and any witness marks, a few suitable candidates come to mind, but it is no good going out and buying your best guess unless you have had a chance to try it first, and not too many vendors are willing to do this. Given that Ian Moore’s version had a Gerald Smith Lapwing, this seemed a likely choice, but a, they are rare, and b, expensive. Geoff was lucky enough to locate the correct motor and then installed it in such a sympathetic fashion that only those who had seen the car previously would know that this was not original. He has also resisted the temptation to clean, polish or otherwise interfere with the rest of the car making this a 5 star renovation. Still the car has no history, but it is spot on.

MG as found  Super job sourcing the missing items Is it this car being held in the cartoon?

What to do though when faced with the same situation yet the motor remains unidentifiable or unavailable (unaffordable?). I experienced this with the Ken Procter EGO hydro that, which it is believed required a Gerald Smith motor, although this is by no means certain and no evidence has come to light that would confirm this.

With no real leads as to exactly what motor might have been in the boat the only alternative was to find something that would fit without altering the boat, even though I knew it to be wrong. A well-butchered McCoy currently resides there, too powerful, wrong era, but with the integrity of the boat still intact. This then must still be a work in progress?

A more satisfactory conclusion came with the Cameron car that I described a couple of years ago. Someone had already done the dirty deed and drilled some extra holes for a Mohawk Chief of all things, so these were utilised for a Conqueror, as the original drillings did not match any known commercial motor. That would have been that, had it not been for a stroke of luck when Paul Goodall offered me the original engine that was intended for that car, which Mr Cameron had built some 60 years previously.

So far it has all been about preserving and conserving what is already there as far as possible and then replicating or obtaining what is missing, either by searching, swapping or a bit of luck (or having enough readies). Sometimes though, previous attempts at restoration or the passage of time present you with a true basket case or something done so badly, that it becomes a true dilemma. At the simplest end was an Electra 2A that appeared on ebay. Most of it was original, well built and nicely painted, but whoever had tried to restore it by replacing missing bodywork had not made any attempt to recreate the original. The  other 2A is another original Electra chassis kit but with a lot of work still required, not so much restoration as completion.

No option really but to scrap all the new work and do all that part again. Then, of course, you have half of the car with a quite decent 65-year-old paint job and half in bare metal????

Do you repaint it all or try and replicate the finish on the removable sections? Still worth in my book having a go to preserve the original.

New bonnet/paint required? Electra 2A kit of parts

At the other end of this spectrum are the cases where there is really no other option but to start again. This could be simply because a previous owner had already started stripping off paint, which leaves no alternative other than completing the job and repainting from scratch as happened with Stan Clifford’s Hells Bells. The final scenario is that age, damage, rot or previous unwelcome attention (butchery) is so bad that it resolves the matter. Arthur Weaver’s Experimental Rail Car NL 1952 was a case in point. At some stage, all the bodywork, running gear and wheels had been removed leaving just the readily identifiable chassis and motor. No choice but to rebuild using the article and photos in Model Maker as reference. Several hydros have also fallen into this category, and whilst most can be retrieved there are the odd ones where so little is left of the original and they are in such bad condition that you have to seriously question whether it is worth it? Chrysis definitely was, Ogo Pogo I am still not sure about as I have yet to find any two pieces of wood joined that are not rotten or oil soaked (or both). The only question that then remains, is whether the model in question has sufficient history or is of a degree of importance that can make all the work desirable?

No option on what to do on 'Hells Bells' NL 1952 rebuilt, Cooper as found

The first 1066 car I ever had through my hands was a case in point. Apart from the wheels, body shell and front chassis member, nothing else was original except the gearbox, but that had been shortened drastically. In the end I did rebuild it, fabricating and machining most of the parts afresh so it looked OK, but an original MRC it was not so someone else is happy to have it on their shelf now as they don’t care about originality. The wreckage of the M&E shown here presented a bigger challenge, but as every part was original, even if badly damaged, what I ended up with was a restored and original M&E, but still lacking a body.

Well butchered 1066 MRC Remains of a M&E Special

Now for a few of the conundrums and dilemmas that have taxed me over the years. Gary Maslin located a car with an M&E Special body, except that someone many years ago had cut off the back half, put in a false bulkhead, and then cut and formed a cockpit opening in what had originally been the bonnet. The Channel Island Special and ZN axle were sold on leaving an odd chassis and the half 'Special'.

Options, leave it as it is as a curiosity given that it is not rare or rebuild the back half and make a new aluminium bonnet that would sacrifice the original M&E number? Still not resolved, but it could fit the chassis mentioned above.

Below: Two E&Ms, one that has seen better days and one made entirely of balsa

Two of Tom Dalziel’s 15cc hydros arrived on the bench, both having been repainted relatively recently in Hammerite that was still tacky in places and had attracted every bit of dirt and oil going. Bit more tricky this, but as the collected layers of paint were already lifting in some areas a little careful investigation was revealing. One had started life varnished, which as it was built of mahogany and lime planking must have looked quite stunning. The other had been Hammerite, green enamel, yellow enamel, all over the original blue. Amazingly the layers of paint were over 1.8mm thick in some places. In the end, I decided to have all the paint off and re-present in the finish that they were first seen, since confirmed by a long time hydro man.

1.8mm of paint in three distinct colours What lay underneath all the paint on Naiad

Lastly, the sectioned 1066 chassis and motor that had been acquired by Gerry Buck many moons ago. This was a unique piece of 1066 lore but was missing a few bits. It would have been easy to pop a complete motor in and another gearbox to make it an eminently saleable MRC, but then there are lots of those, but only one sectioned display model.

It did cost me a front housing and the spares box provided the remainder of the missing parts to restore a little bit of tethered car history.

As found As it was in the late 40s

This brings me to my most contentious point, which is the deliberate ruination of the history or provenance of the model, purely for expediency or profit. Whipping motors out of boats and cars to sell on for profit was endemic but why take Ted Vanner's unique and  original three cylinder steam engine out of  'All Alone' and then replace it with the most common and basic of units, the Stuart Turner 10V? Happily, the original motor survived but is now several hundred miles from the boat with a different owner. Even worse, splitting a well known flash steam hydro into three units and selling separately on ebay.

So, to a few of my guiding principles:

Before doing anything I do like to have a period of reflection to establish exactly what I am looking at. Does it have any history, provenance, or other evidence that needs to be considered before deciding on a course of action? What are my options for any particular item, given that my overriding principle is always to do as little as is necessary wherever possible. Is it just a clean, are there parts that need replacing, and if so are these going to be available.

Is more radical surgery required for whatever reason, up to an including a total rebuild and remanufacturing of parts? This process can take minutes or years and may well be modified along the way if the ‘luck’ element should come into play. In the end, it is the level of this indecision that can determine what order projects are undertaken and why the M&E Austin was still unfinished after 45 years, yet many far more complex restorations have come and gone during the same period.

So to action, and a good clean is often all that is required. Detergent and warm water for paintwork and varnish, with the gentle application of T cut to restore the finish and remove any ingrained dirt. Metal parts steer clear of anything abrasive. Ordinary thinners will get rid of burnt or hardened castor with nothing more than a soak and a toothbrush and frees off stuck motors a treat, without having to put them in the oven. Autoglymm motorcycle cleaner is a milder version of the alkaline floor stripper that we used on our full sized motors. It removes grease and muck like nobodies business and is water soluble, but you will need to dry thoroughly and wield the WD40 can. The thinners trick works well on assorted screws, nut and bolts without destroying the natural finish of the steel, leaving them with a definite patina. If something is badly rusted, don’t be tempted to resort to the emery cloth to polish it out, use some fine steel wool and plenty of WD to get rid of the surface rust, to leave the natural oxide layer, similar to commercial browning. Aluminium ‘rot’ is a little more difficult, especially if there is any magnesium around as it can have eaten into surface quite dramatically. Brass brushes from the shoe shop work very well, getting rid of the oxide without any obvious scratch marks on the aluminium, just a pleasant shine.

If parts are missing or have been butchered, do I know what is missing, is there a realistic possibility of sourcing it, can I make it if not, or will I have to find a period and appropriate replacement. If there is no clue or evidence as to what should be there could I find any reference photos or drawing to give me a clue, and failing that, what solutions were applied on other cars and boats of similar vintage? An M&E Challenger with a very nice ETA29 driving through a red, plastic, RipMax coupling did not seem to have adopted these principles. That brings me round to holes. Almost every project I have had through my hands has had a plethora of holes of various shapes and sizes, most of which seemed to serve no immediate purpose. M&E engine plates often look like the proverbial colanders as various motors have been tried. The side rails can be similarly moth eaten as well. These holes are important though as they can be a pointer as to what has happened over the years and what parts might have been fitted. After all, not everyone building a car or boat stuck with the plans or used the correct or specified items. In general I will find a way to use the existing holes, even to the extent of fitting something that serves no useful purpose, rather than filling or welding that would put paid to any original finishes. I do not have a problem with any work or alterations that would have been done during the working life of the car or boat and am quite happy to leave them alone as that is the part of the history, but modern bodging as seen on some of the recent ebay listings is a total no no and has got to go.

So, there you have it, my IWFM principles (it works for me). I hate to see anything restored to within an inch of its life and to a condition it never was. The Dooling Arrow on the right represents the way I like to see cars presented.

Some would say that it is ripe for restoration, but this is how it was when raced last by a Derby Club member. Rowell tyres, tether lugs sawn off roughly, pan handle attached to the engine lugs, a piece of tethered car history as it stands, just another Dooling Arrow if restored, but to which part of its life, new lugs welded on, Dooling tyres fitted, where do you stop? Well in my old fashioned view, don't start.

Thanks to Peter Hill for allowing us to reprint these articles.