preser­va­tion vs restora­tion

Build­ing con­ser­va­tion­ist and broad­caster Kevin McCloud of Chan­nel 4’s Grand De­signs says there’s a lot of cross­over into the clas­sic car world: re­store or pre­serve?

Octane - - CONTENTS - Por­trait by ralph Hodg­son

Kevin McCloud and read­ers de­bate the Baillon Fer­rari

In the care-home world in which I work, the el­derly tend to be damp, smelly and un­grate­ful. Their care costs are as­tro­nom­i­cal and yet the law re­quires that they’re looked af­ter and al­lowed to age with dig­nity. Some of them live to be 300 or 400 years old.

My world is one of build­ings. Cars are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. His­toric build­ings are rooted to the spot and even de­fine the char­ac­ter of a place; their de­cay can be slow and they’re sub­ject to all kinds of labyrinthine leg­is­la­tion. His­toric cars, mean­while, zoom around in res­o­lute de­fi­ance of a con­nec­tion with any­thing. They rot alarm­ingly quickly and the old­est of them is late Vic­to­rian. In the ar­chi­tec­tural world they’d be whip­per-snap­pers.

And yet their prices are ap­proach­ing those of many listed build­ings, even at the strato­spheric lev­els of the mar­ket. For one Fer­rari 250 GTO, at £24.5 mil­lion, you could prob­a­bly buy an orig­i­nal 16th Cen­tury villa by An­drea Pal­la­dio, the great­est ar­chi­tect who ever lived, near Vi­cenza (and within strik­ing dis­tance of Mo­dena). Fer­rari built 39 GTOs; Pal­la­dio built fewer vil­las, around 35. In the 16th Cen­tury.

Nei­ther vil­las nor GTOs make it onto the mar­ket very of­ten but our love of old things does not wane. Thou­sands flock to events like the Good­wood Re­vival and the pages of this mag­a­zine have car­ried in­tri­cate dis­cus­sions about whether to re­tain the his­toric dust on a barn-find 250. And here is the nub of why I’m writ­ing: the term ‘his­toric dust’, which is in dan­ger of be­ing in­te­grated into the lex­i­cog­ra­phy of mo­tor­ing her­itage.

I have dealt with old build­ings all my adult life, study­ing them and re­pair­ing them. I have made tele­vi­sion pro­grammes about Pal­la­dian ar­chi­tec­ture. I con­cern my­self with the nerdi­est of ap­proaches to con­serv­ing the paint on door knock­ers as I do the en­gi­neer­ing so­lu­tions for stop­ping 400-ton walls from fall­ing over. But I have never fix­ated on his­toric dust. Nor has any aca­demic I know, other than to get rid of it.

Build­ing con­ser­va­tion grew up in the UK; it is a Bri­tish dis­ci­pline; and it has a 150-year head start on its mo­torised equiv­a­lent. I sus­pect, fur­ther­more, that the his­toric car world can learn some­thing from it, so I thought it might be use­ful to com­pare the no-non­sense world of old build­ings with the ap­proach­ing-non­sense world of old cars be­fore it all gets too late and too silly. So please arm your­self against the gob­blede­gook of his­toric-dust col­lec­tors with the fol­low­ing list of clearly de­fined terms.

Preser­va­tion Like bury­ing a 5th Cen­tury BC Iraqi ruin in sand, in the case of a car this means en­velop­ing it in rust­proof­ing and lacquer so that it’s prob­a­bly un­drive­able but un­reach­able by the ef­fects of at­mos­phere and in­sects. And hu­mans too. It’s hard to un­der­stand the point of this un­less you’re moth­balling a pro­ject for years hence; I say this be­cause the car has ef­fec­tively been re­moved from cir­cu­la­tion so that a cur­rent gen­er­a­tion are de­nied ‘in­tel­lec­tual and cul­tural ac­cess’ (yes, a term used in Her­itage cir­cles). Build­ings are meant to be seen, loved, un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated. Ditto old cars.

restora­tion This is gen­er­ally frowned on as it usu­ally means tak­ing a build­ing, rip­ping a lot of ser­vice­ble old stuff out and then mak­ing up a slightly faked his­tory (no mat­ter how wellmean­ing) to tidy things up. Why is that bad? Be­cause his­tor­i­cal arte­facts are just that and ought to be re­spected for what they can teach us. And the char­ac­ter and au­then­tic­ity in most an­cient build­ings are of­ten en­tirely com­posed of sev­eral thou­sand small de­tails. Re­move them one by one and you erode the au­then­tic­ity.

Oc­ca­sion­ally there’s an ar­gu­ment for restor­ing an an­cient build­ing be­cause (given suf­fi­cient doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence) it tells us how the place was when first con­structed. The mo­tor­ing equiv­a­lent is the concours-ready car ev­ery dealer sells and ev­ery buyer wants, with paint more flaw­less than when it left the fac­tory and not a scrape of dirt on the whee­larches. Alan Clark would have dis­ap­proved of this fetishism. I do too. I’m not sure I want to buy a 1966 As­ton Martin that was built in 2015. Where’s the her­itage value in that? Where is the au­then­tic­ity in a faked iden­tity?

resto-mod Ac­tu­ally not an ar­chi­tec­tural term but one I like from the Amer­i­can vo­cab­u­lary of au­to­mo­tive ap­proaches, whereby a restora­tion is mod­i­fied with fur­ther im­prove­ments (leather for PVC; up­graded brakes) – like fit­ting a Bulthaup kitchen and un­der­floor heat­ing in a listed build­ing to make it com­fort­able and glam­orous in the 21st Cen­tury. Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions may not for­give us.

hy­po­thet­i­cal re­con­struc­tion/dra­matic li­cence Great. The­atri­cal, fun, who-gives-a-fig ap­proach that is ab­so­lutely of its time and just gives a pass­ing nod to the past. Chrome my en­gine and fit a ni­tro tank to my derelict coun­try cot­tage, please.

Leave it alone and do noth­ing Not a clever strat­egy. Why would you leave dust all over a car that has been sta­tion­ary and un­used for decades when the very act of sit­ting in all that filth and driv­ing the car scratches the leather and paint­work more vi­o­lently in one week than ever in its en­tire seden­tary his­tory? Dust also con­tains chem­i­cals it has cap­tured and may have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on paint­work and up­hol­stery.

So what does dust teach us? It’s not au­then­tic if it ob­scures the truth and has noth­ing valu­able to com­mu­ni­cate. It just tells us it’s dusty. It’s the same with build­ings. Win­dows need wash­ing and gut­ters clear­ing, oth­er­wise the struc­ture en­ters an ac­cel­er­ated phase of de­cay. Stupid, in other words.

Gen­teel de­cay Ex­actly the same as Leave it Alone and Do Noth­ing ex­cept maybe the dust is brushed off and paint­work washed now and again. The trou­ble is, this ap­proach leads pretty rapidly to de­cay: a pile of rub­ble on one hand; a pile of rust on the other.

con­ser­va­tive re­pair This is the dull, wor­thy but es­sen­tial ap­proach that seems to be miss­ing from the dis­cus­sion about cars, and it’s the phi­los­o­phy that was evolved first by John Ruskin in the 1840s and then Wil­liam Mor­ris when he started the So­ci­ety of Pro­tec­tion for An­cient Build­ings in the 1870s. It is founded in hon­esty, prag­ma­tism

and in ro­mance (and not least the de­sire not to bug­ger up the way we present the past). I have been a mem­ber of the SPAB al­most since I was a child and pas­sion­ately be­lieve its prin­ci­ples are right in the way we deal with the his­toric built en­vi­ron­ment… and the way we could deal with cars.

Here are a few guid­ing prin­ci­ples.

Staving off de­cay is cheaper and more au­then­tic than restora­tion af­ter ne­glect (use an oily rag)

Build­ing re­pairs ought to be rev­ersible, hon­est and vis­i­ble al­though har­mo­nious, and ef­fected with sym­pa­thetic ma­te­ri­als

New work and ad­di­tions, where nec­es­sary, should be mod­estly ob­vi­ous, in the lan­guage of their time and not pas­tiche

Struc­tural in­tegrity is prime. The me­chan­ics of a build­ing should be ad­dressed in or­der that the en­gi­neer­ing is sound and cor­rect; wa­ter kept out and the fu­ture of the struc­ture safe­guarded. This may jus­tify new en­gi­neer­ing and ap­proaches

The ef­fects of time on the build­ing in­side and out – the patina – should be re­spected and con­served wher­ever pos­si­ble as a con­tri­bu­tion to the build­ing’s au­then­tic­ity

The nar­ra­tive of the build­ing ought to be main­tained, read­able and not in­ter­fered with or faked. New, rev­ersible and clearly dif­fer­en­ti­ated nar­ra­tives can be added but must be leg­i­ble as such

The con­text, set­ting and land­scape of a build­ing should form part of its her­itage value.

I reckon ev­ery one of th­ese can be ap­plied to a ve­hi­cle (ex­cept the sev­enth, maybe), but what hap­pens when we try? If I take, just as an ex­am­ple, an imag­i­nary very orig­i­nal if slightly bat­tered and tired 1961 Maserati 3500 coupé and fol­low points 1 to 7 through, this is what will hap­pen. The dust will be washed off and the body re­moved so that the struc­ture and me­chan­ics can be cleaned, re­paired, re­built and re­placed (where ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary). There might even be one or two clear 21st Cen­tury in­ter­ven­tions if they safe­guard the her­itage value of the car and help stave off de­cay (zinc-elec­tro­coated chas­sis? Dunno, but I seem to be giv­ing my­self carte blanche for that – see point 4).

Then, there’ll be new car­pets be­cause I can copy the al­most dis­ap­peared ex­ist­ing ones with ab­so­lute faith, and to con­tinue to use them would dam­age the car. Equally the as­bestos ex­haust in­su­la­tion may have to go. Or I could re­place the as­bestos with a safer equiv­a­lent such as Aero­gel mat­ting.

The head­lin­ing has two holes, one be­hind each of the sun­vi­sors, where a mouse had con­verted my car into his camper van. So the plan is to clean it and re­pair the holes with an ob­vi­ous but sym­pa­thetic fab­ric in patches that fol­low the shape of the sun­vi­sors (point 2). Leather­work will be cleaned and re­backed to give it an­other 20 years of use but not re­placed or faked to look as new. Bodywork to be re­sprayed here and there where nec­es­sary to look beau­ti­ful from six feet away, cher­ished from three and au­then­tic from six inches.

You get the idea, I hope. This isn’t gen­teel de­cay. Or restora­tion. It’s a step-by-step process of analysing what is re­quired in each spe­cific con­text, keep­ing as much as pos­si­ble of the orig­i­nal, al­low­ing for fu­ture use and wear and tear, and main­tain­ing the nar­ra­tive of the car which, other than the plea­sure of driv­ing it, is where I be­lieve its value lies. And the re­sult ought to be a cher­ished ve­hi­cle of im­mense beauty, char­ac­ter and au­then­tic­ity.

There will be some ar­eas of am­bi­gu­ity. And in­de­ci­sion. Be­cause each build­ing and each car will be judged on its own mer­its. And be­cause a lit­tle vague­ness is oc­ca­sion­ally al­lowed. AR Powys, one of the great fig­ures of build­ing con­ser­va­tion, talked of the need to leave ‘gaps for the imag­i­na­tion’ that oth­er­wise would be oblit­er­ated when peo­ple ti­died build­ings up too much. The imag­i­na­tion is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of our un­der­stand­ing of his­tory and it’s where our in­ter­est is ig­nited. It is also where au­then­tic­ity in­ter­acts with our minds to help us make sense of the world and form the ever-im­por­tant nar­ra­tives that hu­mans need.

The en­emy of the imag­i­na­tion, of au­then­tic­ity and the lively nar­ra­tive is, of course, zeal. The over-zeal­ous re­pair be­comes a restora­tion. Alan Clark’s de­rided nut­pol­ish­ers have their ar­chi­tec­tural equiv­a­lents.

So I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing one ap­proach for ev­ery­body and ev­ery build­ing or ve­hi­cle. I’m writ­ing be­cause, in the cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion about dif­fer­ent ap­proaches, the con­ser­va­tive re­pair ap­proach hasn’t had much of a look-in. And yet it seems to me to be very ap­pro­pri­ate to the world of clas­sic cars, where prove­nance, his­tory, au­then­tic­ity and char­ac­ter are so highly val­ued. It is the quiet, oily rag ap­proach beloved of en­gi­neers who re­spect the orig­i­nal­ity of what they han­dle

You may think all this is tosh and that I’m forc­ing an in­ap­pro­pri­ate agenda. Not least be­cause the con­ser­va­tion phi­los­o­phy sur­round­ing ar­chi­tec­ture places great weight on un­der­stand­ing, cul­tural value and place – the ‘con­text of the cul­tural as­set’ be­ing paramount. Whereas, a car has wheels; its con­text is vari­able, it was built in a fac­tory and its his­tory is some­times well-doc­u­mented and pho­tographed. Con­text and set­ting are en­shrined in a logbook, rac­ing his­tory and V5.

And cars, when re­stored, are of­ten kept in pri­vate col­lec­tions and rarely viewed or ac­ces­si­ble. But put it this way: I wouldn’t be writ­ing if I hadn’t seen that cover shot of the Baillon Fer­rari be­ing driven with his­toric dust all over it, grind­ing its abra­sive way into the up­hol­stery and bodywork crevices.

That wasn’t preser­va­tion, con­ser­va­tion or in any way gen­teel. That was de­struc­tion: the ac­cel­er­a­tion of de­cay with each and ev­ery blip of the throt­tle.

‘build­ings are meant to be seen, loved, un­der­stood. Ditto old cars’

The car that kicked off the de­bate, and which coined the phrase ‘his­toric dust’: none other than the Baillon Fer­rari Cal­i­for­nia Spi­der. evan­klein

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