I’ll occasionally have a conversation about this subject with some of my colleagues and friends, and they know what I’m talking about. But most people simply don’t understand what I mean.
This most often takes place when I’m inspecting a car for a prospective buyer. I’ll give them a written report extolling the virtues of the subject car. Pages and pages of how the car was taken off of the frame and every single suspension part replaced, whether it needed it or not. The acres of flawless leather upholstery, and the paint this is literally flawless. I’ll usually continue with a description of all of the documents, and receipts for the parts and labor which will often exceed the cost of a new home.
Ultimately I get to the part where I give my opinion as to how the car feels when you drive it, which is something very subjective indeed. And very often I have to end my report by stating that this expensive masterpiece of a restoration, something that is cosmetically and mechanically far better than new, “just does not feel right.” Naturally when my customer receives the report, their first response is “How can this be?” And the truth is that I have no answer. I explain that I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t drive well, or handle well, or steer well, or stop well. In most cases it does. But still, it “just does not feel right.” I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that it does not feel the way that it did when it was new.
This brings me to my next point. How do I know what it felt like when it was new? Sadly, I came of age during the time that many cars that are now considered collectible, were new. And even if they were not new, they were only a few years old. I also seek out and collect “survivors.” Although this term is bandied about to include just about anything that is not restored, including junk, my definition is a bit more discerning. I believe that a survivor must be in excellent, un-restored, original condition including drive-train, paint and interior. But I go one step further. It must have very low mileage…usually not more than 20,000. It is this last criteria is what makes it possible for the car to not only look right, but also feel right. In effect, what I look for is what would have been advertised as a “low mileage used car in excellent condition” 40, or 50, or 60 years ago. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who appreciates this virtue. “Survivors” are one of the hottest segments of the collector car market. When you ask someone why they collect “survivors,” the number one answer is “They just feel right.” The number two answer is usually something along the lines of “They’re only original once.”
Survivors are in tremendous demand, with sometimes tremendous premiums attached to the prices. I find it interesting that the attribute that makes them so desirable, is virtually unquantifiable. How do you define “just feels right”? I think it means that the car feels the way that it did when it was new. No better. No worse. Worse is very easy to achieve. It can be accomplished by ham-fisted backyard mechanics, ordinary wear and tear, and the use of improper parts. Better is also easy to achieve thanks to talented mechanics, as well as parts and materials that are superior to those that were available when the car was new. It is very difficult to achieve that “just right” feeling, and that is why collectors are willing to pay a premium for a “survivor.”
That is not to say that it can’t be done. There are restoration shops across the country, and the world, usually marque specialists that have spent decades learning how to make cars “just feel right.” The wait to get a car into one of these shops will often be measured in years, and be prepared to have an open checkbook. You would be surprised how many cars that “just feel right” were restored in a collectors garage. The amount of time and love that they have lavished on these cars cannot be translated into dollars, but they can sometimes be translated into the way it feels.
Occasionally I’ll see a collector walk away from purchasing a concours quality restoration. I’ll ask them why, and they’ll respond “It just didn’t feel right.” That impresses me.
Contact Steve: Steve@stevelinden.com