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The Right Stuff

“I hate to tell you, but that is completely wrong for that car.”

In a modern age of instant technology, sound-bite wisdom, and armchair experts, that statement is probably one most of us hate to hear if we are displaying at a car show. Sometimes, the speaker is some weenie who has never owned a vintage car, sometimes its one of those guys who you may respect but who nitpicks at everything (so you sort of expect it), and sometimes it is someone who really does know they are talking about.

I happened to hear this sort of incident at a show recently, and it brought home the realization that you have to double-check everything. The car in question was not a stock model but a very high dollar drag car restoration, and the mistake was an expensive one. I would prefer not divulge too much about either party, as both are friends of mine. My in-the-know buddy is a Chevy guy who has a real penchant for drag racing history, and he would be the first to admit that on a flopper restoration he had been involved with in the last 24 months, the problem he pointed out had happened to him. In both cases, the controversy resulted from the recollections of the actual racers or crew members involved insisting one thing when the photographic evidence points to something contrary.

Seems simple, right? I mean, unlike paint dabs or chalk marks on the assembly line (which were as individualistic as anything you can document), these race cars were carefully painted when new, though subsequent changes often occurred even before the end of that first season. On his funny car project, a plan called for lace to be overlaid on a candy base. The base color candy was sprayed on the original hue, then the color for the lace was applied. However, that was the wrong color, and once the lace was removed to reveal the pattern, something was terribly wrong. The lace color was not even close to being correct, and that meant it was time to repaint...

In the car he critiqued, the original owner/driver had insisted the base color was white when the car was first being restored. To his credit, this driver did have a car very similar to this vehicle that did have a white base (during a later year), but the primary color on the car that was being restored had been silver. The rest of the paint on this car is nothing short of spectacular – the lettering was computer replicated from vintage images, every line and edge was exactly right, and the other stripes and colors were correct, but the overall color wasn’t. To say the least, the present owner didn’t receive this new critique very well.

Some might think that part of the problem was perhaps there were not many color photos available and the silver in question was on the lighter side. As soon as my friend pointed it out to me, I realized that, even in a black-and-white image of this car, just comparing a large decal with a notable white background proved the car’s lightest hue was not white. The question I have a hard time grappling with is who did the research before the final decision to pick up the spray gun was made; someone should have been asking more questions. Everyone involved in this car had access to the correct period-original images, if only had they looked. But what’s done is done, and now it’s a hard choice to either redo the car or live with the issue.

Race cars do offer unique problems, and the one redeeming thing is that you can generally find some proper color photography on almost any car if you look hard enough; color actually is pretty common on the car in question. Exacting standards on production cars can be a different story. You never knew if ‘ol Bobby had spent the weekend drinking before slapping on body sealer, or if Frank’s divorce was making him take his frustrations out on the car you bought 30 years later.

There is a reason why survivor cars are so important to the hobby; they are a time capsule and possible blueprint of what was going on back then. However, no two of them are exactly alike; indeed, I’ve seen some of them showing imperfections big enough to possibly have warranted a trip back to the dealership to fix when they new. But, hey, that is why they are called survivors.

Conversely, most serious restoration ‘artists’ will tell you that few well-heeled buyers are interested in duplicating all the warts the survivors still show. Though not always the rule, most big-dollar cars are over-restored today, to a level of perfection that would have had Bob and Frank laughing hysterically (just before they called the union shop steward over to complain about abusive management making them work too hard).          

In the end, it does become a question of preference with production machinery. If you want it perfect, with no squeaks and minimal air noise, somebody can do that for you. If you would rather be realistic and show some of the small imperfections, you can do that, too. Of course, that approach probably means some yahoo will be tapping your shoulder and saying, “I hate to tell you this, but…” 

Stunkard can be found here at MoparMax once a month, or all the time over at www.quartermilestones.com.

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