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Spinning My Tires   is one man's view of the world of cars. Random thoughts, ideas and comments pop up here, all of them related to owning, driving and restoring cars. I've been doing this car thing as long as I can remember, and have enjoyed a great many car-related experiences, some of which I hope to share with you here. And I always have an opinion one way or another. Enjoy.

E-mails are welcomed--if you have thoughts of your own to share, please send them.

Additional Spinning My Tires editorials can be found on the Archives page.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?


There’s a growing rift between restorers and rodders, and I don’t like it one bit.

To begin with, I should probably let you know that I’m closer to a purist than a rodder, at least today. Ten years ago, I probably would have leaned the other way, and ten years before that I probably would have likened hot-rodding an old car to the rebirth of the anti-Christ. Sure, I’d still like to build a hot ’32 Ford 3-window coupe, black with flames, and big-n-little Halibrands. Hell, I might even chop the top (It’ll be fiberglass, I promise!). But my Century is going to be bone stock original. How can these two seemingly incongruous philosophies live inside one man (and if you see these as incompatible philosophies, then drop me a line and let me know on which side of the fence you sit)? Until recently, it didn’t seem incongruous to me at all.

A few weeks ago, I was privy to a discussion among a group of fellow enthusiasts when the conversation turned to a car being parted-out on Ebay. The car in question was apparently a low-mile, well-preserved 1950s car that the owner was rodding. The original seats, steering wheel, door panels, etc. were all being sold at bargain basement prices on Ebay. I figured that restorers would be thrilled to have access to these parts.


They were appalled that somebody would take apart a super clean vintage car (though I seem to recall that it was a super ordinary vintage car, too). They argued that it should be preserved as-is, a monument to the era and to the people who built it. OK, I can see their point, but if this particular car went up in flames instead, I don’t really think the world would mourn its passing.

One guy chimed in, a rodder of course, wondering why it should matter that this car was being modified. Instantly, he found himself sporting a target on his forehead from the other attendees, all restorers. He argued that an owner should be able to do anything he wants with his car. He speculated that rodders are only “allowed” to rod rust-buckets and junkyard dogs instead of starting with good base stock like the restorers seem to prefer. He questioned the motivations of the restorers who argued that the car should be left original because they wanted it that way.

I had to agree with the rodder on this one. He made some good points.

First and foremost, I completely agree that you should do what you want with your car. It’s your money, and it’s just a car, after all. Be happy with it and enjoy it, whatever that means to you. Don’t worry about the next owner or your responsibility to history or what other enthusiasts might think. If resale values are important to you, cars are probably the wrong place to put your money anyway, regardless of what you choose to do with them.

What the restorers fail to realize is that the rodders have developed priorities that pretty much fit perfectly with the restorers’ sensibilities. For instance, rodders very rarely cut up rare or valuable cars. Ever seen a Ferrari GTO with a big-block Chevy in it? How about a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with 18” billet wheels and radial tires? The rare cars are pretty universally regarded as more valuable in original condition, and nobody cuts them up (nobody can afford to, I guess).

Let’s face it: the really valuable vintage cars have already been rescued and restored. The cars worthy of factory-original restorations are in collector’s hands. The days of finding the diamond in the rough in some farmer’s barn are long-gone. So the rodders, by taking the leftovers, certainly aren’t eliminating many viable restoration candidates from the pool.

Rodders say that they are “improving” the cars, while restorers say that the cars don’t need any improving. That just doesn’t sit right with me; how do you define what is an improvement? We don’t use the same oils, coolants, tires or paint that were used even as recently as the 1970s. Is using modern oil or a set of radial tires an improvement, especially if you can technically still get the original specification equipment? How many collectors have CBs and FM radios in their restored cars? Are the restorers using basecoat/clearcoat paint or are they still trying to make nitrocellulose lacquer work? Where do you draw the line between what is improvement and what is restoration? This isn’t just about “modification,” is it?

I have an interest in keeping IMPORTANT cars original. My Century is one of 5500 built in 1941--it's rare and most folks, rodders and restorers alike, think it's neat because of that. But I don't have a conniption when I see a '41 Special coupe (essentially the same body style as my Century) modified. Why? They built more than 100,000 Specials. It's not an IMPORTANT or unique car. There are plenty to go around for everybody. Sure, maybe I cry a little when I see '32 Ford 3-window coupes with chopped tops or other irreversible modifications, but I'm happy when I find out they are repros.

I'm just a little surprised by the wide dividing line between the purists and the modifiers. We're in the same hobby, and we love the same things. I love a flawless black paint job, whether it's on an SJ Duesenberg or a chopped and channeled '49 Mercury. The fine details of an engine compartment, whether chromed, blown and injected or completely stock, still makes me stop and check everything out with a critical eye, and note the details that are particularly well done. We're all car guys, and can appreciate fine hardware. Any car that has been loved and cherished by its owner is cool. Another car has been preserved, regardless of what happens to it today or in the future.

So what’s the problem, guys? We all like our cars; we like driving them, we like working on them, we like showing them and everything else about owning them. We like fine machinery, quality craftsmanship (and I’d argue that many rods are as finely crafted as any car built at the height of the Classic Era), and beautiful bodywork. We like the same things about cars! The only difference is how we express ourselves in sheetmetal.

Restorers are preserving history, so perhaps rodders are creating it. There are rods built in the 50s and 60s that are highly sought collectibles today. Nobody argues that an early 50s rod should be returned to its original condition—they argue that it should be returned to its original modified condition. The rod has become a significant piece of history, and the fact that it used to be a Model A is forgotten. If you want a stock Model A, there are about 2 million of them out there. If you want a vintage hot-rod, there are only a few.

Perhaps the problem is in what each of us thinks of as the perfect car. For some, the perfect car is that model they lusted after when they were kids or maybe a prime example that defines an era, something like the 1959 Cadillac. But for other enthusiasts, the perfect car never existed—they have to build it themselves, make it as unique as a custom-tailored suit. How can either of those philosophies be wrong?

So I’d invite each of you to think about what is really important to you in this hobby. Are you in it for fun and to enjoy a special car, or are you in it to become a caretaker of history?

By the way—that perfect interior out of that perfect car didn't even attract one bidder on Ebay.

See you next month.

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Last modified on 02/06/2005

Thanks, Fidget!