Restoration Ethics Considerations by Dr. Marcel Schoch
Dr. Marcel Schoch learned the basics of vehicle technology between 1984 and 1993 at Fritz Lottmann Technik, Munich. As a service mechanic for BMW motorcycles, he also worked there in motorsport for the Paris-Dakar rally. After studying the history of technology, which he also completed between 1986 and 1995 at the “Ludwig Maximilians University” (LMU), Munich and the Ruhr University Bochum, he was first a lecturer at the Technical University of Munich and later until 2001 as a conservator and Project manager in the land transport department at the “Deutsches Museum” in Munich. His tasks there also included providing scientific advice to the restoration workshops of the “Deutsches Museum”. He has been working as a freelance editor and book author since 2001 and is a volunteer examiner for the ZDK (German Association of the Motor Trade) in Bonn.
Many people who deal with historic vehicles, are not quite familiar with the term restoration ethics. The explanation for this is based on the development of the historic vehicle scene over the past 30 years. Before that time, the scene was rather static in terms of views on restoration, because initially many enthusiasts were more interested in collecting, storing, and restoring old vehicles. When vehicles were restored at that time, the aim was always to achieve a condition “better than new”. Perfection and high gloss were the credo in the scene. This view changed at the beginning of the 1990s, at first imperceptibly, but then more and more clearly.
What happened? The view of the vehicles had changed. First in England, then in Europe and finally worldwide, more and more emphasis was placed on origin, originality and, associated with this, on history and patina. Until then, the only important question was how to achieve a as good as new condition as possible, but now considerations about the source value of a vehicle emerged. This was the first time that the ethical restoration question arose as to the “how” in terms of content, with the “right” or “wrong” now becoming the focus of considerations when deciding on the procedure for restoration. But this did not give birth to a new dogmatic approach. Rather, the restoration ethic has to be viewed as a complex structure of questions and approaches, with the aim of finding the most correct individual solutions for the individual object.
In order to understand how restoration ethics works, the path to decision-making for the right restoration approach is to be traced here as an example. To do this, a few basic facts must first be explained.
Today, historic vehicles are assessed across Europe and in some cases worldwide with a kind of school grading system with regard to their condition from 1 to 5. These grades are important in the valuation and condition assessment. In many countries, the classification as a historic vehicle often depends on this when it is registered. However, with the trend towards patina, and with it, originality, as required by the Turin Charter, this notation system is reaching its limits, as it has so far only aimed at the technical and visual state of preservation.
However, as we learned at the beginning, in professional vehicle restoration, more and more importance is attached to the preservation of the original substance. This means that not every part that is scratched or faded is necessarily exchanged for a new one. Rather, an attempt is made to preserve such parts by cleaning and preserving them. This also applies to paintwork, provided it is still authentic. Behind this is the opinion that in particular, the original substance, as evidence of former manufacturing methods and signs of use, is unique and therefore worth preserving.
But what does this view, which is increasingly gaining acceptance worldwide, mean for private individuals and professionals who want to restore a vehicle? In order to answer this question, one has to know exactly the different types of restoration, and which one is the right one for the restoration of the respective vehicle in terms of the restoration ethic.
Three basic restoration approaches
The professional practice of restoration companies as well as private restorers clearly shows that today there are mainly three restoration approaches required by the market:
Factory new restorations,
1. The best-known and most requested restoration approach to date is the “better-than-new restoration”. It describes the production of a technically and optically perfected and flawless vehicle condition. This type of restoration is mainly found in vehicles owned by private individuals who focus exclusively on a flawless finish and full functionality and suitability for everyday use. In the so-called “better-than-new” restorations, all structural defects are eliminated in accordance with the customer’s request, regardless of the substance, engines are replaced, braking systems are technically improved, sheet metal parts are re-manufactured, often completely painted with modern paint systems and the traces of the usage on all vehicle parts completely erased. The result are historic vehicles that no longer have much in common with the original vehicle except for the appearance.
These „better-than-new“ restorations are still in high demand
2. The second approach, which is mainly followed by museums but also by many private individuals, is the so-called “factory restoration”. Its aim is to restore the vehicle to its original condition at the time it was delivered. Using original parts, old manufacturing methods and materials (for example: leather, paint, rubber, etc.), full functionality should be restored without remedying construction-related technical defects and / or improving the original technology. Especially factory museums that want to present their former products to their visitors in the condition in which they once came off the assembly line practice this approach. But it was and is also popular in the private sector. Although the original condition plays a very important role in a new factory restoration, this approach takes no account of traces of the individual vehicle history or “patina” (paint damage, dents, modifications, etc.). They are also be completely erased here.
This Austin Mini „Woody“ Traveller was restored for the BMW Museum in Munich to „factory-new“ condition
3. Around 30 years ago, however, the so-called “substance-preserving restoration” was developed. According to this, historic vehicles are perceived as carriers of information about their manufacture, their use and their history. The aim of such a restoration is to maintain the substance in its current state in order to permanently preserve all information about the technology but also the history (including technical changes, repairs, etc.) of the vehicle. This approach is used especially for museum vehicles or, more and more often, collector’s vehicles, which are intended to serve as (standing) objects for demonstration of earlier techniques and craftsmanship. In contrast to the classic restoration, “substance-preserving restoration” primarily involves conservational measures. However, there are three levels within this approach, which depend on the purpose of the vehicle:
Standstill: All traces of manufacture, use, shutdown and scrapping that have been handed down are accepted. The level of intervention due to the restoration is minimal. Rather, it is a matter of conservation.
This Maybach Zeppelin in the Maybach Museum was converted after WW2 to a transport vehicle . It is not restored but only preserved and not drivable
Used condition: The vehicle looks usable, but it is not complete because its function has not been fully restored. All traces of manufacture, use, wear, and care are preserved. This also includes missing and damaged areas, repairs and typical residues of dirt that have arisen through typical property use. The level of intervention is greater than at a standstill.
This 1928 Wanderer W 10/II Limousine (8/40 PS), of the Audi-Museum in Ingolstadt is a good example for a „substance-preserving restoration“
Reactivation status: the vehicle is actually used. The surface treatment is the same as when it was in use, but the vehicle’s usability is restored, for example by replacing wear parts. The level of intervention is therefore even greater than for the restoration goal “used condition”.
This Jaguar SS1 has been reactivated substance-preserving. It is fully driveable
Of course, mixed forms of the various approaches are also possible. They are also necessary in order to be able to adapt them to the circumstances of the respective vehicles and the intentions of their owners.
Decision making process
In order to select the right restoration approach, experienced restoration professionals first clarify with the customer what the restoration should aim for. Above all, what ideas the customer has about the result of the restoration and how the vehicle will be used after its restoration. If the restorer knows the answers, they can work out the restoration approach on the vehicle together with their customer. In doing so, they take into account that the restoration approach balances the competing priorities between work quality, effort, restoration goal and the value of the vehicle before and after the restoration. Since these key points are usually difficult to reconcile, every restoration is initially a compromise between these fields.
This becomes clear when asked: Is the restoration worthwhile? This question is aimed first at the financial possibilities of the owner, i.e. how much money they are willing to spend on the restoration. The costs incurred are to be seen in connection with the value of the vehicle after the restoration. This is the so-called market value. That is the value that the vehicle can achieve on national or international markets when sold. First of all, it depends on the state of preservation, the manufacturer and the type. But also, from the quality and type of restoration and the demand for exactly this vehicle.
For some time now, however, the historical value of a vehicle has also been increasingly influencing the market value. It is also being investigated more and more often and depends on the events with which the historic vehicle is directly connected. It is very difficult to determine it, as it is strongly influenced by a subjective moment. Experts therefore observe the market in order to be able to estimate the approximate value addition. It can range from a few percent to a multiple of the usual market value of a vehicle. An example: Many afficionados are certainly willing to pay many times more for the Triumph “TR6 Trophy” motorcycle with which Steve McQueen performed the famous stunt scene in the film “The Great Escape” than for an “ordinary” TR6 Trophy without that movie story. If you are not a Steve McQueen fan or a speculator, you will certainly not be willing to pay such a celebrity bonus for the “McQueen TR6 Trophy”.
Historical value: The Triumph TR6 Trophy of Steve McQueen from the movie “The Great Escape”
In order to be able to better assess the historical value, the German master motor vehicle technician Matthias Kemmer, who runs his own restoration company in Speyer and is also responsible as a motor vehicle expert for the topics of historic vehicles and training in the automotive industry in the Central Association of the German Motor Vehicle Industry (ZDK), recently suggested that parallel to the “technology” status grades, those for the “history” should also be awarded (see box below). The values that are then determined here then together result in the total value of the vehicle. Certainly, a good approach, as it brings more transparency into the valuation. The future will have to show whether it will prevail.
Also, the determination of the ideal value – this means the “personal” value of the vehicle for the owner, puts professional and private restorers, especially in the case of economically unprofitable objects, equally before conscientious decisions. Should you spend several thousand euros on the restoration of a Honda CB 400N from 1980 because it is your father’s motorcycle? Serious restorers will pull the emergency brake here and try to work out compromises! But ultimately it is up to each owner to decide what value the vehicle represents for him and how much the restoration is ultimately worth to him.
“History” status grades
Grade 1: Unique source value
Grade 2: Significant source value
Grade 3: Average source value
Grade 4: Insignificant source value
Grade 5: No source value
Value factor patina
For some time now, the so-called “patina” has also been included in the considerations of the correct restoration approach and the valuation. This means, in a narrower sense, the signs of use, wear and tear and weathering, and in a broader sense, also conversions, attached decorations, technical improvements and even “botched repairs”. All of this, as some restorers and private collectors who follow this approach believe, make up the “true” value of a vehicle. Especially since the patina can also be a testimony to historical events associated with the vehicle.
And indeed, there is a trend in the trade to pay a lot more money for the well-preserved original substance than for comparable vehicles in a restored condition. However, this only happens with vehicles that are in an excellent original condition from the outset. This means so-called “survivors” that have been kept in their original state by their owners for decades. Often these are very expensive models. But even with the so-called “everyday vehicles” there are occasionally survivors that have been very well cared for over the decades. The main argument for preserving the patina is its historical value. This certainly applies to the scratches and dents on the McQueen Trophy TR6, but whether this also applies to the scratches and dents that were once scratched into the body of a VW Beetle is something every enthusiast has to decide for themself.
Against the background of the current “patina hype”, one should be careful if patina or original condition is used as a sales argument for a high value. German motor vehicle and historic vehicle expert Wolfgang Droschzak from Munich put it this way in an interview with a classic car magazine: “Patina has become a buzzword. It is not uncommon for it to be used for historic vehicles in need of restoration, which are supposed to bring in a lot of money under the cloak of the patina hype. In reality, there is often just a bunch of junk underneath.” Harsh words that unfortunately often come very close to the truth.
If the question of value (= condition, history, patina) has finally been clarified in terms of the ethics of restoration, one of the above-mentioned restoration approaches or a mixture of these can be selected.
It clearly shows that professional vehicle restoration is not a standardised process. Rather, preservation, conservation and restoration are specialised processes that, in accordance with the Turin Charter, aim to preserve and demonstrate the technical, aesthetic, functional, social, and historical value of a vehicle. In order to achieve this goal, it must be weighed up in each individual case what the objectives of the vehicle owner are. He alone decides how it is ultimately to be restored. The Turin Charter is – comparable to a “red thread” – a recommendation that point the right way. In the case of historically and technically valuable vehicles, it is therefore up to the vehicle restorer to try to convince the vehicle owner of the correct approach to restoration. Sometimes it helps to point out to them that it is “only original once”.
It is still up to the owner how he wants to restore his historic vehicle