Can You Just Leave It Alone?

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I’m about to take our 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super over to Guy’s Interior Restorations. The challenge is, how little can I have Guy do to the car?

I just got the Super back from Dan Sommers’ Veloce Motors, with a fresh 2-liter engine installed, new tires, balanced driveshaft and more. The car runs very well.

The interior is good overall, but the tops of the seatbacks have faded from exposure to the sun.

I’m going to have Guy re-dye the seatbacks.

But I’m not having him do anything else. No new carpets or door panels, no headliner – just deal with the one thing that is the most apparent visual flaw, and leave the rest of the car alone.

I’m trying to get to that stage with all of my cars. Once they are at an overall nice-driver #2 condition, I’ll stop spending to try to get them to a trailer-queen #1.

I see so many perfect cars at auctions and concours that it’s tempting to start abusing my decent cars and try to turn them in to trophy-winners.

Don’t Paint Me

For example, our 1965 Giulia Spider has been in the family for more than 25 years. I have pictures of my daughter Alex in the car when she was 1, and of my son Bradley at the same age. Alex is now 23, and Bradley is 7. The car has had a couple of resprays in the original Grigio Mare (Sea Gray), and the interior has been redone at least twice in a lipstick red (materials sourced from Matt Jones at Re-Originals).

The paint is tired, but it shines up well. The engine bay still has its original paint. When Alfa expert Conrad Stevenson rebuilt the engine a few years ago, he asked if we wanted to respray the engine compartment. I told him no, a decision I am more thankful for every day. 

For the past 49 years, that paint has experienced every heat cycle that the engine has gone through. It has been on this car for every mile covered since it was applied at the factory. This aged surface is now unique to this car and can never be replicated.

At auction, I’ve seen visually perfect Giulia Spider Veloces bring over $125k. In its current condition, I figure our Spider is worth somewhere under $90k. To make it worth top dollar, I’d surely have to do an engine-out respray and massive detailing.

But if I did that, it would completely destroy every vestige of the car’s history. If I took the now-fully-restored car to an Alfa concours, it would become one more in a row of “striving-to-be-perfect” Alfas, a set of “Stepford Wives” competing for 100-point scores.

Let Me Be Myself

When you make the decision to restore or improve a car to increase its dollar value, your way of looking at the car dramatically changes. Instead of doing what you’d like to the car, you start thinking about what will have the best return.

So, rather than re-jetting the Webers to get a little more low-end grunt, you polish the cam covers. Instead restitching the split seam in the seat, you redo the interior — and probably upgrade it to leather.

You start falling out of love with a car once you start tarting it up for resale. The moment you start treating it as a financial instrument, it might as well be gone from your garage. You no longer want to take it on tours or rallies.

It’s like breaking up with a long-time girlfriend. You two decide to have one last weekend together to celebrate all the good times.

You know exactly how that weekend will go. At best, it will be bittersweet, filled with thoughts about the loss ahead, and haunted with the magic that was once there.

As you drive your car that you have pimped for resale, you know that you will not be enjoying all the improvements you made. They were done for someone else, and someone else will soon be enjoying all the elements of your very nice car.

So as you start thinking about what you want to do to your cars for the coming driving season, stop thinking about bringing them all to perfection.

Instead of erasing the scars and flaws that are the evidence of the life you have lived together, let them age gracefully as you personally hope to do. The road-rash around the headlights is the sports car version of the crow’s feet we get from smiling as we drive down a great two-lane road.

Don’t be afraid to put event stickers on your windshield. You did it when you were a kid – why not now? Let your car be a traveling celebration of your adventures.

Give your cars a break. Let them look their age. And celebrate that you and the cars together have shared a lot of experiences, and have more to come.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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