Keith’s Blog: Leave Your Car Alone

I’d like to start following my own advice.

When someone tells me they have acquired a new classic car, one of the first things I say to them is to just leave it alone.

Attend to any basic running and safety issues and have the car inspected. (My 1967 Duetto’s brakes failed 30 miles after I bought the car. This happened while I was descending a curved section of a parking garage exit ramp. It created some excitement.)

But don’t start taking things apart and “upgrading and improving” until you have lived with a car for a while and have a sense of the car’s identity.

I had to restrain myself when our Junior Z joined the SCM collection.

The ex-Gordy Hyde 1971 Alfa Junior Zagato came to us in fine condition. But when I posted pictures of it on Facebook, the immediate response was, “get rid of that modern antenna on the rear deck, and lose the aftermarket (Moto-Lita no less!) steering wheel. People also disliked the “Retrosound” radio that had been professionally installed, and suggested I remove it and find a radio block-off plate – which is what I have in all my other Alfas.

The car also has auxiliary amp and oil temp gauges neatly installed in the center console along with a clock, which irritated some.

My knee-jerk response was to contact restorer Tom Black and get a quote for removing the antenna, welding up the hole and re-spraying the back deck.

Then I researched the steering wheel options. It turns out that the stock wheel for a Junior Zagato is the same simple, two-spoke option that GT Juniors came with. Our mechanic Nasko said he thought he had one buried somewhere, and there were lots of other options available.

But then I started driving the car. It turns out the aftermarket wheel is very comfortable. And I’m enjoying the Bluetooth-enabled stereo, which lets me have Pandora-supplied “Italian Country Music” as I cruise on the backroads of Oregon.

Further, it turns out there isn’t a “factory radio blanking plate” for the Junior Z. Back in the day, you just cut a hole in the dash to install a radio.

After living with the car for a month or so, I’ve come to respect the decisions the previous owner made concerning the car. The changes he made enhanced his driving experience, and they are now enhancing mine.

I like the way the extra gauges look, and they remind me that I’m just the current caretaker of the car. An upcoming owner can take off the antenna, change the wheel and get rid of the gauges.

But for me, these slight modifications are all evidence of the life the car has lived. And I’m not interested in having a garage full of sterile cars with each aspiring towards some type of perfection, instead of being a motorized diary of past experiences.

When you get a car, give yourself and the car a break. Live with it and come to understand why the previous owners made the changes they did. You’ll learn something about yourself and the car in the process.

 

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.

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

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  1. I agree sir with your comments. I take them as a gentle admonishment for classic car owners to “lighten up” on the sterile purity of attempts to take cars back to a perceived Day They Left the Factory.
    As time goes on, younger folks, those new to the hobby, might not know, or more importantly, may not care, about how bone stock the old car they see on the road is.
    Let’s just celebrate and appreciate the fact that the classic is still out on the road being driven. Let’s allow
    enthusiast the liberty of modifying the car a bit to suit his personal taste, or to allow a modern convenience or two.
    Isn’t that the point with Magnus Walker and the whole Outlaw Porsche thing? The Singer or Revology thing?

  2. Good for you for leaving well enough alone. As a JrZ owner, I concur that it’s the sweetest driving 105 series Alfa. It’s all about the drive anyway. And no two JrZs are alike. Mine has a Momo and the rubber strips on the rear bumper are incorrect Oh well.

  3. I must admit to agreeing with the critics: the rubber antenna and Mota-Lita wheel should go. The radio and extra gauges would be harder to repair, and (at least to me) seem less offensive.

    Since you use bluetooth to drive the sound system, you don’t need any antenna, especially one mounted at the center of the rear deck. That rubber thing is totally anachronistic – too modern for an early 70’s car, too ancient for today.

    If you like the feel of the Mota-Lita, keep it in the car, but get the proper Junior wheel from Nasko and put it in storage. When the car goes to its next custodian, the supply of Junior wheels will have dried up and the new owner may be offended by a British wheel on an Italian car.

    Beyond that, enjoy your new baby. You now own every variant of Alfa’s 105 series.

  4. I completely agree with the way you have left your Alfa with the changes it has incurred along its life. It is all part of its story. I have a RHD S2 E-Type and wondered why it had a smaller S3 steering wheel and one wrong seat belt. Several years after owning the car I found the original owner who told me why, they had been replaced after a 1970’s accident. He had retained the original steering wheel which he has given to me and I have wrestled with putting back or leaving the story intact. I did take the aftermarket radio out, ( a collector plate licencing requirement where I live), Fortunately the blank out plate was still with the car, so I use an ipod for “period correct” music.

  5. Keith, I couldn’t agree more. Many years ago, way before original patina was a selling point, you advised me, “a car is only original once but it can be restored many times.” The market caught up with your sage advice in a big way. Now you’ve made another very valid and potentially valuable point that thoughtful maintenance and upgrades can add to the driving experience. And that after living with something for awhile it may turn out to be a good thing. Thanks for the validation!

  6. First off, WHAT A COOL LITTLE COUPE!!! These have always been an Alfa-Fav. And- great advice. Tho I suspect there are always “limits” as to what can/should remain as-bought. I guess my only paranoia with such a car, moving forward, would prob be World-searching for a back-up center console panel with no holes. You know. Just in case. How hard could THAT be? 😀
    Finally, as a Z owner, can you answer MY Burning ‘Z’ Q?
    WHY do these always have the rear hatch cracked OPEN?
    Are you suffocating? Do the latches fail? 😉
    Stu A – Sedona, AZ

  7. It’s the same with vintage guitars. I tell my customers, ” If you don’t like it the way it is, buy something else. Leo Fender knows more than you.”.

  8. Kieth: I think it is ESSENTIAL to take someone with you to the auction to assist you as you look and bid on the car of your dreams. I have worked on 356 cars when they were new . Now 45 plus years of use have cause a myriad of situations that can no longer be easily resolved. Stop in FT. Worth the airport is a 10 minute drive from the shop and you will have an awakening experience. Hurry I am betting old!

  9. Keith i could not agree more,after years of “Making them perfect and driving them little” i bought an 88 Carrera Cab in #2 condition,had mechanic go over it service it ,paintless dent removal…driving ever since…one of the most fun cars i own..

  10. Wise decision. Spend all that money on fuel for the car and drive it. The repairs will be needed soon enough, but concentrate on just making it safe, fix what’s broken, and enjoy it. That’s what collector cars are for, right?