In the midst of the thunderstorm, a bolt of lightening struck the century-old, 200 foot tall fir tree next to our home, and then jumped to our roof. The force of nature is powerful; The electricity that surged through the house blew me back five feet from my computer keyboard. Our network router melted, the wires to the alarm system were toasted, the circuit boards inside the DVD player and the AV receiver were destroyed and two TVs were taken out. The smell of ozone hung in the air, and my arms tingled for the rest of the day.

A twenty-foot limb was ripped off the tree, and thrown fifty feet through the air. Another limb came crashing across our upper deck, tearing off the rain gutter.

But we were lucky. No one was injured, that is, except the tree. Split down the center, an arborist declared that it had to come down. After the resultant acrobatics (due to its proximity to the house, the tree had to be cut in sections and lowered, one piece at a time), we ended up having a good supply of the most expensive firewood in the world.

With the tree gone, we became aware for the first time of just how uneven, due to the growth of the roots, the aggregate and brick surface of the surrounding patio had become over the years.
We had a contractor look at leveling it. The estimate came in at around $7,500 to rip out the old surface and make it, in his words, “better than new.”

PRESERVE OR RESTORE

Americans are particularly fond of that concept, “better than new.” A “better-than-new” restoration has, until recently, been regarded as the best thing you could do to a car, but there are other ways to approach the imperfections that accrue with age and use. The Italians, with their well-worn buildings, cobblestone streets and patinated hillside villas, provide an example.

We had just returned from Italy, where Portland Jaguar dealer Monte Shelton and I raced in the Modena Cento Ore. My wife Cindy Banzer and Sue Shelton toured the Italian countryside while Monte and I sped through the countryside, and joined us each night for a typical northern Italian multi-course, multi-wine, multi-hour dinner.

MCO organizer Mauro Bompani had arranged for us to drive a 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI Super in the competition section, graciously made available by Alberto Barbieri. He and his son, Filippo, had entered their TZ-1. Both cars were mechanically first rate, and were visually attractive, but were certainly not restored to trailer queen status. They had charm to them that only comes from regular use.
Italians enjoy, and respect, the patina that the passing of years brings to things. Most Italian restorations are really what we would call cosmetic refurbishments like paintless dent repair service, which you can also get from an auto body shop in your area. This would followed by paint, so the paint will better withstand damage and overall last longer, body and chrome done well enough but certainly not to Pebble Beach standards. On the other hand, the engines are always set just right.

When looking at a car, Italians don’t get sidetracked by a rock chip here or there or incorrect materials to the seats. Instead, you’ll hear them remark, “The engine is so beautiful and makes such a fantastic sound.” By and large the cars on the MCO carried their scrapes proudly, visual evidence of their adventures. Each evening, after the day’s circuit racing and hillclimbs, some of the cars would be seen on jackstands, their various needs being administered to. These cars were being used as competition machines, and were paying the price.

SCM is a passionate advocate of friendly refurbishment rather than invasive restoration when it comes to cars. We were first introduced to this way of thinking by Miles Collier at one of his seminars on connoisseurship, and have been engaged by the issue since. I’m heartened to see the movement towards preservation rather than restoration for cars, as we learn to appreciate that the aging process was what gave them their appeal, and often their importance, in the first place.

Americans are always agents of change, and sometimes we move a little too quickly for our own good. Our quest for perfection, for having the most perfect, can lead to a sanitizing effect that destroys any sense of history for a car. So we decided to apply the same thought process to our home. In this age of spec-built McMansions, crammed full of every trendy theme and gadget a builder can come up with, an older home that maintains its integrity can be refreshing. Which is all a very long and roundabout way of saying that, for the time being, we’ve decided to leave the patio along, lumpy sections an all. (Of course, that means the unspent money can be put towards our next car, an added bonus.) The aggregate is worn and chipped, the brick work weathered. During the forty years it took for this to gradually happen, think of all the parties and gatherings, the late-night liasons between young lovers, that might have occurred.

So the next time you come to our home, and sit in the patio with a glass of wine in your hand, please don’t mind if the chair you’re sitting in rocks a bit on the uneven surface. It’s hard for us to let things age gracefully, but we’re trying to learn. And the next time you look at one of your cars, and wonder if its time to take it down to bare metal for a respray, redo the upholstery and detail the suspension, stop for a moment. It might just be that if you just touched up a few rock chips, cleaned the engine compartment a little and put some hide food on the seats, you’d find an old friend there. Imperfect, yes, but like you, no longer new. Once free from the question for unattainable perfection, you’ll find that you and your car will get along very well indeed. And that there are miles and miles of roads just waiting for the two of you.

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