The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles – Book Review

Review by Rick Carey, Auction Editor

The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles Book CoverEveryone involved in the collector car hobby – mechanics, restorers, parts suppliers, archivists, judges, historians, concours organizers, transporters and most especially owners, even (and maybe most importantly) owners of mass-produced Model As and Chevy 3100 pickups – should acquire, read and contemplate this book.

“Stewardship” is, like the cars it talks about, that important.

The description ‘historically important’ applies to every old car; there are no historically unimportant old cars. It deals with Duesenbergs, Delahayes, Ferraris and Rochet Schneiders, but its principles are equally applicable to mass-produced Chevrolets, DeSotos, Edsels, MGs, Renaults, Fiats and Isettas.

Dr. Fred Simeone (his brief biography in “Stewardship” only hints at his contributions to neurosurgery and the lives he has saved) is the steward of a Philadelphia collection of racing cars of consistently outstanding quality.

“Stewardship” has a point of view.

It advocates preservation in preference to restoration, but it does it with a breadth of viewpoint from experienced collectors, restorers, curators, owners and agents that is refreshing in its equanimity.

As Dr. Simeone expressed, “The overriding purpose of this book is to encourage one who discovers a truly preserved important car to keep it in its preserved condition as safely as possible.” And, while “Stewardship” is focused on preserving highly original artifacts of automobile history, the thought processes and competing considerations it sets forth apply even to the treatment of already-restored autos in the never-ending process of maintaining them.

The content of “Stewardship” presents often-overlapping and subtly contrasting views of the dichotomy between preservation and restoration, as well as the innate contradiction between static preservation and active demonstration. Automobiles are by their very nature dynamic creations with sights, sounds, smells and – if you’re lucky enough to ride in or drive them – physical sensations that re-create the experiences of their original owners and drivers.

It’s to the credit of the Simeone collection that it regularly demonstrates its irreplaceable automotive artifacts in the collection’s ample parking lot near Philadelphia International Airport and “Stewardship” makes a valuable contribution to formalizing the challenge of deciding what, when and how to fire up that irreplaceable original lump to hear, see and smell it run.

There are nits to pick. Most are attributable to the editors’ decision to treat contributions with a light hand.

There’s no shortage of grandiloquent verbiage.

“Provenantial [sic] research is again required to elucidate its cloistered pre-existence” could be reduced to something reasonably readable.

“Classically, material theory of conservation admits that the purpose of this theory stresses that for a scientific conservation, the integrity is to preserve the object’s material proof, sometimes called a truth reinforcement operation. Physical features and constituents which are added at a later date or replicated simply do not carry the material truths of the object as defined by conservational thought. As Tusquets commented, ‘The fact that is for many people, the authentic material has a numinous [“filled with a sense of a supernatural presence,” in case you, like the reviewer, have never encountered this term] quality … that renders it very powerful in comparison with replicas of virtual experiences.” Wouldn’t it be easier to say simply, “It’s only original once”?

The Stewardship of Historically Important AutomobilesOn the other hand T.E. Berrisford and L. Scott George’s pictorial presentation of the authentication of the Collier Collection’s Bugatti Type 35B is a lesson in sympathetic documentation, research and inference of the evolution of an old car. Evan Ide’s description of the vagaries of the Larz Anderson Auto Collection’s history is an object example of the effect of well-meaning but ill-considered efforts.

Similarly, Malcolm Collum’s description of his experiences at The Henry Ford are a gut-wrenching exposition of the innate contradiction between conservation, i.e., static preservation, and active demonstration. It’s impossible to read his description of the failure of the Buick Bug [not a Henry Ford artifact] during a demonstration run without feeling his agony.

Fortunately, throughout “Stewardship” Dr. Simeone and his contributors offer lists of attributes to be taken into account in making the preservation/restoration/demonstration decision. Miles Collier lists seven ways we interact with cars:

  • Nostalgic appeal
  • Aesthetics
  • Mastery
  • Technical
  • History
  • Competition
  • Fellowship

Dr. Simeone’s interpretation of the National Air and Space Museum’s importance criteria is central to the approach of “Stewardship”:

  • Association with a particular historic event or individuals
  • Rarity as a survivor of its type
  • Evidence of past design innovation, style, construction techniques, etc.
  • Condition and extent of remaining original material
  • Political, cultural, or spiritual significance for a particular segment of society
  • Exceptional aesthetic qualities of form and decoration.

A brief passage, “The Older Restoration Conundrum”, fails to recognize the validity and significance of the restorations of early collectors – to whom these were just old cars they’d known from their youth – like Bill Harrah, James Melton, Dr. Sam Scher, Henry Austin Clark, Jr. and Richard C. Paine, Jr. Their efforts in many ways are as significant in preserving history, often with little more than cosmetic refreshing, as modern preservationist collectors. Their cars are important milestones in car collecting’s history, in and of themselves deserving preservation in their older restored state and they are accorded too little respect and recognition by current collectors and restorers.

The Stewardship of Historically Important AutomobilesA number of pages are devoted to Preservation Class presentation and judging issues. Mark Gessler’s history of the concept is clear and succinct. Ed Gilbertson’s account of the challenges of balancing originality and restoration is authoritative but simultaneously cogently articulates the difficulty of achieving equilibrium between two inherently contradictory positions.

The Preservation Class commentaries close “Stewardship”, appropriately concluding in real life terms the equivocal nature of the whole concept of preservation vs. restoration, conservation vs. use and demonstration.

In the end, as frequently expressed in “Stewardship”, the decision is individual. Lodged in the owner – whether it’s an automobile, a piece of furniture (like the multiple-restored Connecticut Butler’s Secretary in my living room), an express yacht converted from steam to diesel or an historic home – these are individual decisions based on the realities of life, life style and resources.

“The Stewardship of Historically Significant Automobiles” presents its case for preservation strongly and cogently, but not exclusively and not without recognizing alternative views.

No matter what an individual owner’s view may be, the positions taken and arguments put forth in “The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles” are important contributions to an informed discussion and equally informed decisions about maintenance, presentation, restoration, use and demonstration of the automobiles we love, respect, admire and want to see driven and enjoyed for the education and edification of future generations.

It’s sixty bucks well-spent from the Simeone Foundation at SimeoneMuseum.org and will be the catalyst for productive discussions among owners and restorers. If it serves as the nexus for a quiet evening’s reflection by a single owner of an historically important automobile facing the inevitable conflict between preservation and restoration it will have made its mark.


The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles – Information

Author: Simeone Automotive Foundation
Publisher: Coachbuilt Press, Philadelphia, 2012
Format: Leather hardbound, 12″ x 9.5″, 168 pages
Photos: 193 color and black and white images
ISBN-10: 0988273306 ; ISBN-13: 978-098827336
Price: $60.00 plus shipping

[Source: Rick Carey]

Comments

  1. toly arutunoff says

    Interesting–at the same time as articles are appearing which amplify the idea of rare automobiles (and, mainly, their high prices), entering the universe of works of art, artspeak makes its presence known in parts of this book. The situation brings to mind all those comic scenes involving an art critic at an exhibition, in so many lighthearted entertaining old movies. Highfalutin talk.

    • Rick Carey says

      Toly,
      I agree. Trying to dress up a Corvette Grand Sport or Alfa 8C with elaborate and arcane terminology developed for fine art and antiques misses the point.
      I drove the Grand Sport in Arizona in 2009 when RM auctioned it. The experience was completely divorced from aesthetic concepts. It was raw, loud, gutsy and exhausting, even a little frightening (but more to Gord Duff, RM’s specialist in the passenger’s seat of the $5 million car than to me) — particularly on the 40-year old slicks it wore. I don’t think that experience translates into the vocabulary of antique furniture and oil-on-canvas.
      But, credit the Simeone Collection for demonstrating its cars on a regular basis. They understand the difference and are willing to share the experience with spectators. It’s part of the message of Stewardship and the balance that the dialogue the book sets up is trying to help collectors find.
      Consider Stewardship an opening discussion in a much longer dialogue.and it has a different significance.

    • says

      Hi Toly;
      Communications like cars in addition to their function can have an aesthetic that enriches the experience, One speaks differently of a C Jaguar or Ferrari 250 than of a corvette, doesn’t one?

  2. says

    In my humble opinion I am not sure to which part of the book Toly’s comment applied. I am sure if you are reading this comment and moreso SCD that you realize how barren the automotive journalism landscape truly is. SCD and Rick Cary are two exceptions that I welcome and one of the reasons I look forward to every Thursday. I for one have missed the comments and editorials that were once so rich with imagery. The fine art of combining automotive journalism with rich storytelling is far too rare since much of the print media and publications have moved to the A-D-D internet. SCD, Jamie and Rick, thankfully have avoided the pitfalls of most publications and on line site.

  3. Rick Carey says

    Rick, I think Toly’s comment was prompted by the Keno brothers’ long segment about antique furniture and extrapolating the current preference for unrestored furniture to cars.
    Being the current custodian of some restored antiques — and responsible for the re-restoration of at least one of them — I understand the quandary, but to me these are parts of my family’s heritage. Their condition matters little, except that we can actually open and close the drawers of the butler’s secretary and the drop front doesn’t drop into our laps every time it’s opened.
    Thanks for your compliments.

    Rick Carey

  4. Mark says

    My motorcycle and automobile library holds about 225 volumes. I have Simeone’s “Stewardship”, now, among them. It is by far the best book I own. Simeone is correct that we need to respect originality of cars (and motorcycles), those that really deserve it anyway, and not skin and slick up every last machine…before we learn what those caring for decorative arts (furniture, pottery, glass, not necessarily paintings) learned the hard way. Clean it, rebuild its guts, polish it and drive it, but refrain from removing the marks of its history. If it’s already been restored once or twice, it may no longer qualify for preservation. Thankfully the motorcycle collecting community figured this out long before the car guys.

    Mark

    • Rick Carey says

      Mark,
      Every time I lean into an old vehicle and see the vestiges of age and use I am captivated by the history of ownership, driving, preservation and the hand built processes that made them that they represent. It’s a rare privilege.
      I agree that the motorcycle guys got it first, but — and this will always be the Big But — preservation is often not possible with decrepit, rusty, ignored and forgotten relics.
      And, by the way, the cars ‘restored’ a half century and more ago also represent a state that deserves preservation, not re-restoration. Dr. Sam Scher’s restorations from the Fifties are, in many respects, the most true and accurate representations of how those antiques were built. They deserve preservation, not only as milestones of car collecting but also as examples of the best knowledge and skill of people who were alive when the cars were just old crocks.
      Dr. Simeone and his collaborators have established a very high standard but one that restorers, collectors and even us onlookers need to keep in mind.
      So do those who establish the benchmarks that distinguish ‘success’ and ‘quality’ in the minds of collectors. One day, maybe, just possibly, there will be a deliciously original, exotic, beautiful car that doesn’t only contend for a Preservation class win at Pebble Beach but instead reaches the Best in Show podium.
      I hope I live to see it.

      Rick

Leave a Comment