Dare Patina - Some Ideas for Custodianship

In the course of my restoration, I repeatedly stumbled over the question of how far to restore? What to restore? What to conserve? There were really rusty parts that needed work and structural replacement. There were non-original parts and results from previous restorations/repairs/repaints and there are wonderfully original parts that show gorgeous signs of history and prove that the car in total has seen only mild use. A mix of everything, that made finding the right balance really difficult since I felt especially I should not alter these original parts of the car.


Finally, after much inspiring reading I came to the following conclusions:

While handling historic vehicles/objects, we should think of a transformation from mere „personal property” to the custodianship of „cultural treasure“: It is a privilege to own an original, historic vehicle/object. But with that privilege comes a responsibility to preserve the vehicle as an authentic artifact that will continue to be cherished by future generations and we will therefore need to be aware of decisions we take.

What happens when we cover over the historic evidence of the object’s travel through time to the present day? I believe that once the evidence of an object’s travel through time disappears, history disappears! It is impossible to restore anything that has lost its material truth. For material truth is which gives a historic object its historical relevance, a value missing in any replicated object. Gently cleaned imperfections add to the story these treasures tell. It is therefore the actual material, which gives the preserved original its historical reference.


So the first step should be to determine identity through inspection of the components and proper documentation. This means understanding and a close reading of the evidence to determine the genuine surviving parts of a car and the authentic parts taken from other cars. The outcome of this inspection will influence the decision on where to draw the line between restoration and conservation.

Desired levels might be: Stabilizing conservation. Minimal mechanical rehabilitation. Minimal mechanical and cosmetic rehabilitation. Full restoration. In real life, a combination of conservation and restoration will usually be applied.


My conviction is that one should try to incorporate as many original conserved components as possible. The custodian will honor rather than replace the manufacturer’s materials. An original imperfect part has a place within a car, even if, by necessity, it has to be restored. Dirt is harmful and corrosive. Dirt is not patination! Unlike patina, which can be the result of exposure to the elements or ordinary time-related chemical change, dirt is added to the object by an unfavorable environment or simply poor care. All this is about extending the life of an existing object, allowing something significant to live on once more as it was originally designed and intended, functioning as a veritable time capsule carrying a true story of our past into the future.