Kurt Ernst at MotorAuthority.com has written an article on the "Restore versus Preserve" debate using Chrysler's Chrysler as the focal point.
Coming Up This Week: Highlights from the Greenwich Concours and Old Westbury Car Shows and an Amazing Video of the Indy 500 Vintage Car Laps.
By Kurt Ernst June 1, 2012
Last year, Howard Kroplick, a vintage car collector from Long Island, New York, acquired a significant piece of Chrysler history. Purchased from the Vanderbilt Museum, the 1937 Chrysler Imperial Town Car was originally ordered (to custom specifications) by none other than Walter P. Chrysler.
As Wheels explains, the car was donated to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in 1959, a gift from car collector Harry Gilbert. Displayed sporadically until 1986 (the last time the car’s straight-eight engine was started), the car never received the kind of care necessary for preservation.
Enter Kroplick, who also happens to be a volunteer at the Vanderbilt Estate. He began to research the custom Chrysler Imperial while working on an exhibition covering the Vanderbilt Cup road races, and contacted the museum about buying the car.
It took a while before the museum agreed to the sale, offering it in a private auction last year. Kroplick was the winning bidder, acquiring the one-of-a-kind, 25,000 mile car for $275,000. That’s quite a bit more than the Museum’s asking price when it first pondered a sale in 1992; Hemmings Motor News says the car found no buyers at a price of $12,000.
Calling it “rich with patina” would be a gross understatement. Covered with a thick layer of dust, the car even had petrifying cigarette butts in the ashtray, perhaps left over from Walter Chrysler or his wife, Della.
Kroplick is now wrestling with the choice to restore the car or preserve it in “as is” condition. Wiped down with a chamois cloth, the car will be displayed, at public urging, in “as is” condition at this weekend’s Greenwich (Connecticut) Concours d’Elegance.
We’re not sure on this one ourselves. While seeing perfectly restored cars is perhaps more visually appealing than seeing those in “survivor” condition, there’s much to be said for preserving history. Once the rust on the exhaust headers is sand-blasted off and the ashtrays are emptied, that history is gone for good.
Hooniverse June 1, 2012 by Jeff Glucker
To restore, or not to restore… that is the question that confounds many an automotive enthusiast. Restorations can return previously stunning machines into works of art that are in greater shape than when they left the factory floor. Some cars, however, are viewed as important notes in history, and many feel that these cars and truck should be preserved with their patina and spirit intact. People who argue on each side of this automotive fence have valid points, and we understand each side.
The latest car to enter into this fray is a 1937 Chrysler Imperial Town Car, which was custom built to the specifications of one Walter P. Chrysler. This Town Car was a museum piece from 1959 through 1986, and after that it became a forgotten, dust-covered hunk of history. A museum volunteer purchased the car last year with a winning bid of $275,000. Funny enough, the same car was offered for sale in 1992 with no buyers willing to pony up $12,000.
Owner Howard Kroplick has since cleaned off the layers of dust, and is considering a full restoration of the car. Others, however, are crying out for Kroplick to leave the car as is, and to simply preserve it. What say you, dear reader, should this magnificent beast be restored to its former glory, or should we revel in the majesty of its unrestored state?
A Sampling of Comments
Kent Beuchert Posted: 6/1/2012 10:22am PDT: Rust and accumulated dirt is now "history" ?
Kurt Ernst Posted: 6/1/2012 12:10pm PDT: @Kent, if you'd prefer, it's "patina."
Enzo Rollis Posted: 6/1/2012 3:50pm PDT: i say restore make no sense having a car and not being able to drive. their will still be history since the car is not destroyed.
Jeff Stork Posted: 6/3/2012 2:04pm PDT: This one's easy. The neglect happened WHILE in the hands of the Museum. They had been presented with a near pristine original car from the Chrysler family themselves. The tragedy would be in not returning it to that state.
OA5599: A car can be restored many times, but it can only be unrestored once.
Skitter: It would be one thing if this car had a meaningful history. This just shows what happens to a museum piece that is tossed left out in the elements for a quarter of a century. A restoration would only erase the waste this car has gone to. Report Reply
The professor: I couldn't have said it better.
OA5599:I don't disagree this one is probably past the point where originality loses out to restoration. My comment was more of a wish that someone had taken better care of it. But the car does have history. It's Chrysler's Chrysler, after all. I mentioned on AT, but I think not here that I'm involved in the restoration of a wooden boat for a museum. Time and the elements have not been kind to the vessel, and it's also been through multiple modifications through the years. Sometimes there are decisions to be made: replace something a little off-center because that's the way a craftsman originally did it decades ago, or make it straight now because we have that opportunity? Which way is correct? If the boat, or car (or airplane, stagecoach, chariot, etc.) is not neglected or weathered to the point those decisions need to be made, life becomes simpler.
Tonyola: If it's a car with some authentic driving history like a vintage racer with battle scars or an expedition vehicle, then I say leave it alone. If it's just something that's been sitting around deteriorating, then restore it. There is no such thing as patina in cars, there is only deterioration. Restore it. Why have a magnificent one-off look like a bomb when it can look like this?
Joe: Any one-off car is an individual statement of the artist that created it. Like any artwork, it suffers the ravages of time and sometimes neglect. If this one-of-a-kind artwork can be brought back to a state of beauty that future generations can enjoy, so much the better. I can't help but think that the artist would prefer it.
tonyola: Right. When people run across a dirty and long-forgotten Rembrandt that has been locked away for centuries, do they leave the accumulated grime and mung upon it before putting it on exhibit? Not if they can clean it up it without damage. Painting restoration experts exist for a reason.
Tanshanomi: "Restoration" changes the machine from its current state. But even necessary "preservation" changes the state of the machine, if perhaps a bit less. So they really are not two different paths. The question comes down to one of degrees: how MUCH do you want to change it? As for how to correctly address THAT question, go ask Miss Belvedere.
MVEilenstein: What's so special about 2012 that it deserves to be left in that condition? Any patina or age that shows on this car is only because it's been sitting in a museum or warehouse most of its life - what's the appeal in that? It should be restored to the same condition that Mr. Chrysler enjoyed it - like new. Alcology 67p · 3 days ago
Irishzombieman:I want to drive this car as is, with open pipes spitting flames out the sides, while wearing a black suit, black trench coat, black fedora, and black sunglasses. With a scythe sitting straight up through that open roof.
Tiller: I was going to come down on the "restore" side, for the same reasons most here have already articulated....but ya know, when you put it that way...
Devin: Restore it. While patina can make something special, this has gone way beyond that. When a car gets to a state where it can't be considered really driveable anymore - and this has hit that - that's when you have to restore.
Howard Kroplick: Thanks for the posts on my new old car!Just a few notes:
-The car was not offered for sale by the Vanderbilt Museum until November 2011
-Currently, I am researching and gathering opinions on next steps for the car including this blog
-The car is being featured at the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance this weekend.
Thanks for the feedback!
Froggmann: Congratulations! Personally, I'm in the restore camp myself. There are cars out there that have not reached a state of decay that necessitates a caring hand. This car has passed that threshold and needs to be brought back to it's original glory.
Irishzombieman: I'm actually in the restore camp also. The whole drive-around-acting-like-DEATH thing I mentioned above is just a sort of morbid performance art fantasy. This car is spectacular and I wish you good luck.
dukeisduke: Thanks for coming on here, Howard. I'm in the restore camp as well. Awhile back there was a post on here about a very early, unrestored Shelby Cobra. That car, while worn, was very drivable, and the patina it has is in part related to its racing history and battle scars. The Imperial, however, was a showpiece, and a statement about Walter P. Chrysler's pride in his company. It should be returned to the former glory that Walter would recognize.
Kyle: Hi Howard. I was at Greenwich today when you were showing the car and started it. What a car! I also am in the restore camp. I couldn't look at that wonderful Chrysler and not imagine how magnificent and beautiful it could look. The Chrysler has so much potential that it would be a shame to leave it in its current state and not let that original glory and a statement of Chrysler shine.
mdharrell: I know exactly what I'd do with an unrestored, deteriorating Chrysler Corporation product from 1937. I'd drive it.
Geoff : To deny the ability of a car to drive is to deny the inherent soul and purpose of any machine. To render it simply a museum piece Along with pottery and other shards of history is an insult to those who created it. It is like those tiny cages at the old zoos which we now look on with such Horror and disgust. How can such a beautiful animal be chained and restricted in such a fashion? To allow it to crumble is the worst form of abuse. A car is built for the road, for it's pieces to sing, whir, clank roar. You are responsible for a unique piece of motoring history. Do what is right.
CptSevere: You made an eloquent point there, and I can't agree more.
AlexiusG55: There are violinists whose job it is to go around museums, take the Stradivariuses out of their glass cases, and play them. We need people to do the same thing for old cars.
Howard Kroplick:Thanks again for the comments. After 25 years, Chrysler's Chrysler is running!
OA5599: The hood seems to have quite a bit of shine left on it and the dash, steering wheel, and instrumentation appeared to be pretty nice, too. Besides the obvious paint job, what else would it need?
CptSevere: Ok, now the old gal runs, and that's a beautiful thing. History personified, living and breathing right before your eyes. Now, the thing is, how much do you restore this fine artifact? Rip it apart, make it new, lose all the character that the decades have added to it, so that it's once again a museum piece, too valuable to used for it's intended purpose? Or, fix what has faded, freshen the fine old lady up some, send her to the beauty parlor, so to speak, so she can once again appear in public with dignity and poise? And, regain her status as queen of whatever boulevard she chooses to reign. I like the second choice, let her continue to age gracefully, while a skilled doctor attends to her aches and pains. Lovely car, keep her on the road.
topdeadcentre: I'm firmly in the "restore it completely" camp. I think the car's real beauty is the state it was in when first on the road. It's a little difficult in the current day and age to use a real Town Car with open driver compartment for its designed purpose. Traffic anywhere near the opera, symphony or theater districts in major cities is pretty hazardous. This is not to say that if I owned the Imperial Town Car, I wouldn't find a driver to take me to an evening at Symphony Hall in Boston, it's just that arriving in such high style is quite rare these days.
Van_Sarockin: You can always restore the car to better than showroom condition whenever you want, but it's only original once. I would look first to preserving and stabilizing it, repairing what might be broken or overly decayed. Do that, then see where that leaves you. You'd have a working car with original character and patina that could never be replicated. Then I'd take it on a nice, long cruise.
HTWHLS: The conundrum continues....it's Mr. Kroplick's to do as he wishes. Good luck to him.I'd get it running, put ghost flames on it and drive the pants off it!
Alff : When my Hot Wheels got to looking like that, I refinished them with a felt tip marker. I recommend the same thing here.
NoKetchup: Yes lets all honor Chrysler's legacy by displaying his dilapidated rust box. The patina/neglect adds nothing to this car. Its not like its Dale Earnhart's car where the dents and scrapes mean something.
Sam: I do not want to see this car completely restored just yet. This ol lady hasn't even been able to live yet. All I am saying is what if the owner took this car to some old school lacquer wielding painter for a good old fashioned paint job. Do some the required maintenance. (by maintenance I me the engine does not need to be torn down I just say the the damn thing drive down the street.). Then...... Cruise it cross country, or take it to Bonneville and post a top speed, or tell Chrysler you have the theme to their next super bowl commercial, or take it on a tour across the mid west and stop at every high school shop class and let the kids touch it and know that america is great. This car is going to be around longer than any of us so why do you think you are good enough to park it behind glass forever. We all see what happened the the last time someone declared her perfect destiny.
C³-Cool Cadillac Cat: This right here is the near-perfect candidate for an over-the-top restoration, IMO. However...PLEASE don't squirrel it away, somewhere. This is the kind of machine which should be driven periodically! Report Reply
OA5599: Mr. Kroplick owns a car that raced at the first Indy 500 and circled the same track at the race this year. I don't think you have anything to worry about.