We’ve all seen them at car shows and club gatherings, the timeworn, seemingly unrestored cars that draw all the attention while the freshly restored, as-new machines are passed by. Classic cars are all about history, of creation and usage in another era, and obvious visual evidence of that tells a strong story.
A car stripped of all that, all its surfaces renovated and all traces of past use removed, has lost that story. Perhaps those who want to restore a car to be ‘like new’ should be careful what they wish for. Originality happens only once. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Or is it? With some clever subterfuge, originality can at least appear to be intact even if that very appearance is actually non-original. The creation of a history-infused look can make an old car look much more at ease with itself, much more real; it can also encourage its owner to use it more often, which itself adds more genuine patina to overlay the pretend one.
There are various tricks to ‘age things up’, some also used in antique furniture restoration. One is to rub a fresh coat of varnish with wire wool and wax polish, to convert a shine into a sheen. Careful distressing of wood and leather edges can simulate decades of wear, and experts can make it look very convincing.
The final coat of a body’s paintwork can have a matting agent included in it to make the finish look slightly age-oxidised. Bare metal parts can be soaked in various chemicals to tarnish the surface. ‘Aged’ varnish on timber, crazed and peeling, can be achieved by oiling the wood before applying the varnish. New ‘pull’ leathers are available that lighten if stretched hard, suggesting wear at stress points.
You can go further with paint, airbrushing in darker patches in hard-to-reach corners suggestive of decades of oil soak or lack of attention. On some rat-look machines in the custom-car world, large patches of rust are actually beautifully created paintings of oxidised steel and the metal beneath is entirely sound.
We all love an unrestored timewarp that’s still driven and enjoyed. With today’s techniques you can create your own, and no-one need know.