What is the "soul" or "heart" of a car?

I’ve been watching a lot of those car restoration tv series, and they are great shows.
It got me thinking, what part of the car would you actually consider to be the heart or soul of the car?

Some of these people want a piece of junk restored like the way they remember it growing up but I noticed
that many projects don’t have the original engine, so they swap or add a different one, or they have to get a new
frame, new parts, upholstery etc.
At what point when you start swapping out so many of the original parts out to replace the, does the car no longer
be the original car?

The engine, the frame, the shell, other parts?

The black-hearted demonic presence in my first car (a Chevy Vega*) was somewhere in the engine compartment, though lesser evil spirits lurked in the prematurely rusting body.

*Like Dave Barry, I used to have to start it by opening the hood and connecting two contacts with a screwdriver.

This is an age old question.

They must have installed those at the factory, because mine was really similar. It did start in an ordinary way but if you didn’t keep your hand on the gearshift knob it would fly off from all the vibration and hit you in the head.

I’m starting to think the soul/heart of a car is not what’s on the inside but what’s on the outside…the body/shell. In human terms, we often say to look at someone on the inside to know the truth and the outside is just superficial.

But I think with cars, it really is the body. Internal parts seem to be all interchangeable and replaceable, even the frame can be fixed, but the body/shell seems like it is the most important thing when it comes to restoring these classic cars.

I see two modes that I regard as “restoring” a car

• Purist Mode —As close to “as it was when sold on the dealer’s lot” as possible. Generally more permission to use 3rd party equivalent replacement parts of the sort that car owners or their auto mechanics would have used themselves (i.e., the tail light bulb doesn’t have to be a Ford branded tail light bulb, it’s OK to use a Renco replacement bulb), more permission to use modern substitutions that don’t show and don’t modify the vehicle’s behavior (i.e., the window washer pump is an entirely different electrical device than the car came with but is roughly the same size, was successfully fit into the space, and works fine with the stock electrical system), but the engine and transmission have to be stock, body has to be stock or at least indiv panels etc machined / shaped to be the same shape, paint should be a shade and lustre appropriate to the era, etc.

• Nostalgic Ride Mode — As close to a car as it would have been modified and outfitted in some previous era, in spirit if not in all the specifics. You had an AMC Javelin with a 401 milled to 11.5:1 compression with an Edelbrock hi-rise intake manifold and a pair of Holley fours and header pipes, the rear jacked up on heavy duty springs, 60 series tires, etc etc, and gee you wish you had that ride again, so you spend a few years building one.

What’s not a “restoration” as far as I’m concerned is buying (for example) an old Packard from the 40s, dropping in a Chevy big block and a GM transmission, replacing the vintage heavy body panels with lightweight and much more modern-looking elements and leaving the engine cage open, the valve covers all chrome and the plug wires bright gold etc. That’s a “project”.

What I was thinking was more like this:

In one of the episodes there was y’know a father who had an old car that he was going to build with his daughter but she died tragically at a young age and they never got around doing it. Now he wanted to restore it for her or in memory of her. The thing is, the car was in really bad shape, they had to use an entirely different car of the same model to get a better frame. So at that point, it made me think, when does the car lose it’s “soul/essence” of the original one? That car that was your daughters is being completely rebuilt on another separate car. So what makes that new car still your “daughter’s car?”…is it the upholstery that you kept and put into the new car or is it the engine or is it the doors, etc.

I guess even if you just had the tiniest part like a radio dial button transferred over from the old car to a completely other car, you could still say the soul of your daughter’s car is in this new car. I guess it’s just a matter of personal belief.

Here in Panama, the most important part of a car to most people is the horn.:smiley:


A car is a thing. There’s no spiritualism, no voodoo, no “I have this radio button which is the ‘soul’ of someone’s daughter’s car.” Do you think the daughter cares? Restore a car because you want to, keep what’s working, and don’t hesitate to replace what’s not.

Sorry, but I have Retro Car Fixup Friends who’ve had project cars taking up their whole garage while they (and their wives) have to park on the street in the snow. The project car (well, wreck) will sit there for years while they find the perfect stock 1965 glove compartment light.

Their sentimentality keeps them from ever just finishing the car so they can enjoy driving it.

I think the soul of a car really depends on what made the car special in the first place.

If part of the car’s attraction was a throaty V8 sound, replacing it with a turbo V6 with more power will never do. But replacing it with a flat-plane crank V8 might, as long as it has a sound that brings joy to the ears.

Likewise with the body, I think it’s ok to do things like lower it a bit, or add wider tires, or some neat fender flares, as long as you do it with consideration for how the car was originally appreciated. Slapping a Ferarri bodykit onto a Fiero is never ever going to capture the soul of the car. Nor would replacing the plastic panels with steel ones. But replacing them with carbon fiber? Maybe, because the Fiero was unusual for its plastic panels and their resistance to denting/scratching, and going with a higher-tech replacement doesn’t eat away at its soul (imo).

The same goes for its handling. If the car was known and sought after for specific handling characteristics, doing anything that radically changes those can eat at its soul.

That’s my opinion, of course.

For example, while some of the Gotham Garage builds are just out there, I thought they did a great job capturing the soul of this old Dodge Power Wagon as they restored and updated it:


The Vega was a little before my time (although my mom had one when I was very young), but I once came across an old review from Car and Driver or a similar magazine from 1971, comparing the Vega and Pinto. During their testing, the Vega’s carburetor actually shook itself loose from the engine due to the excessive vibration. This apparently was a known issue in Vegas.

Getting back to the OP’s question, IMO doing something that fundamentally changes the performance of a car takes away that car’s “soul”. If you took Jackmannii’s Vega and swapped in a V8 and put big tires on the back to turn it into a drag racer, it no longer has the soul of a Vega. (I guess the soul of a Vega is a clattery four cylinder that burns oil :)). But I am kind of a purist when it comes to old cars.

When I expressed the above opinion on another website, someone pointed out that many cars were offered with a multitude of different engines, which had completely different driving characteristics. For example at various times the Mustang was offered with 4, 6, and 8 cylinder engines. So I might make an exception for swapping in an engine that was originally offered on that model. But I’m not sure I really like it. Because when everyone swaps V8s into old Mustangs, it makes original 6 cylinder Mustangs rare. But again that might just be the purist in me.

I’m a body in white engineer; the body is definitely the heart, emotionally. I suppose the fuel pump is the heart, functionally.

For some cars, it simply does not matter. I had a '67 Malibu. It came with a blown engine and bathroom carpet, a hood scoop off of the left side of some MOPAR’s hood, a Vega GT steering wheel, mismatched air shocks and cans under the rear springs. By the time I was done with it, it had the carpet out of a Cadillac, the front seat of a Buick, the engine from an El Camino, and a transmission from an Impala. It was still a POS, but it was a POS that ran right and drove well.

I’d say oil pump. Gas is the food. Oil is the blood.

Got a photo? I wanna see that machine!

All I can think of now is Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time”.

Never took a picture. As far as looks, it was just a maroon and rust Malibu. I just took off the fake hood scoop and threw it away, and regular shocks gave it back its regular ride height. The front seat just looked like a standard black bench seat (after I removed the emblems), the carpet was just standard black carpet, and the steering wheel had “GT” on the horn button. The drive train parts would have swapped into any '67 Chevy except a Corvair or maybe a Nova. As far as parts interchangeability, '60s GM cars were the best!

I have a cousin that had one. Cute car. Started on fire at about 2000 miles.

I have a Gremlin. I saw it up on blocks at a guys house. One day I stopped by when I saw him in the yard.
He said I could have it. My Son and Husband went with a trailer, got stung by wasps and had to cut small trees to get it out of there.
It’s in the boneyard at the backside of the place here.

I can’t talk them into fixing it for me.
It’s orange. Of course it’s paint is chalky and faded.
I want to drive that car so bad. But, it looks like I never will, alas.

I hold it’s heart in my hand.


Beck, I actually owned a Gremlin. You aren’t missing anything.

Trust me.