When does a car cease to be what it was?

I don’t know if the title makes sense, but I hope I can clarify here. And since I didn’t know if there’s a factual answer, this forum seemed the logical place to ask the question.

Background: I live in southern Maryland, and cars are big here. We have an international drag strip and frequent formal and informal car shows. Racing and restoring or modifying old cars are popular. So it’s no surprise to see vehicles from all years on the roads, and occasionally beside the road with a For Sale sign affixed. That’s what leads to my question.

Last weekend, we saw a Ford with 1925 license tags. The inside of the car was beautifully restored to what I would assume is original. The body was in beautiful shape, the chrome shiny, and except for being painted white (didn’t Henry Ford offer any color you wanted as long as it was black?) it looked just like what it purported to be. However, the wheels and tires were clearly totally different from what was available in 1925, and the engine was a V8, and even if it wasn’t all shiny chrome, I’d have guessed that it wasn’t original either… :wink:

Which brings me to the original question - when does a car cease to be what it was when it was built? If you replace all the body panels, is it considered a classic as long as they’re replaced with authentic panels? Would fiberglass panels devalue the car? What if, over the course of a restoration, the only original part is the steering wheel - is it still a “19XX whatnot coupe” or does it become a replicar? Is the shell what matters, so what’s under the hood and under the chassis can be as modern as you like?

Does anyone else even care about this? I just wondered - if I had a Model T that I was fixing up/restoring, is there a point where it would cease to be a Model T despite what it looked like? Are there standards, rules, guidelines, or anything else that car enthusiasts use to determine what a car is?

Yes, lots of people care about this. See Ship of Theseus.

I don’t know about cars specifically but the same situation happens in very old airplanes and there is a real answer. The aircraft ID plate is the only part that most remain unique and you can literally build a whole new airplane around the ID plate. As long as the ID plate remains, the plane is ‘original’ in some sense even if every other part has been replaced. Very rare aircraft may still have value just based on the ID plate alone even if the rest of the aircraft has been destroyed for this reason.

Maybe there is a similar standard for automobiles.

antiques need repair and functional antiques even more so.

each type of antique will have its own situation. with durable items there will be lots of parts taken off old units. some items might need repair in their life and lots of replacement parts were manufactured. some parts deteriorate and replication material might be accepted; e.g. fabrics or small parts likes knobs might need to be reproductions.

it is often important to state if you use reproductions.

I had this question on board the HMS Victory. The ship went through some significant rebuilding in its career, much of it after Trafalgar. So although what you can see nowadays is almost 100% HMS Victory, it’s only about 70% veteran of Trafalgar.

A week before the final payment.

Yeah, I wondered the same thing about the USS Constellation. Wooden boats need constant maintenance and repair - I can’t imagine that many of the planks that make up the hull are original, although I suppose it’s possible. And I know frames have to be replaced from time to time. Plus I’m confident that none of the wiring is original… :wink:

Even our own bodies lose things and gain things over the years, and cells are constantly being replaced. So when we use words like “I” or “me,” exactly what are we referring to?

For cars, it depends on the state laws.

California, I believe, and Washington will let you title a car as a 1925 Whatzis as long as it has a certain number of Whatzis parts, or parts that look like Whatzis parts (!)–which is very useful if you’re building a street rod; you can use all reproduction parts and a late-model engine and still title it is a 1925, which saves you considerable hassle with emissions laws.

However, in less liberal states, it seems to hinge on the manufacturer’s data plate.

The old saying is that after seven years, all your body’s cells have been replaced. My friend Rob attributes a peak in divorces after seven years of marriage to this; he claims that at that point the original person you married is entirely gone, and so it’s not surprising you’d find yourself less enamoured. :smiley:

Of course, he’s kind of a BS artist, so–

That is actually a type of classic car. To us, a 1925 Ford is a classic antique, but in the 1940s and 1950s, a 1925 Ford was an old piece of junk, in the same way that we look at 20 and 30 year old cars now. You could get an old Ford from the junkyard dirt cheap, rip off the body panels and customize it and create your own “hot rod” for a fairly reasonable price. The typical “roadster” style would have the roof chopped off, the engine cover removed, a large “modern” (for the 1950s) engine put into it, and large modern tires instead of the thin 1920s style tires.

So what you were looking at is a 1925 Ford that’s been given the 1950s style hot rod treatment. This type of car isn’t expected to be an “all original” classic antique.

A 1925 Ford with all original parts is worth a buttload of money just because they are about impossible to find. If you have a 1925 Ford in your back yard that has nearly rusted away to oblivion, you have a few options. You could restore it using all original 1925 parts, which will be very difficult to find, but would give the car a certain value to collectors since it is all real antique parts. You could also restore it using parts that are period authentic but of modern manufacture. There are companies out there that sell parts for old Fords. These parts aren’t cheap, but at least you can find them. To the antique purists these types of cars aren’t worth quite as much as cars that are all original or at least have all antique parts in them.

Or you could go the hot rod route, and fancy the car up any way you want. As long as you’ve got the original frame and at least part of the body, most folks would call it a “custom 1925 Ford” or some such. The antique purists wouldn’t want anything to do with it but there are a lot of hot rod enthusiasts who would.

I have a kit car that is built on a VW chassis. Because there aren’t any VW body parts on it, I wouldn’t call it a VW. It is styled to look like a 1929 Mercedes, so if you want to accurately describe it, you could call it a 1929 Mercedes replicar (or kit car) built on a VW frame.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for this. A “T bucket” style hot rod based on a Ford model T where the only original parts are the frame and part of the body would be called a custom Model T Ford, where a Classic Motor Carriages Tiffany (a customized Mercury Cougar) is called a kit car even though it has many more original car parts in it than the T bucket hot rod does.

That’s how my husband described it. Personally, I’m not into cars beyond going from point A to point B in comfort and safety, but occasionally I like looking at old cars, whether something I remember from my long ago childhood or something older. To me, it’s more of an artistic interest.

But after wandering around a couple of the local car events, I figured there had to be some sort of “rule” that car folks followed or that purists used to sneer at the quality of certain restorations.

Anyway, thanks, all, for the info. And thanks, Kenm, for the giggle!

I pretend to be restoring a '67 Mustang ragtop (by pretend, I mean that I do some work, then pay someone else to do some work, then just drive the hell out of it for awhile).

For these cars, you get a few levels:

Full Concours restoration. Everything is original, or replaced with NOS supplies (New Old Stock - leftover parts from the original parts departments).

Restored using remanufactured parts from companies that make good money making stuff that looks and feels identical to the era.

Some guys do the 2nd day modifications. So do mods that were popular when the car was released (Shelby stripes and roll bars, lift kits, larger wheels, etc.). This can include a bigger carb, new intake, headers.

Then you get into the “daily driver” restorations like I have. Power front disk brakes installed. A stereo that looks old, but has RCA jacks for my iPhone. Pertronix ignition drop-in instead of the points.

When does a man cease to be a man?

That was how some people managed to import Mexi-Beetles. VW de Mexico kept building and improving on the old air-cooled VW Beetle until 2004, but they definitely did not pass current US safety standards. Some people figured out you could import one as “auto parts” and then swap the floor pan from a 60’s VW and then you had a virtually brand new bug that only had to meet 1968 safety standards.

On holiday, I just visited the (New Zealand) Airforce Museum in Wigram Christchurch*.

Many of the planes they are restoring will never fly as they all use original parts and avionics (which no longer meet aviation standards)

One plane they are restoring I understand is the only one left in the world, and while they have (almost) all parts, they don’t have the plans - so it’s like a million piece jigsaw.

Our guide was a retired airforce pilot, which was a real hoot…

  • If you’re an aviation fan, this is SOOOO worthwhile - but you should do it to co-incide with Warbirds over Wanaka.