At the end of October, both my nephew and my son travelled down from Auckland — you know how it goes, “We’re coming down to Christchurch for the Best of British, can we each borrow a car?” Seemingly the two of them (both enthusiasts, I’m happy to say, and both possessing several classic cars) had been plotting in the months prior, and expressing concern over the fact that I seem to be spending more time racing Post Classic motorcycles than driving our classics. Not so, of course, but it was true that ‘Happy Days’ (my 1954 Zephyr) had not been out of the garage since the big quake save for a trip to the panel beater (for an assessment) and a couple of warrants. Anyway, cutting a long story short, three of my cars were on display at the Best of British show. All this got me thinking — how many people do you know who have said something akin to, ‘I’ll do that when I retire’, only for them to reach that time and find that, for one reason or another, it’s just not going to happen. Number One nephew once gave us a photo of both our Zephyrs with the caption — ‘You can only become old when you give up the things that make you young!’ The enthusiast will never give up their interests, be it cars, motorcycles, collecting, whatever. Whereas an owner eventually loses interest in their current fad and moves on to another — but how can you tell the difference?
Owner vs Enthusiast
Next time you are out and about in your classic, count the number of drivers of other classics who wave, or otherwise acknowledge you. The ‘owner’ will be focussed no further than the front of his or her bonnet, whereas the enthusiast will be acknowledging virtually everything else remotely classic. Car shows are also a good place to view this phenomenon, as enthusiasts like pretty much all kinds of vehicles regardless of their country of origin, and while they may not actually want a particular type amongst their fleet, they still appreciate a really good example of such a vehicle when they come across one in their travels. At car shows the enthusiast will spend time checking out all the attendees’ vehicles. The owner, on the other hand, will probably have a quick check to see how many other examples of their vehicle are present, and surreptitiously have a closer look to establish that they are not as good as, or better than theirs. If you engage said owner in conversation they probably will not know much about their marque at all, and have probably not owned the vehicle for long. There is another type of owner — the ‘all show and no go’ example. This type of individual seldom actually goes very far, save for attending shows, especially ones where trophies are on offer.
Cheque Book or Spanner
In the early days of the Auckland Intermarque (where judging took place in Cornwall Park), I encountered my first experiences of owner versus enthusiast after being been invited to be one of the judges. On closer examination of an MG TD that had been recently purchased by a (then) high-profile individual, I noted that it had the wrong engine and marked it down accordingly. Fortunately I knew my Morris Garages history particularly well, and convinced the very disappointed (and angry) owner that I was right, and he should take the matter up with the seller. What was also evident from the encounter was that the TD’s new owner simply thought he could buy into the trophy experience. As an enthusiast, I didn’t really care two hoots as to what motor it had in it, rather I appreciated the car for how it presented — as a nice old MG. Subsequent to that, I noticed that enthusiast restorers who did most if not all the work themselves were being outclassed by owners with fatter bank balances. While I strongly disapprove of so-called chequebook restorers, they are (I dare say) still important in the grander scheme of things — without their dollars, many professional restoration businesses would not exist. I generally do not plug businesses in this column, but for the purposes of this debate I will mention Auto Restorations in Christchurch. In a sentence, this firm restores extremely rare and highly valued classic vehicles for owners (and some enthusiasts) around the globe. They do amazing work. They even made a carburettor for a car just from a photo of it! For my part, they have done some small but nonetheless important jobs for me — making two lock nuts for the steering head of my Triumph Tigress, a splash guard for the same, and they also rebuilt the harmonic balancer on the MkI. If this business did not have the volume of work generated by its excellent worldwide reputation (and wealthy car owners), I would have been left searching the internet for those missing bits. So, owners are important, as are enthusiasts. Here’s a challenge for the owners out there to try during the holidays. Keep an eye out for the other old classics on the road, and toot and wave as they go by. There probably is a better example of what you drive out there somewhere, and there is no disgrace in the fact that someone might actually have known the previous owner of your vehicle. Provenance is often very interesting, so don’t try to hide your vehicle’s history — a previous owner might even have some parts/books he/she now wants to pass on to you! So, whether you are an owner or an enthusiast, get your classic out on the road these holidays, and warmly greet other like-minded individuals you may encounter. It’s actually a real buzz!