Artificial ageing - Morley's World 454

By: Dave Morley

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Retaining a vehicle's patina is like staring at a history book but don't try and fake it with faux-tina

Been working on a couple of cars lately where the instruction from the owner has been to retain the patina. For some people (and the original concept of it all) the patina look is a by-product of getting the car on the road for minimal bucks, but for others it’s a carefully considered decision based on the notion that a car should wear its life story proudly. That, and the old they’re-only-original-once mantra.


Real patina adds richness, faux adds zip

I absolutely get both sides of that, but I think I have to draw the sub-conscious line in the philosophical sand at faux-tina. You know, where perfectly good paint is rubbed back to reveal undercoat and primer in the name of achieving a patina look but on a car that doesn’t actually have the desired battle-scars. I can live with sectional repairs (say, where rust has been cut out) being rubbed back to match the rest of the car, but that’s just me. And anyway, it’s your car, so you can do whatever you like.

The point of all this is that I’ve been giving some thought to why I like patina. Like I said, I’m on board with a vehicle wearing its history on its sleeve, but that’s only one part of it for me. Because I also like to think that a patina car is not simply one that has survived, but one that has never been out of use. There’s a real difference in that for me; not only does the car still drive and run, but it has never NOT driven or run. Might be splitting hairs a bit here, but I love the idea of old gadgets having a long, unbroken history of usefulness. And the patina is there just to remind us that the machine in question has never sat idle long enough to be repainted or retrimmed.


Living history

Sadly, I don’t own a single old girl that falls into that category. Even the old RA40 Celica (that isn’t a patina car, but stay with me) sat in a shed for something like 13 years until the seller parted ways with it. The VN SS? Yep, left sitting for seven years before I got hold of it, after the gummint changed the rules on what P Platers could and couldn’t drive.

Actually, now I think about it, maybe my old LandCruiser is an example of unbroken service. Yeah, that’s probably the case.


And ever since I’ve owned it and backed it into things and added a million bush pin-stripes, I guess it passes for a patina vehicle into the bargain. Kinda.

But then I got to thinking about the unbroken service thing as it applies to objects beyond transport. What else is out there at your place that has been quietly grinding away in the service of us humans, without complaining, with the minimum of regular maintenance and without ever being prettied up?


The spare on the bonnet. What were they thinking?

At the Melbourne Bloke Centre, Exhibit A would be the beer fridge. Plastered with stickers peeled off a hundred old race cars, this ancient beer cooler and bait preserver has the hunched old-fridge profile of a Humpy Holden and an art-deco looking handle. It gurgles to itself at times and the motor kicks in with a dreadful thump that’s sometimes enough to rattle the spanner-rack, but I doubt that that fridge has ever been without at least one six-pack in it since it was built in 1950 -something. And those thousands of six-packs over the eons have all emerged from the old girl chilled and ready for consumption by generations of thirsty mechanics.


My humble abode at 13 Struggle Street also has a contender. The hot-water service in the laundry always looked pretty ancient to me, even when I moved in a full three decades ago. A few years ago, it developed a slow leak, so I removed a wall of the house and asked a plumber mate around for a beer. Mal the Plumber took one look at the big, 40-gallon bugger and declared it to be the one and only hot-water service ever fitted to my house. Which means it was installed in the very first handful of years after WW2. So delighted was Mal that the thing was still heating my shower, that he took the tank away, brazed it up and we reinstalled it one 40-degree arvo in December. It’s now on its third element on my watch, but while ever I’m still having hot showers, it can stay right where it is.


Could EVs like the Leaf spell the end of the whole patina thing?

Technology has buggered a lot of this stuff for those of us alert enough to appreciate it. I’m not saying my first proper camera was old, but you had to start it on petrol and then flip it over to kero. Thing is, I’d probably still be using it if you could still buy film and find a chemist to develop it for you. Digital cameras have sure made an improvement to the way we make memories, but they’ve also ensured that a lot of old tech has been shelved. Or worse.


Hernia inducing Land Rover bonnet

So what about electric cars? Will they do to conventional cars what those did to horses? Will that spell the end of proud, unbroken service records? To a large extent, probably. Just as there are folks who still like cameras that use film, and those who reckon a vinyl LP record is superior to keeping your music library on your phone, there will always be people like you and me who will use an EV for transport and our old conventional cars for pleasure. But even we tappet-heads are unlikely to continue using our old work ute as our old work ute. Petrol will become expensive, fuel outlets scarce and electric utes simply too good to ignore.


Max here we come

And that, readers, is when I reckon the whole patina thing might (if you’ll excuse the pun) fade into the sunset. After a while, any cars still around will be valuable to the point where they’re no longer in daily use and worth more if they’re restored to their original condition. And they’ll also have reached a point where their rarity makes people look at them, rather than any notion of displaying their life in dents and flaky paint. So, the end of patina then? Maybe. Or maybe it’ll just become a race to see who comes up with the first scratch-and-dent Tesla or motley Nissan Leaf.

Messing around with old cars is a great way to discover the good, bad and the ugly of design. Because when you really start to lay hands on them and see how they work (and don’t work) you start to see where the industrial designers of the planet have made the odd balls-up.


Timeless 105 Alfa design

I’m talking about stuff like the bonnet-mounted spare wheel on an early Land Rover. Yep, as anybody who has ever been properly bush will tell you, the option of having a second spare tyre is a good one. But the bloke who decided to whack it up on the bonnet of the early Landy must have been having a laff. Not only does the tyre obscure your forward vision (something that’s pretty important when picking you way along a narrow bush trail) but it also makes the bonnet so heavy that it takes two blokes to raise it without developing a hernia, or lower it without losing a digit or two. Intuition tells me that there are plenty of other examples of dodgy design, too, but it isn’t until you come face to face with truly inspired lunacy that it really lands on your psyche. And yes, I was working on an old Land Rover recently.


Taller folk need not try to enter

I’ve also been getting grubby on a rather lovely little Alfa Romeo 105 GTV. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m an absolute sucker for these things, but there’s one design element that rules me out of ever owning one. And that, simply, is that I just don’t physically fit. The woeful driving position I could possibly come to terms with over time, but nothing can get around the fact that I just can’t get in and out of the thing. Mainly, the problem is that my knees don’t fit under the wheel as I climb in, so I get half way in before running aground and jamming myself into a ball while half of me is still waiting outside in the car-park. And once I have wedged myself in with a three-point turn, I can’t get my hand between the door trim and the steering wheel to turn the bloody ignition key. And no, putting my hand through the spokes of the tiller to turn the key is not an acceptable Plan B. And it’s not that the car is tinier than any other; I’ve driven even physically smaller cars that had better interior packaging. What’s that? Fit a smaller tiller? Er, no. Actually, it’s the stylish original fittings that make the GTV such a stunner. I know people were supposed to be physically smaller a few generations ago, but when was the 105 GTV designed? Back when Quasimodo was playing full-forward for Notre Dame from the look of things.


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