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Historic car restoration’s challenging future

Restoration Art or Science

A recent symposium, titled ‘Restoration – Art or Science?’, put the spotlight firmly on the future preservation of historic vehicles. Held in Bucharest, the well-attended live symposium, supported by FIVA (the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens or international federation of historic vehicles) was also streamed to an online audience numbering in the thousands. An international contingent of speakers addressed guests on a variety of issues from emerging opportunities and future concerns to the challenges faced by the restoration industry. The slightly alarmist conclusion reached was that ‘some of the most iconic vehicles in history could be lost to the future unless new blood is introduced to the restoration industry’.

To everyone interested in historic cars, it’s obvious that specialist restoration skills training is the key to avoiding that scenario. However, according to Stéphane Guarato and Arthur Morault, who run the Conservatoire National des Véhicules Anciens near Paris and which offers basic restoration technique training, a lack of skilled labour means demand is outstripping supply – some owners are waiting three years for restorative work on their automotive treasures to even commence. The pair said part of the problem is the increasing gap between the skills needed for modern car repairs and those needed for historic restoration. Plus it’s difficult to attract young people to the industry: half their current 150 students are around 60 years old.

Michel Lamoureux, principal advisor for an imminent two-year skills training programme at the Collège La Cité in Ottawa, Canada, echoed that sentiment, warning, ‘the next generation of fledgling specialists remains alarmingly small, given the urgent need for their skills in a worldwide industry worth billions of dollars’.

Aside from the challenges, the FIVA-supported event also highlighted some of the innovative approaches emerging within the industry. David Cooper of Chicago-based Cooper Technica Inc. spoke of his ‘forensic restoration’ technique when recreating parts that can no longer be sourced; he has travelled all over the world researching original design drawings, surviving broken parts, and construction techniques, methods and materials.

Renowned collector Corrado Lopresto from Milan uses modern techniques – taken from the art world – for his special Italian cars, both to analyse monochromatic photographs to identify the true colours of the time, and to preserve the original paint as much as possible, entrusting his cars to professional restorers of vintage paintings.


Oscar restoration

Classic car restoration

Intricate classic car restoration

Oscar restoration

Above: If specialist restoration skills are not actively taught, treasures such as this 1953 Osca MT4 1450 Frua, chassis number 1135, expertly restored to its original livery by Lopresto in 2017, will be lost forever. Images courtesy of Lopresto

President of Retromobil Club Romania, Gabriela Măgureanu, concluded: ‘It’s high time we talked about restoration and worked together to create opportunities, share experience, exchange ideas and address challenges better. We are honoured that these leading figures have agreed to share their knowledge – and we aim for this symposium to be the first of many.’


Above: Gabriela Măgureanu and Corrado Lopresto, two of the expert speakers at ‘Restoration – Art or Science’. Photo credit: Dragos Savu

It’s certainly a positive move to get restorers actively communicating and working together. Then again, they will have to present a united front if an update to EU law, currently being discussed, gets ratified. An article in the Business News of The Daily Telegraph, dated July 20, points to increasing costs for owners of modern cars but could potentially also have serious ramifications for suppliers of parts for classic cars.

Apparently Brussels is to crackdown on unbranded car parts. 'The EU is consulting on a change to so-called block exemption rules that allow independent garages to use cheaper “aftermarket” parts rather than manufacturer-branded components.' 

What that all means for the independent parts manufacturer and the service, maintenance and restoration of classic and historic cars remains to be seen. As ever, the wording and detail of the change will be crucial.


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