As I began my third E-Type restoration project, I vowed to keep everything completely “original” believing that I should be following a doctrine that would insure that my car would have its greatest value when completed. After the disassembly process, I quickly tallied a list of parts that would “restore” my car to “original” condition. Of course, my understanding of the term, “original” meant that I would simply replace or refinish any part that was damaged.
It was just after I had placed an order for several thousand bucks with my parts supplier that I purchased a book that had recently been published entitled, JAGUAR E-TYPE SIX-CYLINDER Originality Guide. I eagerly dove into this book to ensure that I had ordered the version of each part that was technically correct for my car’s restoration. Just past the introduction section of the book, I encountered a sentence that made me stop reading. The authors of this wonderful book wrote, “a completely original part is the exact physical part with its exact original surface finish that was affixed to the car as it was delivered new.” This made me ponder how their understanding of “original” would apply to my car.
My order contained every sheet metal part below and inclusive of the door sills. It also contained the center and belly pan sections of the bonnet, a door skin and a cowl part on the driver’s side. My car needed every part of the fuel system from the gas cap to the carb rebuilding kits. Both of the front tubular frames were rusted through. The convertible top was in shreds and the interior, reeking of mildew, had to be completely thrown away. According to the definition set by the authors of the Originality Guide, my car could thus never be considered “original”. I then had to ask myself what, exactly, I was hoping to achieve.
I asked the owner at Vantage Upholstery, where I go for interior restoration work, about ordering a top, carpeting and leather in the “original” colors and materials. Phil laughed at me and said, “there isn’t anything original for these cars anymore because the original manufacturers have either gone out of business or they don’t use the same dyes and materials as they used to. Some material suppliers claim that their products are exact reproductions of the original, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know what the original materials were and I am not aware of any exact copies so far. He went on to say, “you can try to match the original interior parts, but they will never be exactly the same.” He then asked, “why would you even want that stuff in your car? The only leather in a Series I E-Type was the seat covers. Everything else was a molded vinyl called hardura. Do you really want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore your E-Type using a vinyl interior?” While standing there in his shop, I then had to decide whether to order a reproduction of the original false grained shiny black vinyl convertible top or go with an extremely high quality no shine fabric that rendered the original top junk by comparison. If I chose what I preferred in terms of quality and appearance, I would have broken my vow to keep everything absolutely “original”. Fabric it is!
It was as though I had hit a fork in the road. All of this talk about “matching numbers” began to sound as though I was in an art gallery on Madison Avenue listening to an art dealer talk about brush strokes. I saw originality as a religion – a belief system – but not reality for those who have to produce it. I came to the conclusion that I had to strive for excellence at the expense of perceived originality. This left me questioning virtually every purchase decision – asking myself – is this the best part that I can use or is it just what Jaguar could source back in the day?
When one talks about buying a “restorable” E-Type, they aren’t describing a process that begins with the payment of some humble sum and is executed by foraging on eBay to locate inexpensive spare parts. An unrestored Series I E-Type, that is recoverable, is somewhere between $60,000 – $80,000, which is preferable to having to pay $100,000 for a poorly executed “restoration” that needs to be unrestored before proper restoration begins. There are no cheap alternatives any longer. To date, I paid $68,000 for my 1966 OTS, which has required $32,000 in metal work labor and $12,000 in body, trim, chrome and mechanical parts to resurrect. Although I have done the paint job myself, I have spent over $6,000 in paint supplies and 200 hours of my own labor. Then it cost about $30,000 to get the engine where it should be.
Whether it is personal pride or the pursuit of value, when making purchase decisions that involve such substantial sums as what a quality Jaguar restoration requires, I find it impossible to choose products of inferior design and/or manufacture when there are superior alternatives available. This is the reasoning that spawned the creation of “RestoGusto” (Restore WithPassion) – a company I have created to provide Jaguar owners with superior alternatives to original parts.