An Interesting Perspective on Ownership

From Hemmings:

No central planning committee exists to tell us what we can do with our old cars. No automotive deity handed down commandments like “thou shalt not modify.” We don’t even have the Force ghost of John Z. DeLorean to pop up at crucial moments in the garage to give us advice on our old Packards and Pontiacs.

So why do I constantly hear people chanting the refrain that they’re merely the caretaker of an old car for its next owner, as if they’re humbly answering a call from a higher authority to do so? Or as if they’re not the actual owner of the car in question?

I mean, if somebody’s actually a caretaker for a vehicle left in the public trust - i.e., in a museum’s collection - or if that person is performing a caretaking/restoration/preservation service for the owner, that’s one thing. Somebody in particular or society in general has charged that person with guarding the condition of that vehicle and maintaining it for either a definite or indefinite amount of time, either for the edification of the vehicle’s owner or the education of future generations.

But for the rest of us, the decisions we make regarding the cars we own fall entirely on our shoulders. Why some people feel they need to act as if that’s not the case, I don’t know. Do they think it adds legitimacy to their decisions? Do they think they owe something to the cars themselves? Do they think they owe something to future owners of those vehicles?

Let’s tackle those in reverse order. If the vehicle in question is a one-of-one or the last of its kind, then perhaps for the historical record it’s best to preserve it in some form. And if that’s the case, perhaps the best place for the vehicle is a museum or a trust rather than private ownership. Otherwise, do we think that, 200 years from now, anybody but one or two academics or historians will care about the intricacies of a 1948 Chevrolet sedan? Do we nowadays have a preponderance of historians who need to study a large sample of horse-drawn wagons built in 19th century Ohio River Valley towns?

As for owing some preferred treatment to the cars themselves, that presupposes that cars are more than just things, objects that we possess. Cars do not have souls. Even with the coming of autonomous cars, they do not exhibit consciousness. They do not have the agency to decide or even provide input on their own fates. Acting as if they do, as if we humans are beholden to them, implies that we do not or should not have that agency ourselves. Insert your favorite Skynet reference here.

As for adding legitimacy, that would suggest that any decision to preserve/restore/modify/drive/race/ignore/form an emotional attachment with/part out/cut up/burn down/drive off a cliff/Tuff Truck/give away/sell/keep any vehicle that we own is illegitimate, which it’s not. Agreed, there’s a lot of peer pressure from other car enthusiasts to do certain things with our vehicles. Some people just don’t show up at cruise-ins or cars and coffee events anymore because they feel that doing so opens them up to silent judging and incessant nitpicking over the condition of their vehicles. It’s annoying as hell because the only person who has the right idea about what should happen to a vehicle - a piece of property - is the person whose name is on the title.

I do have my suspicions that certain people who make the caretaker claim do so to distance themselves from their ownership of a car purely for investment purposes - viewing that car as a source of funds rather than a source of fun. If that’s the case, fine, I’d just prefer they be transparent about their intentions.

Some might accuse me of being too Vulcan here, too rational, or of seeking to drain away some of the magic we’ve infused into old cars. I’ll counter that I’d prefer we be clear and honest about why we do what we do when it comes to old cars and that examining (and accepting) our actual reasons for owning and appreciating these objects does not dampen our enthusiasm for them - instead, it allows us to derive greater enjoyment and fewer regrets from the time we spend with old cars and trucks. It ought to be just a hobby after all, right?

You are more than just the caretaker of your old car. You are the only one who has a say over the fate of your old car. And there are no wrong answers. Go have fun.


Interesting write-up. There’s a lot of truth in what the author says.

I had a major change in perspective a few years ago, when I sold a highly original car, and the buyer immediately blew it apart, then set about performing some very tasteless, irreversible modifications. Nothing in our conversations indicated this was going to happen.

The truth is, most owners are pretty unlikely to find a buyer who views their car exactly the same way they do, so the “enjoy it as you wish, while it’s yours” approach is probably an approach that more people should take.

1 Like

That can open debate. I tend to agree with the author, I see cars as things only. I typically do not name cars, I do not call them he or she. It is the yellow car. Not that there is anything wrong with doing so, I just do not. I do believe people say they are caretakers to add legitimacy. Deleted item


1 Like

Very good article. My view has always been that I do not judge others as to what cars they like, or the work they have done on them. It’s their car, their money, their dreams, and their hobby. I don’t judge them, nor do I accept judgements from them.

Obviously the author has never watched John Cleese in Fawlty Towers swearing at his car, threatening it, and then giving it a “damned good thrashing” after “warning it” etc. Has none of us ever credited this inorganic machine with knowing more than we do about what it requires to “behave”? I know for sure I have! And also patted it’s rear end (did the same wit the 911) after bringing me home safely following an over zealous moment on the road. They made Christine for a reason ya know!

1 Like

(Just between you and me and the fence post…)
I don’t really give even one F*** what Hemmings says. I am still the caretaker of the PrtyKty, the not-one-of-a-kind E-Type.
She is one of the prettiest cars on the road, and a pleasure to drive. She is a car you can DRIVE, so much more than a car that you ride in. She is a very dependable driver that I am not afraid of to drive cross country. She is also a National Champion (driven class) that is very close to “correct” and I want to keep her that way.
So, politely stick that up you a**, Hemmings, you are preaching to the wrong choir.

Society has discovered discrimination as the great social weapon by which one may kill men without any bloodshed.
Hannah Arendt


I tend to fall on the caretaker side of things. Not that you can’t make change from original. I certainly have, with a different interior color, a toggle vs rocker switch dash in my S1.5, chrome instrument bezels, Wilwood brakes, etc
But I’m against changing the character of the car.

For example, I live in a unique home, built by a German emigre in the 1930’s, and looks like it came out of a small European village. It’s loaded with handmade details that are irreplaceable, and I feel it would be wrong to change the character. Yet I gutted a bathroom, but was careful for the new bathroom to fit in with the rest of the cottage. So it’s new, but more of the same. :crazy_face:. I was guided by what was already there, rather than current trends.

Finally, I don’t want to be the bozo PO that we’ve all encountered, and I have cursed, who did things half-assed, and leaving it to the next guy to clean up their mess.

Maybe it’s the old Boy Scout in me, taught to leave things better than how I found them.

1 Like

I tend not to make major changes to the car, not because I see myself as a caretaker of this particular car, but simply because that’s how I want my car to be. But if someone wanted to “slam” their car, or paint it some ungodly color, or throw a 2,000 watt stereo in it, or perform radical body or mechanical surgery , well I say more power to them. It’s their car and their money. I wouldn’t expect them to tell me what I’m doing is wrong so why would I feel I have the authority to tell them they are.

Regarding the next owner. Once money changes hands and the paperwork is done I have no say over what the new owner does or does not do to it. It’s none of my business. They could set it on fire in their driveway and it wouldn’t bother me a bit. I’d think they were foolish to do so, but I’d not lose any sleep over it.


Totally agree John!..

A car is an object , nothing more nothing less. But, I happen to like my “object very much and do whatever I want to it that pleases me. I thrive on maintaining originality others on modifications or an investment . You have the “object” because you want it and because it yours you can do anything you want with it.
For me its an outlet to get away to a happy place, or just expensive therapy.
“It’s not what you can do to your car but what your car can do for you”.

OTOH I also believe that if you are an investor you need to know your market and listen to the people (with the $$).

“When in Rome…

1 Like

I agree; if you paid for it … it is yours to do with as you choose. While personally I prefer to keep a vehicle close to its original state, I will make changes so that I can drive and enjoy it. I’ve had the experience of the garage or trailer queen car I’m too worried about taking out in public for fear something might happen to it or that it might breakdown and be vulnerable. Personally, that stress wasn’t as fun for me as a car I can drive with fewer qualms.

For example I have no desire to fiddle with setting points again when electronic ignition has made life so much easier. Same for carburetors … or even a switch to fuel injection if someone feels so inclined. Now, I choose to keep those replaced original parts should someone later decide to put it all back to original state, but to me the point is to get the car on the road so I can enjoy it, as well as introduce the car to folks who had never seen one - and maybe pique their interest in older cars.

It is so much fun to have a ~20 year old stop and ask “what the heck” my '63 XKE is because they haven’t seen anything like it and love it. They are blown away to hear that a car approaching 60 years old can look so modern with beautiful lines and maybe they start thinking about looking at more older cars and even buy one some day. To me it is better to potentially inspire a future car person, than have the car look perfect in my garage.



That is how I felt about Tweety, and how I currently feel about Margaret.

1 Like

Hmmm. To me, the article reads like it was written by a guy who was out on a bender the night before, and is now sitting at his computer, needing to fill a thousand word copy space with a deadline in twenty minutes.

On the one hand, I am indeed just a caretaker of my cars. But stating that is nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement that one day they will all have new owners. I’ve had my TR4A for 45 years. Other than a purchase document in my files listing the name of the previous owner, there is nothing left of him in the car. I suspect that someday, hopefully many from now, the same will be true of me.

On the other hand, that little red car may not have a soul, but it sure as heck is a part of mine!


For what it’s worth, I signed some of the interior panels when I rebuilt my car. It’s likely no one will ever see it, but why not…

That reminds me of this bathroom remodel pic that went around a while ago.


Had I NOT been stupid, I’d still own my '61.

LOVED that car.

1 Like

I’ll have to do this, when I do my guest bath remodel, this coming spring!

I think there are three words worth reflecting on when discussing this issue:

Originality, Authenticity, Iconicity

People conflate originality and authenticity but they are quite different and the restoration / upkeep costs are wildly different. An original care might be an investment but one that is simply authentic probably won’t be.

I own 2 E-Types, a 1970 S2 FHC and a 1962 OTS flat floor. I’m renewing the 1970 because my interest is in driving the car and I’m comfortable modifying it to compete in the S2Mod class and also to enhance what I see as some of the things that are iconic (like covered headlights and triple SUs). The 62 will have to wait until I win a lottery and I’ll focus on originality.