On a London Street in the 1960s, an angry matriarchal British woman took her umbrella to John Lennon when she saw what he had done to a perfectly good Rolls Royce Phantom. It is reported that she repeatedly called Lennon a swine. What the Beatle had done to the Phantom V limousine that ferried the likes of the Moody Blues, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, was to have it painted. Not just any paint job. It was a Romany inspired style Lennon had seen on a Gypsy wagon. It was often mistaken for psychdelia. While a purist would cringe at the sacrilege, the car is now priceless and is too valuable to be driven on public streets.
The urge to make a vehicle your own is very powerful. Not all of us want a plain vanilla Toyota Prius or a Subaru Forester. Sometimes you just have to show your individuality. Our personal transportation likes and dislikes are varied, some practical, some truly impractical. In recent years there has been a movement towards creating custom vehicles from models or vintages that are impractical by today's standards. The unique twist in all this movement is the mating of older body styles with efficient, safe, and fun to drive mechanicals. Here's a perfect example. I was talking with a Gentleman today whose son has a 1951 Ford pickup. That's quite an interesting piece of iron, and the old drum brakes and inefficient six cylinder engine make it somewhat unsafe and unwieldy. However, this particular truck resides on a modern
These "Restomods" as they are called, are really a great concept, but they drive the purists nuts. Like the lady on the London Street, some of them would love to take an umbrella to your carcass for "butchering a classic, collectible automobile." It's gotten to the point where some folks who create restomods offer up explanations for their actions. I read where a guy restomodded a 1963 split window Corvette, and made certain to tell everyone that the thing was resurrected from an unrestorable hulk, mixed with reproduction body panels. That got the restoration purists off his back. With an efficient fuel injected Corvette LS engine with sophisticated engine management controls, the thing puts out more than 400 horsepower and delivers nearly 30 mpg.
Restomods appeal to our creative side. Let's say you loved the look of the old Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider that was used in the Dustin Hoffman film "The Graduate." By today's standards, the Spider is crude and unreliable, but boy, did it look great. It was also prone to rusting out, and repairs are crazy expensive. So you find a shop that will build you a custom frame, mated to a solid body, with a reliable straight six BMW 3 series engine and transmission. Voila, classic good looks, modern safety and efficiency. I personally love the old Land Rover Series aluminum bodied jeep like vehicles famed for their use on African safaris. It is a stated goal of mine to find a good Series II or III body and replace the engine and frame with one from a late 1990s vintage Jeep Wrangler with the famed straight six engine. Yup, I can hear the Land Rover purists now ... sputtering and upsetting their cup of Earl Grey tea. Sacrilege!
Admittedly, there are certain vehicles that should not be messed with. I do believe in restoring and preserving those bits of automotive history that are too rare to lose forever. Listening to a Bugatti idling is a special delight. Enjoying the acres of sheet metal surrounding a Duesenberg is sheer bliss. However, nowadays you can literally recreate the eternally popular 1957 Chevy with an all new body that is now being manufactured. Imagine the possibilities. The trend is evolving before our eyes, and the ability to customize and personalize your ride, or at least a toy for the weekends, can be within reach of a determined car lover. It's going to be difficult for a purist to pooh pooh a classic 50s car whose body and frame was manufactured in 2012.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for 20 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM every weekday morning at 8 a.m.