Sending the parties away with the judicial equivalent of fleas in their ears, the judge said: ‘At the beginning of the trial I expressed surprise that two seemingly intelligent and honest men would seek to resolve this dispute by expensive litigation … My wonderment did not diminish during the course of the hearing… In my judgment, the genealogy of motor cars is not of itself a proper subject for the court to investigate …’”
Ferrari runs to a different rhythm. Its Classiche programme now has such standing that any discussion of identity or authenticity is in thrall to two simple questions: does the car have a red book and, if so, what does that red book say? And if the car is missing its original chassis or components then the factory can often provide new original ones. Either way, job done - at a price.
That is not to suggest that all these goings-on are necessarily nefarious. The connection of a car's history and the car suggested to carry that history is not fixed. What of information that, of the cars in the racing team, it was in fact another one that ran at Le Mans. Or that, of the cars in the preparer's shop at the time, it was another one that was fitted with that chassis. The connection of history and entity can be an ephemeral one, and related valuations temporary.
The advice of most barrack-room lawyers at the time of the Bugatti brouhaha was for owners to keep calm, keep their heads down and keep mum. This approach still applies to the registration of certain historic cars - and to some continuations and enhanced reproductions too. The present circumstances appear to lack legitimacy and instead have the appearance of an opaque Mexican stand-off.
There is now a vibrant market for period number plates to enhance the appearance of historic authenticity. And some are personlised. Which comedian could resist COM 1C, and which conjuror MAG 1C, for his historic car? And H41 RDO for a hairdresser's car? One can only imagine that Lincolnshire council did not foresee what connotations lay ahead when, in the 1920s, it issued registration FU 2 ...
By dint of by-the-way innovation, Cooper had turned Grand Prix racing on its head (or perhaps on its arse) by moving the engine from in front of the driver to behind him. Dismissed by the Pope of the North as a mere garage business and not a proper motor racing operation, Cooper had begun to win Grand Prix races. Not only was the engine behind the Cooper driver, so were the products of Modena’s finest
In deference to the contemporary headline writers at The Sun and to the times, the judge opened with the words: 'This is a tale of two cars. It might be said to be a tale of two Jags, but that might be misunderstood.' It was, in fact, the tale of two Listers - but only one chassis number and one registration number. Circumstances had commingled their separate histories.
This is a celebrated and significant car: a rare Ferrari with an extensive race history and connections to fabled drivers and owners. Despite its rebuilding, there seems no doubt that it is the direct descendant in an unbroken line from the car delivered in 1961. And no other car is known to claim this identity. To the extent that a single word can describe it, what would that word be – original, authentic, proper, genuine or something else?
Here was an example of two cars that could properly be considered to be the same MG of celebrated heritage. Within comparatively short time, their respective owners submitted their claims to two separate authorities for determination. The DVLA appears to have preferred the claim of the car continuously bearing the original registration number. The owners’ club seems to have preferred the claim in relation to the car built on the original chassis.
But some will struggle even to establish the necessary “continuation” from the original manufacturer. Several of today’s pretenders struggle to establish their manufacturer credentials or that they do, in reality, stand in the shoes of their purported forebear. Today’s owner of recently-acquired intellectual property rights may struggle to overcome the niff of the johnny-come-lately.
The apparently easy answer that comes from considering a car’s identity to be synonymous with a chassis number has beguiled many. But for a good number of historic cars, this is wont to be misleading. A number of the original builders of historic cars (especially race cars) did not allocate chassis numbers. Or even if they did, these were fungible ideas and subject to use according to the circumstances.
These were times of sportsmanship and being seen to win in the right way or not at all. Peter Collins said: “I handed my car over to Fangio. I would not have been proud of beating him through his bad luck. I am only 25 years old and have plenty of time to win the championship on my own.” But he did not have time - he was to die racing at the Nürburgring two years later.