Foundation News

Jan 1, 2017

Restored or Original?

By Brendan Dooley

AMF board member


During the Antique Motorcycle Foundation's seventh Leadership Forum, held during the 2016 Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Ala., a panel of experts considered the pros and cons of original and restored vintage machines. 

Panelists at 2016 leadership forumAMF President Jon Radermacher opened the forum on the "perennial, but cyclical," topic as original bikes seem to be pulling more money currently; AMF board member Mark Mederski, of the National Motorcycle Museum, moderated. The panel was:

  • Tim Parker, Bonham's Auction House. 
  • Casey Maxon, Historic Vehicle Association. 
  • John Viviani, Barber Motorsports Museum.
  • Somer Hooker, journalist, broker, "vintage motorcycle everything."

"It's not so much in what you do with [vintage motorcycles], but how you preserve them going forward," Mederski said in kicking off the panel. "We are temporary stewards of the bikes" and assorted other memorabilia.

In deciding whether a vintage bike should be preserved or restored, Parker said it comes down to "personal preference and projected use." He thought donor bikes were fine for helping another bike's restoration for regular production bikes. 

Viviani, Maxon and ParkerMaxon agreed, emphasizing to take into account the importance of individual provenance and historic integrity of any given machine. He gave the example of Ronald Reagan's 1960s Jeep CJ from his ranch; while restored and worked on since Reagan last used it, it remains an intriguing piece of American history. 

"I like original [machines] to see and be seen as they were manufactured, Hooker said. Most weren't sprayed, but brush-painted. "Original examples show the real heritage of the bikes."

Numbers matter too, he said. If mainly only restored examples are available, an owner should consider preserving an original example as the original materials and techniques hold up—including many we can't or don't do anymore. 

"It's hard to find any other niche where restored is as valued as original than with cars and motorcycles," Maxon said, referring to building preservation efforts and the fine art world. And with vintage machines, "the best candidates to restore have always been the best preserved examples, which means now there are very few well-preserved unrestored cars and motorcycles. That scarcity now drives the price up as unrestored examples become sought after." 

"The general public tends towards bright and shiny if they don't know better and that tends to be restored stuff, said Viviani. Educating people that the machines are only original once is key. He did concede that a motorcycle's ultimate fate, as always, "is really up to the owner. … The argument for restoration is the more of them out there, the better."

When it comes to restored vehicles however, especially older restorations, "you have to know what you're looking at," Maxon said. 

The concours restorations have become "showcases" in the "chase for trophies." That sets the stage for potential fraud, Viviani said. 

"Concours cars are more like an artist's rendition," of what the vehicles are," Hooker said. 

"As a broker, it was a Japanese customer who taught me that when you buy original, it's honest. Whenever you buy something that's been restored, you don't know what has happened to it," Hooker said. "Now I tell people that's really history being preserved."

Mederski closed the session asking the panel how best to preserve the hobby going forward, including efforts like the AMF's to collect and disseminate as much information as possible—not just about the motorcycles, but best practices in preservation (or restoration) as well. 

"I'm optimistic that through social media we can reach most anybody," Parker said. He said there's a multitude of local car clubs and national associations that need to share what they know. "People need to understand that sharing knowledge is cool," he said. "We should be very optimistic."


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