I've grappled in my mind for years on why the notion that to be true classics, cars must be as factory original as possible, but the more I think about it and observe, the more I'm convinced times are changing...
Over the last 20 years here at Newera, I've seen and been involved with the production of many modified cars. I've had the good fortune to experience the finite differences of how each individual modification can enhance (or compromise) a car and that, to me is what makes a good car great. I've never been a Gran Turismo or computer game fan, but used to do the real thing racing cars on Tokyo's C1 highways every Saturday night into the early hours of the morning, so can completely appreciate why it is - people have became Japanese car enthusiasts through playing such games.
For the sake of having a subject, let's choose an example car. Say a 32 Skyline GT-R.
Like many Playstation Generation enthusiasts, I wouldn't want standard R32 GT-R having driven countless examples, all the way from factory original to 900 bhp professionally prepared drag monsters and all the different incarnations in between over the last 20 years.
As factory originals there's too much body roll, brakes are inadequate - if not dangerous to drive very fast with, performance is just "O.K" and they'll quickly overheat their fluids if driven too hard. As standard, the exhaust sound is hardly inspiring.
Visually the standard car is odd looking too. Sure; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as some might say - but we must remember the racing history of these cars in Japan and Australia too and how cool these looked sitting on bigger & wider wheels, whilst lowered. Indeed, many of the successful cosmetic modifications that Japanese & other manufacturers offered, were inspired through racing and the pursuit of better performance.
To me, the sweet spot is about 550 - 600 bhp in a well-prepared R32 GT-R. I'll never forget my first proper drive in a well-prepared 550 bhp example of a 32 back in 2,000.
I arrived home not just with a smile on my face, but with my body tingling and my hands trembling with adrenaline. By comparison, a standard R32 GT-R has never been that memorable an experience. It's an experience I never forgot, although I told myself right there and then, this was too much car for daily use and I wasn't to keep it for myself. It was actually the first car we supplied to Torque GT back in the day!
But that's not to say that all modified Skyline R32's are to be treasured.
I've seen countless badly modified Skyline GT-R's over the years, some stripped of their interiors, others fitted with poor quality parts although thankfully we've avoided the displeasure of having such cars pass through our hands.
See, what makes or breaks the quality of these cars is the choice of tuning and parts used. If the car was prepared by the most knowledgeable and respected tuner(s), then their experience would generally shine through in what had become a great car.
Once these cars passed through the stage of being of very low value, I watched as performance parts manufacturers discontinued production - and therein, as years passed I realised that the best parts generally always command stronger prices used, than new. Nismo parts are the prime example; their original titanium strut brace for a 32 is now worth upward of 5 times original retail price.
Or say an unused or good condition RRR engine block, or even an ARC radiator cooling panel, or Oil catch tank. They're all worth several times more today than original retail price.
Now imagine a top example of a Skyline GT-R built entirely from the best parts, to make a very good example. Bearing in mind the values of discontinued top shelf parts, Would that be more desirable or valuable than a factory original?
Some may say no, but I'd beg to differ.
You only need look at Nismo's R34 Z-Tune:
Each one built by Nismo was a Restomod car, yet these are now the most valuable of all the special Skyline GT-R's.
Some might argue that Nismo is Nissan's tuning arm and so justify the difference therein.
But we only need briefly consider other brands such a what Singer is to Porsche, What Alfaholics is to the original GTV, or what Ruf is to Porsche.
With Japanese cars, by the same token, I'd happily debate that Spoon adds similar kudos to Honda, as Midori do Nissan Skylines and Zero Sports to Subaru Imprezas.
In a tangential but important way, I suspect what Gordon Murray (of McLaren) has commissioned in his Mk. 1 Escort through Retropower (To do this car justice, we recommend watching every episode. This is a fantastic project!):
...And now his Alfa Junior Zagato R at Alfaholics (which is reputedly going to cost him a cool £1/4 of a million) will be an inspiration to many in years to come...
Imagine what these unique Restomod cars will be worth in future. More, or less than their cost?
They'll increase in value far more than pristine factory originals (or restored factory spec cars) I suspect, but then they're Gordon Murray's bespoke cars, which adds providence, some might argue...
Then look at this creation! - Better than Alfaholics own Retromoded GTV?
It's not to say that all interesting cars should be enhanced though.
A McLaren Senna, or even a less exotic Porsche GT3 RS should remain original in my eyes, but some may disagree, especially their owners - and rightfully so in such case, after all it's their property to do with as they please.
Looking at Japanese - such as the Lexus LF-A or an NSX-R NA2, these were factory original masterpieces, but the vast majority of production cars (which by the very nature of being built to a price, were compromised at birth) can be enhanced with the rarest, most desirable & best parts, where form AND function are important considerations.
Doing so to create a much improved and performance enhanced car, can clearly reflect the owner's individual knowledge, enthusiasm and taste.
And this is where the pitfalls lie. All too often, we've seen bad examples of donor cars, low budgets, lack of knowledge & experience, botched DIY attempts and cheap Chinese copy parts or "eBay special" parts contribute to compromising or at worst - in bringing the ruination of a car.
Thankfully though, the 90's Japanese icons are now out of the reach of most inexperienced youngsters and being worth more, they're worth investing in to strive toward perfect. We look at what the Japanese are paying domestically for the most desirable discontinued parts - with prices ever higher as time goes on...
We only live once, so as we get older we care less about the cost and more about the enjoyment, see.
The choices are your's, but when we do it right - the total values can be enhanced & not diminished, in my view.