Cowland on Cars

Is perfection pointless?

by Paul Cowland
2 March 2022 3 min read
Is perfection pointless?
Photo: Kayla Keenan

Is condition everything? Should you obsess over one car or dedicate your time to many motors, and relax about their condition? Paul Cowland reckons it’s time to take a chill pill and stop letting every detail keep you awake at night…

Have you ever walked the aisles of a classic car show or concours event, to be stopped in your tracks by a vehicle so flawless, so perfect, so utterly correct in every conceivable detail that you can’t quite believe it? Every screw head neatly turned to the same ’12 o’clock’ position. Every seam on the impossibly taut leather sitting in regimented perfection. Paint that looks like it has been rendered onto a virtual body rather than applied via a gun? I know I have, and my day is always the better for it.

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I adore cars like this. Projects where the owner or restorer has clearly set out to raise the bar. To craft a standard that the manufacturer could never even dreamed of achieving in period. Do I admire the work that goes into these veritable masterpieces? Absolutely. Am I glad they exist? Indubitably. But would I ever want to own one? Not in a million years…

It’s far too much like hard work.

The problem with creating a car that’s an ‘11’ in every conceivable area is that, you’re going to have to commit every hour of your day, every penny of your finances into creating it – and then, once you have, you won’t be able to use it or drive it anywhere. Because real life will get in the way.

Anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to drive a brand-new car out of the showroom will know the visceral anguish that your body endures when you discover that first stone chip. Or the near tear-inducing sound of a freshly diamond cut alloy just ever-so-gently caressing the edge of a rough stone kerb. Now imagine these things are happening to a car that you’ve just spent the last 3 years of your life nursing to a state of clinical perfection. You’d simply park up, lock up, and head for the nearest bar to drown your sorrows, wouldn’t you?

It’s for these reasons why many true concours cars spend their time away from roads in general, existing in virtual (and literal) bubbles between show and magazine appearances, floating about on angelic clouds… well, covered trailers, and having a very distant relationship with the very concept of dirt, or even dust, for that matter.

They are the filtered Instagrammers of the car world. Purporting a perfection that mere mortals can never aspire to. But, rather like said influencers, it’s not a realistic state of affairs, is it? Any car can stay immaculate if you never use it, but I’d trade a valance full of stonechips for a shelf full of trophies any day. And might I suggest that you do too?

Paul Cowland
Drive it, enjoy it, and you’ll be smiling like Cowland. Photo: Matt Howell

Don’t get me wrong, there are many cars in my collection that are exceptionally tidy, with some even bordering on what some might call show-quality. But are any of them perfect? Without blemishes? Needing nothing? Far from it. They’ve all got the odd chip here, the odd little mark there, the rusty exhaust stud, the saggy bolster, the pulled stitch; because I USE THEM! I enjoy them, and I love the character that these imperfections bring. Besides, as you may have spotted, I’d much rather own three slightly scruffy cars than one immaculate one for the same price, anyway. Three times the fun to be had, in my opinion.

I’ve built many magazine cover show cars over the years, and restored many cars for clients and TV that perhaps could have been considered to be ‘perfect’ as they left the building. But my advice to every owner has been the same in each instance; ‘Enjoy it’. Cars are for driving, my friends, and once you’ve welcomed a little patina into your life, you’ll find the joy of ownership just so much more relaxing and fulfilling. Put it this way… next Sunday, would you rather spend one hour driving your car and then six hours cleaning it? Or six hours of blissful driving and a quick wash and leather afterwards, admiring your latest battles scars as you wipe it down? No contest really, is it?

As George Orwell once sagely noted, ‘The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.’ And I rather think he nailed it there. So start thinking of your beloved car in a similar fashion.

Read more

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  • Jem Bowkett says:

    Well said! My 1909 Model T is patinated to the point of distress but I love to drive it. I do not see the point of turning a car into a piece of jewellery – I’ve even heard of concours cars in the US that have no oil in them, to avoid unsightly leaks. Drive. Enjoy.

  • Neil Wallace says:

    I don’t see the point of not driving a historic car, unless you own a museum – and even they have less than perfect cars on display. I drive my 1955 MG TF1500 about 3000 miles per year, all year round, in all weathers except if salt is on the road, and I have over 30 show trophies as well. Wipe off the oil where easy to get at, give it a good wash and that’s my lot!

  • Axeman says:

    I have a 1970 Oldsmobile & some other classics. The blue ‘antelope skin’ (plastic) drivers seat has just split, I thought of having the interior reupholstered but then I’d miss that 1970s interior smell whenever I get in to drive! You can’t can or buy that nostalgia!!

  • Sidney says:

    He is right, definitely. However, the photo at the beginning shows a Countach with white leather interior, representing a stratosphere of design where, to absolutely all of us, perfection is the only acceptable condition. The point is entirely correct, but not at that level, I would respectfully suggest.

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