Some of the most iconic vehicles in history could be lost to the future unless new blood is introduced to the restoration industry. That is the main conclusion reached at a FIVA-supported international symposium in Bucharest on 24th July 2021, titled ‘Restoration – Art or Science?’

FIVA (the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens or international federation of historic vehicles) is warning that specialist training is urgently needed to avoid vital restoration skills dying out.

FIVA president Tiddo Bresters describes it as an “existential challenge” for the future of classic motoring: “This is one of FIVA’s primary objectives – to foster the preservation of historic vehicles and pass them on in working condition to future generations. To this end, a mature restoration industry is as important as it is for other areas of cultural heritage, such as paintings and historic buildings. Retromobil Club Romania has done a truly excellent job of bringing global experts together, to raise vehicle restoration to the level where it belongs.”

A succession of world-renowned authorities addressed the symposium hosted by the Retromobil Club Romania. In front of guests from 10 countries and in a broadcast streamed online to thousands of viewers worldwide, each speaker described their passion for vehicles of the past, their concerns for the future, and the opportunities beginning to emerge.

Stéphane Guarato and Arthur Morault run the Conservatoire National des Véhicules Anciens near Paris, where students gain experience in basic restoration techniques before going on to specialist training. They say a lack of skilled labour means demand is outstripping supply, and some car enthusiasts are waiting three years for work to begin on their beloved classics. Part of the problem is the increasing gap between the skills needed for modern car repairs and those needed for historic restoration. Plus it’s difficult to attract young people to the industry: half their current 150 students are around 60 years old.

A skills training programme at the Collège La Cité in Ottawa, Canada aims to attract young people into historic vehicle restoration from September 2022. Michel Lamoureux, principal advisor for the programme, told the symposium about the two-year course, one with an international approach, offering global recruitment, work placements and collaborations with restoration shops, museums, collectors, auction houses, clubs, associations and automotive media. Lamoureux warns that the next generation of fledgling specialists remains alarmingly small, given the urgent need for their skills in a worldwide industry worth billions of dollars.

Eastern European countries are increasingly looking for opportunities in historic vehicle restoration. Cătălin Cedric Ghigea has run a specialist facility near Bucharest International Airport for the past 18 years, working on 20 or 30 cars a year. He says his workload is increasing, all his clients are from Western Europe, and similar operations are being successfully set up and run in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

David Cooper of Chicago-based Cooper Technica Inc. spoke of his “forensic restoration” technique when recreating parts that can no longer be sourced; he has travelled all over the world researching original design drawings, surviving broken parts, and construction techniques, methods and materials.

Renowned collector Corrado Lopresto from Milan uses modern techniques – taken from the art world – for his special Italian cars, both to analyse monochromatic photographs to identify the true colours of the time, and to preserve the original paint as much as possible, entrusting his cars to professional restorers of vintage paintings.

Meanwhile, presentations on the practice, passion and art of restoration work were given at the Bucharest symposium by Kersasp Bastawala of India and local Romanian Andrei Dumitrescu, the latter describing his love for the 1928 Auburn he spent a year restoring.

And as conventional fuel stations die out in the face of vehicle electrification, Mercedes automotive designer Professor Harald Leschke spoke about his ideas on how classic cars can still be celebrated and driven in the future.

President of Retromobil Club Romania, Gabriela Măgureanu, concluded: “It’s high time we talked about restoration and worked together to create opportunities, share experience, exchange ideas and address challenges better. We are honoured that these leading figures have agreed to share their knowledge – and we aim for this symposium to be the first of many.

Photo Credits: Dragos Savu, courtesy of Retromobil Club Romania. Pictures depict (clockwise): Gabriela Măgureanu and Corrado Lopresto; Tiddo Bresters; Gabriela Măgureanu and Cătălin Cedric Ghigea.

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