Let's Not Restore Our Vehicles into Extinction

Publish date:

When was the last time you saw a pre-1965 “all original” military vehicle — I mean, one that is in the same paint and configuration as when it was discharged from active duty…and it retains that condition to this day?


At least 17 animal species have completely died out in the 21st century. Among the never-to-be-seen-again critters are the Pinta Island tortoise, the Eastern Cougar, and the Vietnamese Rhinoceros. And despite Jurassic Park’s promise, nothing can “bring them back.” These animals were “original” only once. Anything that comes next is nothing but a recreation.

In spite of US and International legislation, human vanity continues to cause the extinction of various species. Whether it is for their pelts, tusks, organs, or just the value of being a suitable target, many species of mammals disappear just to satisfy the egos and pocketbooks of human beings.

Decades ago, the 108th Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. It had concluded, "various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation." And while the ESA has saved at least 227 species since then, many animals have also gone extinct. That human interaction is just too much to stem the loss of animals.

So what does this have to do with historic military vehicles? Unfortunately, the process is basically the same. Human vanity is the underlying factor that has led to the disappearance — and near extinction — of original condition vehicles. I can’t begin to recount the times I have stood in front of a fully restored vehicle only to listen to the owner brag, “When I got it, it was all original…”

I understand it, though…who doesn’t want to drive around in a glistening olive drab vehicle with bright white stars and crisp markings? Somewhere along the line, we have convinced ourselves that restoring something to “like new” is somehow “preserving history.”

But why is it that almost every facet of antique collecting — other than historic military vehicles — has recognized that “original condition” is best? Watch any Internet forum where collectors interact, and when the question is posed, “What should I do to preserve this x (whether a helmet, uniform, medal, document, photograph, rifle, etc), the overwhelming response will be, “Leave it alone!” Will it be too late when historic military vehicle collectors learn to value an original condition vehicle as much — or more — than a fully restored one?

Years ago, I attended the Concours d’elegance at Pebble Beach. While Duesenbergs, Cords, Auburns, Ferraris, and Delahayes rolled across the judging platform in immaculately restored trim, the standout star of the show was an unrestored Jaguar C-Type. People rushed by those million-dollar restorations just to get close to the scuffed patina of the 1950s racer. Original with all the corroded leather fittings, scratches in the paint, and fading upholstery, the C-Type was a true survivor. Not only a testament to preservation but a direct, tangible link to its racing career in the hands of Stirling Moss at such monumental events like the 1953 Le Mans 24 hours race. Since 1963, the car remained in the same family until sold at auction in 2016 for around $7.5 million — about $3.8 million more than the last recorded sale of restored C-Type. Why? Because it was an “original, unrestored” example of a classic race car.

So why hasn’t the historic military vehicle world caught on to the fact that a vehicle is original only once? Why does the personal desire to drive a freshly painted representation overpower the commitment to preserve history?


 Terry Dow’s original condition 1965 M679 Forward Control Ambulance is a true “survivor” complete with much of its original medical equipment still onboard.

Terry Dow’s original condition 1965 M679 Forward Control Ambulance is a true “survivor” complete with much of its original medical equipment still onboard.

As far as I was concerned, there were two stand-out vehicles at the 2018 Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) Convention in Louisville, Kentucky: Terry Dow’s rare 1965 M679 Forward Control Ambulance and Dennis Sundby’s 1952 M38. Why these two when there were so many wonderful vehicles displayed? Because they were survivors. Both vehicles were left in the condition they were found.

Not all vehicles need to — or should — be left in original, “as found” condition. Most are missing significant parts or have had the paint jobs irrevocably altered by the time they end up in collectors’ hands. But every once in a while, a vehicle — like the two at the MVPA Convention this year — are true survivors. They have descended through time in such condition as to be excellent examples of how the vehicles looked when issued to troops in the field.

 Dennis Sundby’s 1952 M38 is still sporting its original US Army livery beneath that of its first civilian owner — Minnesota’s Civil Defense.

Dennis Sundby’s 1952 M38 is still sporting its original US Army livery beneath that of its first civilian owner — Minnesota’s Civil Defense.

While the temptation is there to restore the vehicles to “as new” condition, the owners recognize that the vehicles are true documents of history. To restore them would be to erase their value as survivors.

It took only a couple of sales of “barn find” condition vehicles for the classic car community to recognize the importance of unrestored, original vehicles. Today, the most significant competitions and auctions hold these survivors in high esteem with special classes and recognition on the auction block. So why is it taking so long for historic military vehicle collectors to step up to save the nearly extinct, original condition vehicles?

I spoke to a person at the Convention who has a couple of WWII Jeeps that are in the same condition as when they were sold as surplus in 1945. He fully appreciates the value that these originals, both monetarily and historically. Whereas a WWII Jeep restored to number one condition will command a price of at least $40,000, this fellow said he has turned down offers over $75,000 for one of the unrestored Jeeps. What more do you to convince you of the value of “original condition?”


Thankfully, the Military Vehicle Preservation Association is working toward that goal. While it is still a work-in-progress, the MVPA’s judging committee has set forth the definition of an “Original Class.” The description of this appeared in the April/May issue of Supply Line and is reprinted here:

“Original Class:

“As the MVPA recognizes the rarity and historic value of original/near-original condition vehicles, Original Class vehicles are those that have not been modified or restored (except for safety-related items) and represent a vehicle as it appeared during the period from delivery to the military to when it was transferred to civilian ownership. Original Class vehicles must include at least a rolling chassis, tub or body, hood, fenders, and doors (if applicable). Signs of wear, use, and/or storage are not unexpected in this class. Assessment will pay particular attention to originality, historical accuracy, and period correctness. The Original Class is intended to open the door for judging vehicles that are in original/near-original condition wherein the owner has opted for preservation rather than restoration. Vehicles that have undergone restoration, extensive repair, or modification cannot be entered into this class.

“Original class vehicles are those unrestored specimens often referred to as “barn finds” or “survivor” vehicles. Vehicles meeting the MVPA’s definition (above) of an Original Class vehicle may be awarded an MVPA Original Class Certificate of Recognition.”

This special class in judging and / or recognition of original condition vehicles was long overdue do hope the judging committee receives the support to further develop the class, thereby encouraging owners to consider the value of an unrestored vehicle.

Preservation of originality has to become a priority in our hobby, or the total extinction of original condition vehicles is guaranteed. We say we want to “preserve history for future generations.” Let’s not give them nothing than modern restorers’ interpretations of how vehicles appeared at the time they served our military forces.

“Preservation before restoration” has to become a hobby priority before there is nothing left worth preserving and "original condition military vehicles" go the way of the dodo.

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader

Frontline Feature



This Spot Reaches More than 10,000 people a day.