Contemplating the Gooding & Co. 300 SL "Survivor vs Restored" Gullwing Sale

Survivor 300 SL Gullwing coupe
 Hemming's had a fantastic article comparing two black-over-red 300 SL Gullwing coupes that went up for auction at Gooding & Co.'s Scottsdale event this past weekend. One was a true survivor that was largely intact aside from some claimed paint touch-ups, while the other was the recipient of a full Concours level restoration.

Interior of survivor 300 SL
 In the end, the results shocked some but perhaps surprised few who have been following market trends. The "survivor" sold for $1,897,500 while the "Concours ready" fully restored car sold for $1,402,500. That's a premium of $495,000 for simply leaving the car be. There's seems to be something to mama's lessons about patience and restraint.

Fully restored 300 SL
 Wild speculation soon became heated debate once the hoopla subsided and the reality of today's car market set in. Some collectors are now rethinking the big bucks they spent on past nut-and-bolt restorations while others insist this is a trend that will eventually die out.

Interior of the restored 300 SL
We tend to skew towards this being the new normal, especially considering the collector car market is now being more often compared to the art and antiques markets, where originality has been prized for decades. Remember in the 1980's when everyone was a backyard furniture restorer, stripping away cracked layers of original varnish only to be reprimanded by the Keno brothers when they showed up on Antiques Roadshow with dollar signs in their eyes? As is often said, "it's only original once."

Roy Roger's XK140 SE
 Other "survivor" sales of the event included Roy Roger's Jaguar XK140 roadster with tattered innards, and a '67 Ferrari 330 GTS still sporting it's elegant cover of detrius. 

Ferrari 330 GTS survivor
This does not assume that these survivors will be kept as such, some wealthy collectors simply like to have a perfectly clean slate to start with, not worrying about if they need to undo some previous restorer's inadequate work or what lies beneath the fresh coat of paint. Others, however, prefer seeing the story of a car's life as told by it's dents, dings and scrapes. We read an article where one restorer would leave tell-tale signs of it's past in one case leaving fine scratches on door top chrome trim because the previous owner always tapped her wedding ring to the music she was playing while enjoying her drive.

There is a term for such restraint, it's called Wabi Sabi, and is essentially the Japanese word for the appreciation of the aesthetic of the natural aging of all things, humans included. Rather than becoming enraged when you arrive back at your prized beauty after a day of playing in the surf, only to find a parking lot ding in the driver's door, perhaps you could view this as a token to remind you of the day you just spent at the beach enjoying conversation with friends, smiling from that point onward each time you notice the imperfection.

Survivors, barn finds, unrestored cars, whatever term you choose, they aren't going away anytime soon in terms of auction appearances and climbing values, but in reality they are, in fact, disappearing as more and more cars are restored, thus erasing their individual stories forever.

When we look at that pair of Gullwings that did battle in the modern-day gladiator's arena of the auction floor, it doesn't take much thinking to know which one we would chose. How about you?

All photos © Gooding & Co.