DOCUMENTATION: RELEVANT or RIDICULOUS?

by David Burroughs Prove It.®


The Answer Is...

The recent focus on "documentation" has prompted newer visitors to Garagistry's Blog to ask "just what and how do I document my classic?"  Garagistry Advisor, David Burroughs, founder of Prove It® has provided us excellent advice and we thought it appropriate to provide our newer readers with his guidance. 

If your documentation was to support a price sought or paid for a specific vehicle, perhaps one of the following reasons would be very reasonable. Is the vehicle claiming to be:
  • Equipped with special features or options?
  • Original and unrestored?
  • Once owned/used by a historical figure?
  • Historically significant?
  • Accomplished a significant feat?
  • The first, last, or only of something?
  • Any or all the above?
While extensive documentation of a true "collector car" typically applies to cars with some historical importance, the value of any vehicle reaching it's best market price is more likely to be successful when owners document each and every change, modification, improvement or repair or restoration made.

What's Fluff and What Counts?

When asked what documentation supports a claim associated with a particular collector car, the answers heard can be very creative, well-intentioned, but unfortunately - useless.

Often, owners mistakenly assume volumes of bulky photo albums and binders are what's needed to impress admirers and buyers alike. However, when the content is evaluated, the real value is limited at best. Experience has shown the majority of an owner's content is frequently devoted to countless post-restoration photos, glamour shots, car show trophies, dealer brochures, owner manuals, and possibly a reproduction window sticker.  Sprinkled throughout the books you'll possibly find all kinds of other documents from how to operate the radio to period road maps. Unfortunately, few or none, include detailed pre-restoration photographs.

The Result:
  • Fun and nostalgic: Yes.
  • Documentation with value: No.

For whatever reason, many owners view such materials as period props that create an impression of credibility. However, a relatively small file folder with specific documents and a couple of key photographs along with an unrestored vehicle can easily trump a ten-volume set of notebooks and three-ring binders.

So, What Constitutes "REAL" Documentation?

First, we clarify what claim we are trying to document.  As listed above, is the vehicle asserting to be:

  • Equipped with special features or options?
  • Is original and un-restored?
  • Once owned/used by a historical figure?
  • Is historically significant?
  • Accomplished a significant feat?
  • The first, last, or only of something?
  • Any or all the above?
Next, we classify the available documents and what you can obtain to support your claim:
  • The vehicle itself.  Original, unrestored vehicles are the best documents of all
  • The hardware: Includes the engine castings, stampings, VIN tags, trim tags, etc.
  • The software: Original factory paperwork, legal affidavits, records
  • The photography: Period and during deconstruction
  • The people: Prior owners (provenance), expert witnesses, hearsay, rumors, and contradictions
  • The forensics: Laboratory analysis of paper, ink, metallurgy when suspect documents or samples are involved

Finally, we assemble the available documents into a presentation that systematically builds the case and leads to the conclusion supporting the overall claim.  The more powerful the documents, the shorter your presentation needs to be.

What Can Documents Prove?

Documents cannot always conclusively or definitively prove a claim.  In fact, sometimes they can often actually disprove or reduce the likelihood of the claim.  But usually owners can support their claim through documentation and at least achieve a peace of mind their documentation makes their claim probable or even highly probable.

Prove It® (Collector Car Authenticators) rank the strength of documentation on the following scale:

  • Definitive / Virtually Certain
  • Highly Probable / Virtually Certain but missing conclusive documents
  • Probable
  • Indicative
  • Inconclusive
  • Improbable
  • Highly Improbable
  • Definitively Impossible
Although you may not be able to conclusively prove your vehicle is the first, last, or only of something, spending the effort to gather the right documentation may raise the probability within the next person’s eyes - not to mention the value of the vehicle for anyone who wants to know the actual history of your car.

Conclusion:

Whether you have a true one-of-a-kind, or a classic daily driver, protect your investment with documentation.  If you haven't already begun to collect the materials, documents and photographs you can obtain, perhaps today is a good day to start.



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