The Archaeological Automobile

Understanding and Living with Historical Automobiles

by Miles C. Collier

“The meaningful-car world is under threat: We face the threat of indifference to the automobile in this day of their commodization as transportation appliances. We face the threat of an evolving technology that proposes a world of ‘or’ where the future holds either self-driving ‘personal mobility appliances,’ or operator-controlled vehicles, but not both. We face the threat of a world where the past is erased, and where the automobile’s role in creating our modern culture is unknown, unappreciated, or unwanted.”

Have you ever keyed either of the spellings archaeology or archeology paired with the word auto into your computer’s search engine? Try it. You’ll be presented with a myriad of results. Exploring them, you’ll discover some are sale or consignment services teased with words like “Let me assist you in selling your car,” while another invites a visitor to “Peruse [my] site for the one to buy.” Others guide visitors to Tom Cotter and other searchers who’ve made a name for themselves seeking “barn finds.” So what’s behind Miles Collier writing and publishing this book The Archaeological Automobile?

No surprise, it is nicely produced and clearly written as anyone recognizing the author-publisher’s name, Miles C. Collier, might anticipate. It seems apparent the topic is something Collier has been giving considerable thought to at least since he and L. Scott George, whom Collier refers to as his “right-hand man for the last three decades” adding “his mechanical acumen never ceases to amaze,” had each contributed a chapter to the 2013 book assembled by Dr. Fred Simeone titled The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles. Bearing witness to this are the cited sources and quotes in this new volume echoing those of the Collier- and Scott-written chapters in the Stewardship book before expatiating on them in this, his own book. 

In every way it is a book best appreciated by the thinking person for the contemplative reader will gain more from what Collier has written than a casual reader, just as Collier put his carefully considered—and reconsidered—and reconsidered yet again—thoughts on his book’s pages. That is attested to in his Acknowledgements with this to: “. . . my wife, Parker . . . I promise I will never again ask you to read another sixth draft of a fifty-page chapter.

There are but a half-dozen of those chapters. The first one traces the automobile’s development over the decades with Collier asserting it is an archaeologically “rich artifact” that has been a “social and cultural change agent” as it is an “embodiment of memory from the past.” It is also “one of the first disruptive technologies” from which we can learn “about the future implications of other radically transformative technologies.

The second addresses how “automobiles have transitioned at an astonishingly rapid pace from ratty old relics decaying in recycling yards to valuable and treasured collectibles or lifestyle accessories.” And, with the much publicized auction sale prices going ever upward, one section explores “now what?” as this next image shows.

In the chapter titled “The Archaeological Mindset” Collier begins explaining his approach and philosophy using as examples some truly historically significant racing machines including his own 1919 Ballot. In the following chapter, the fourth, he addresses motivating factors that lead individuals to collect the varied types of items they do. He notes, “Things from the past supply us with our cultural continuity. Without the presence of the past in our lives, we would have no sense of ourselves, no sense of our values.

Where The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles advocated to seriously consider it more desirable to preserve than restore, Collier takes it a step further in this book. His philosophy, to which he adheres even as he acknowledges that it means his cars “don’t win many actual awards and would probably sell for less as their bling level is lacking in various areas” has charged his staff with, and personally oversees, completing restorations that have “documented fidelity to original build quality that includes the appropriate overspray, paint runs, and crude workmanship in hidden places.

For some collectors, “The objects are important only because of their relationship to the collector.” Others collect racing machines with some using them to participate in vintage racing. Collier offers a chart comparing values and the degree which nine of these individuals place on each aspect ranging from nostalgia, technical, history, etc as seen in the next image. 

With all of the foregoing, your commentator has a wish for this book: Should a subsequent printing be considered, please give serious thought to producing it in a more affordable form, perhaps even a digital presentation. This would permit and enable the message and information in this book to be more widely available for the edification and consideration of a greater number and variety across the wide spectrum of automotively-oriented hobbyists. 

The Archaeological Automobile
Understanding and Living with Historical Automobiles
by Miles C. Collier
Collier AutoMedia, 2022    [In US: SCB Distributors]
392 pages, 123 b/w & 159 color illustrations, hardcover
chapter endnotes, bibliography, illustration credits, index
List Price: $149.95
ISBN 13: 978 1 7356451 0 0

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