What makes a car authentic?

Mike Hanlon posted an interesting article centered on the upcoming auction of a 1952, Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle. This particular Beetle is distinguished by the fact that it has had only one owner since it was made and has been in storage for forty years.  Thus, it is in good shape with just the sort of wear that would be expected from a few years' normal usage.

It is expected to fetch between €55,000 to €80,000 ($60,000 to $85,000), considerably more than it cost the original owner.

Why so much, especially for the most commonly produced car ever made (21.5 million in all)?

Of course, working Beetles are no longer as common as that, so rarity accounts for some of the price tag.  However, as Hanlon points out, this Beetle is "authentic".

Authenticity is a notoriously slippery concept.  The main point seems to be that this particular Beetle has not been restored, that is, changed to resemble its state when newly minted.

Although restored Beetles can do well at auction, a restored car is still, in some sense, a facsimile of what it appears to be.  And, a facsimile does not have the same relation to the original design, which lowers its value in the eyes of enthusiasts for whom the directness of association with history is highly important.

At the same time, people can be selective in which associations are significant for them.  The Beetle is associated with the 1960s, an important period in the youth of many current collectors (and the subject of some retro nostalgia). 

However, as Hanlon points out, it was conceived and, in part, designed by Adolf Hitler, an association that you might think would depress enthusiasm for it.  Yet, this historical connection seems never to have influenced the design's cultural acceptability.

So, this particular Beetle is especially authentic because it has not been retouched and yet is in good condition, and because, as a Beetle, it is an example of a design that people find historically significant, in a positive way.

As Hanlon points out, this sort of authenticity is not an objective quality of the car but rather a function of its particular history and people's particular perspective on it.

1949 VW Typ 11 Exportmodell.jpg
By Herranderssvensson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

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