The Market


Book review: ‘The Past and the Spurious – the Case of Legitimacy in Historic Cars’

Book review: ‘The Past and the Spurious – the Case of Legitimacy in Historic Cars’ 22nd November 2022

This is a curious book, at times frustrating but always illuminating. Hat’s off, then, to author and publisher Paul Griffin for his new work that pokes a stick in the wasp’s nest of the most famous causes célèbres of the classic car business.

Griffin, formerly a City lawyer, and a regular on the historic racing scene, takes a wide-ranging look at the varied ways in which transactions of valuable cars have gone wrong, and the deeper implications of valuing and gauging the originality of a classic. It is no coincidence that the majority of individual cases revolve around competition machinery; the cars that have been crashed, renumbered or reassembled with donor parts from similar models – often discarded during restoration or after racing accidents many decades ago. The ones that share chassis plates with others for ease of period tax and customs regulations, or are simply the subject of duplicity. With two cars claiming the same identity on opposite sides of the globe, who is to say which one is the most authentic? And “George Washington’s axe”, etc.

Into this category comes the Bentley ‘Old Number One’ case – could it really be described as the actual car, in all its components, that won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1929 and 1930?

Then there’s disputed ownership, or quarrels over the share of the proceeds of a sale: the Bonhams Goodwood Festival auction Ferrari 375 Plus affair; the way the cars, including a 250 GTO, formerly owned by Fabrizio Violati were disposed of. Without the many 1,000s of words expended in online forums, Griffin the lawyer gets to the crux of the matter in a forensic fashion, though in some cases his summary falls disappointingly short, quite possibly to avoid the attention of his learned friends.

There are areas, though, to which no-one could take exception – other than the parties already guilty in the court of public opinion if not the British legal system: the multiple Coys insolvencies; Derek Hood of JD Classics’ dealings with the unfortunate Mr Tuke.

The book serves as a useful reference as, in addition to debating many individual cases, it offers invaluable advice on the authorities responsible for sanctioning historic cars and other worthwhile research resources. It also covers the place of ‘continuation’ or ‘sanction’ models from mainstream manufacturers and looks at well-known cars with undisputed provenance but lives lived very hard. These are ones that sometimes bear 21st Century bodywork and/or restamped engines, completed and expensively blessed by famous marque classic departments. That axe again.

I thought this was a bit random; a little unfair and unnecessary. So too was the unwarranted inclusion of photographs of Stirling Moss’s life hanging in the balance whilst tended by doctors at Goodwood and Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari burning at Monaco.

So why frustrating? It’s not always an easy read, jumping as it does from chapter to chapter with previously told stories making repeated entrances. Why not discuss one case in full at a time? And it just finishes, without much of a conclusion. This reviewer’s copy has been on and off his office desk/kitchen table/sofa for the last month. For this reason, it’s probably best completed in one go, and credit must go to the designer, award-winning graphic artist Julian Balme, the man behind the two Kidston Miura books and many standard-setting titles from Palawan. It’s easy on the eyes and the mainly stock photography is artfully placed and reproduced.

That said, for £75.00 as a Classic Edition, ‘The Past and the Spurious’ is a worthy addition to any bookshelf and, apart from ghoulish fascination, has an essential role warning of some of the industry’s malpractices. To those considering the purchase of an important historic racing car, it could be worth its weight in gold.

The Past and the Spurious is available in two editions: Classic (£75.00, ISBN 978-1-7397673-0-3) and First (100 copies only, £250.00, 978-1-7397673-1-0). Prices are net; books can be shipped anywhere in the world. To buy a copy, visit