It’s the dream of millions of gearheads: Find a long-forgotten classic mouldering in a barn somewhere, toil over it for a few years and bring it back to its former glory. But even for once-common models, this task is easier said than done. Sure, the mechanical bits might be easy to source or restore, but what about odd bits of trim, rust-free body panels or ultra-rare options? For decades, the only solution was to scour swap meets and junk yards, or hope that owners clubs could offer support. The advent of eBay may have made sourcing parts a lot easier than the old days of cold calling junk yards halfway around the world, but for many, sourcing parts is still nearly as difficult as the mechanical restoration.
But now things are beginning to change. Porsche made headlines by announcing that it will begin selling replacement dashboards for its 1969-’75 911, offering a solution to thousands of vintage Porsche owners whose interiors have been ravaged by time. While many surviving early 911s live in warmer climates, the heat and sunlight can destroy the interiors, leaving dashboards and seats cracked and torn from years of abuse. Porsche’s $1,353 replacement dash looks no different from the original, but it has been assembled with modern materials that can better resist the heat and sunlight.
While this good news for Porschephiles working on their project 911s, the German sports car builder is just one of a growing number of automakers who have begun remanufacturing parts for cars they stopped building long ago. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Land Rover, and Jaguar all have thriving classic and heritage departments dedicated to keeping their classics on the road, and keeping die-hard enthusiasts connected years after their cars rolled off the assembly line.
Of all the brands with classic departments, nobody does it quite like Mercedes-Benz, whose Mercedes-Benz Classic Centers in Fellbach, Germany, and Irvine, California are equal parts museum, showroom, and restoration shop. Launched in 1993 (with the California location opening in 2006), Mercedes has a catalog of 50,000 brand new parts that cover everything from a headlight for a priceless ’30s SSK Roadster to the correct glow plugs for an ’80s 300TD diesel wagon. In methodical Mercedes fashion, it begins offering parts and restoration services to every vehicle it has ever made 15 years after it goes out of production, so even if you’re working on an under-appreciated model or a classic to be, the Classic Center will probably have you covered.
Not to be outdone by its rival, BMW also has a thriving classics department. Unlike Mercedes however, BMW’s support is more of a greatest hits package than the all-encompassing Mercedes catalog. Newer cars, pre-war models, and oddball pre-’60s parts may still be difficult to locate, but for those who want to bring their classic 2002 or 3.0 CS back to factory-correct condition, BMW offers nearly everything you need to bring your car back from the dead. The company has even done ground-up restorations for several customers, and their level of workmanship is exactly what you would expect from BMW.
But what about other, more temperamental classics, the ones that leaked oil even when they were new? Well, British automakers are beginning to offer their own classic departments, and with modern support, these classics could end up running better than ever before. Jaguar and Land Rover have just launched their Heritage departments, which will offer parts and assistance with restoring their older models, and cottage sports car builders Bristol and TVR have also recently launched departments to keep their classic models running.
Jaguar debuted its Heritage Workshop in a big way last year, by building six aluminum “continuation” lightweight E-Types on original 1960s era chassis that are identical to the original cars in every way. Sister company Land Rover is following suit by offering the Land Rover Heritage Driving Experience, which gives Landie fans time behind the wheel of a number of factory-restored trucks from throughout the company’s history. Like Jaguar, the legendary off-roading company will also offer a comprehensive list of parts to keep its rugged but notoriously unreliable trucks on – and off-road for years to come.
After decades of automotive evolution, why would these major automakers begin investing resources into keeping long-discontinued models on the road? Most prestige brands realize that part of their appeal lies in the tradition of building great cars. The more a company can interact with its fan base, and the more classic vehicles survive, the stronger the brand’s connection to its loyal customers and its heritage appears to be. History is a powerful thing, and as these automakers work to keep theirs alive, they’re using it to create a better bridge to the future.