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By Tom Endean

Can classics be art?

Many arty types will tell you that for something to be art, it needs to have no function, other than to be… well, nothing really. What they mean is that it has to have no functional purpose, other than to be seen, heard or felt. Therefore, there are many objects which are well designed, either aesthetically, or functionally, but which are not art – such as cars and motorcycles.

Jaguar XJ13Poppycock! Look, let’s take the Jaguar XJ13 for example. Only one was ever made, which was then promptly crashed in 1971 at MIRA. Luckily it was subsequently rebuilt to its former glory, but it never raced, never went into production and the only contribution it made was to act as a bit of a test-bed for Jaguar’s new V12. It existed, drove a bit, looked fabulous, crashed, got restored and then sat in a museum. Outside of a few promotional outings, it has no real function, despite the initial aims of its creation. Today it is just as fabulous sat still in all its glory, as it ever was moving. People will travel miles just to stare at it. There are even companies that create reproductions to emulate it and still it does nothing but sit there.

I appreciate that it was a functional machine when designed, but today it remains a one-off, with no purpose, other than to be admired. Now, I ask you, how can that not be art?

What about the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T? I love this car; I think it looks fantastic; but it is truly rubbish. This is a car that by any standard today would be considered unfit for any reasonable use, other than to sound and look awesome. It may not be a one off, but the only parts that people really appreciate are the elements that can be called art: its sound and its form.

This kind of argument works with classic bikes as well. The BSA Goldstar is a fabulous looking bike and one that you rarely see on the roads. In fact, I only ever see them at shows or museums where I am happy enough just looking at them. How is this not art?

I appreciate that many cars and motorcycles cannot be considered art. In fact, many can hardly be considered good design (I’m looking at you Triumph Acclaim), but I do think that some special machines are worthy of the title.

Now of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so most can be considered art through the right eyes. Well, you’re wrong! You see, this is not a democracy and I don’t care if you think that your Austin Maxi is the most glorious thing in the world – it isn’t (I hold a grudge against them, but I will cover that another time).

Before you start claiming you classic car or bike is art, stop!

If you start thinking too much about your little classic as being a work of art, you may just be too afraid to use it for what it was designed for – for transportation and fun! I personally think the Land Rover Series one is a work of art – and one that has really stood the test of time. But let’s be honest, no Land Rover is happy stood still, slowly leaking. They look and feel happiest with a few knocks and ear deep in mud.

So I don't care if arty types say our classics can't be art. in fact I'm quite happy with that. It means I'd still use it and it would still make me smile – and that’s what classics are all about.

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