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Thread: The Ship of Theseus Paradox and Custom Cars.

  1. #1
    ♠ LBCC Nor Cal ♠

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    The Ship of Theseus Paradox and Custom Cars.

    ***WARNING: PHILOSOPHICAL CONTENT BELOW***

    Ok, you asked for more in-depth content here so I've attempted to hash out something that I've been kicking around in my head that I feel warrants discussion. I’ve been reading up on a few of my favorite custom cars lately, and I’ve realized there’s a philosophical grey area that I’d never really resolved. In reading, I’ve found that the idea that I’ve been struggling with is not unique to cars (is anything?), but is pretty well debated and known to philosophers as the “Ship of Theseus” or the “Washingon’s Hatchet” problem. You can read the wiki page on this if you’d like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus , but the main idea proposed by Plutarch was the following:

    The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
    —Plutarch, Theseus


    The thing that led me down this philosophical rabbit hole was this Lanny Ericson’s 56 Chevy. Seen below in its original glory courtesy of Rik Hoving’s Custom Car Chronicles





    http://www.customcarchronicle.com/cu...-color-photos/

    Rik also has a fantastic article going throught the car’s entire history here, I’d highly recommend reading it in its entirety (as well as everything else on this blog, it’s excellent)
    http://www.customcarchronicle.com/cc...sons-56-chevy/
    From the article, Lanny was reunited with the car in the early 90’s but the car was in horrible shape



    One interesting part of the recreation in the article was briefly touched on here, and I think briefly because of the deeper questions it raises:

    Eventually the car was started, and there is a lot more to this story than we care to tell at this point. The good news is that the car, mostly recreated from another ’56 Chevy with as much parts/sections that could be saved from the original Chevy, is now nearing completion. Or at least getting close to paint time.

    Now, whether the optimistic “getting close to paint” statement is true or not aside (following this build over the years has been confusing to say the least), the thing that stood out and becomes a quandary from me all comes back to the Ship of Theseus paradox- is this car, almost entirely created from new parts, the same car that Winfield painted in 1958?

    Does it matter?

    This car has and will always be something that I hold deep reverence for. I had a picture of Lanny’s 56 on my bedroom wall when I was in high school, this car and the Busonic are why I bought my first car (a 56 Chevy) in the first place, and even when I saw this car in primer at Paso years ago it had a huge impact on me. The question of its prominence has no bearing on how much this car means to me, I frankly don’t care if it’s a clone, a recreation, or the original, it has the same impact on me. But still, fundamentally, is it the same original car?


    Lanny recreating the taillight housings in the new quarter panels


    The new 57 bumper being fit to the new frontend.

    I was thinking of this while working on my 56 recently while I was welding in new patch panels to replace the previous patch panels that were bondo’d over the old leaded and brazed patch panels. My 56 started as one of the roughest cars I’ve ever seen, and nearly every inch of the car has been radically modified, replaced, or recreated from what it was as it rolled off the assembly line. On my car, I have no question about whether it’s still the same car, or course it is, but I struggle to answer the question about Lanny’s 56. Which leads to a bigger question- how far down can you recreate a car until it becomes something new? Is there one part that gives a car its identity? Does it come down to a frame or VIN plate, and if so does swapping those components really change its identity?


    Talk about recreating the spirit of the original, here's a pic showing the builder recreating the frontend with that famous pic of Lanny taped to the fender. This isn't just about geometry, it's about attitude.

    Correlary Point: Gene Winfield’s Pacifica Recreation.





    Source: Kustomrama
    http://www.kustomrama.com/index.php?...ica_Recreation

    Gene’s original Pacifica was lost to history sometime in the late 60’s to early 70’s, and no one really knows what happened to the original. When Gene decided to recreate the 2012 version he started with an entirely new Econoline, and retraced his steps ending up with a car that is very close to matching the original. The new truck is much lower, doesn't use the old perimeter bumpers surrounding the original car, uses a modern suspension, motor and… stereo… and looks very much like an updated version of his original truck. To me, the spirit of the old build has been entirely transferred to the new one flawlessly, and it brings me a lot of joy to see Gene driving this thing in 2015. I guess the reason I bring this up here is this- is this an entirely new car? Is this still the Pacifica? I don’t feel that this recreation is too different than Lannys except for the fact that it uses none of the original parts, this one is all spirit and attitude. I wouldn’t dare call this a clone, it’s somewhere in between, fundamentally linked to the original throught the hands of Winfield.

    To wrap this up I suppose I’m trying to say that what the most important thing to me about a car is the spirit that it’s creation captures, a sense of the builder/owner’s style and taste. I don’t really care if it uses all the original parts or if they’ve been replaced, nothing about that takes away from the visceral experience that the version that I get to look at has.

    I’d love to hear some long form discussion on this, it is an idea that I find fascinating. I think that fundamentally it comes down to what we hold as the soul of a car, what makes it truly special, and to me that’s the idea of a car. I know that if I tear down my 56 by every nut, bolt, and screw, replace every component, customize every surface that when it goes back together it’ll still be the same car because it’ll hold the same place in my heart. The idea of the car still exists, and I’d posit that this is what makes a car unique and gives it a life greater than the sum of its parts.

  2. #2
    Harvey's Front Row

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    I recently ran into an acquaintance who was employed by the first shop I worked for after I had worked there. He was sharing a story of a '57 Chevy station wagon they worked on because it was the car that the customer drove to high school. The '57 required extensive rust repair, including an entire roof from a donor car. My acquaintance suggested to the owner that it would be easier and less expensive to buy another car. The customer refused, stating that it would not be his car, the car he had owned for thirty years. My friend said that no one would know the difference, but the customer said he would. This despite very little of the original car being left after all the necessary repairs. I understand the owner's position.

    I also understand the concept of replacement panels used to provide longevity for a given vessel. At some point, if this process is repeated often enough, the original vessel will no longer exist physically. However, as you state (and I really like your thoughts on this) the idea of the vessel remains. The concept of what that vessel was defines the existence of the vessel standing in its place regardless of what percent of the original remains. The '57 station wagon is still a '57 station wagon, at least for those to whom it matters. The existence is defined by those who choose to define it. Perhaps a better way to put that is that an object is defined by those who assign meaning to that object. The subjective nature of the discussion arises from the nature and quantity of meaning assigned to any object, as it would vary tremendously between individuals depending on numerous factors.

    Is Winfield's recreation of Pacifica the actual Pacifica? Of course it is, but only because there are more reasons for it to be than there are for it not to be. We know that we are not looking at the original, yet we know we are looking at Pacifica. I think it would be wrong to refer to even as Pacifica II because of all that would imply. It is not a different vehicle in the sense that it is trying to be something else, only in the sense that it is, in fact, not the original. It is also not trying to be the original as some things have been changed to suit modern conveniences and components. In this regard, it certainly helps that the original builder did the truck. At this point, I think that if someone else had built it, it would be a tribute. Then again, maybe that is all the truck is, and should be Pacifica II. Winfield assigned the meaning and defined it, therefore it is up to him. Beauty in the eye and all that.

    I would like to think that the question of the '56 is somewhat addressed in the situation of the '57 wagon. This car means something to you. It had a profound impact on you and how you define cool. Because of this, the restoration will still be the car to you. It will be the car to many others as well, because despite the differences of the parts, the whole embodies the style and emotion of the original. Whether or not the car should be considered a clone, tribute, or restoration can be debated. What the car means to those who assign it value, however, will remain powerful.

    If not for those who assign meaning and value to objects, the world would be a radically different place. Millions of artifacts would not exist. Historical literary works would be lost. Assigned meaning provides for cultural preservation. I am thankful for those preserving automotive culture by assigning meaning to vessels of the past.
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  3. #3
    Harvey's Front Row

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    Oh man. This is a good thread. I need time to soak it in.

    Also, why is this in Off Topic?
    "Your car is so low, Bill Hines has to duck to get in." - Trent Sherrill

  4. #4
    ♠ LBCC British Columbia ♠

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    The 57 story says it well. We had a guy do the same with a Mustang at the last place I worked. It's a weirder, deeper feeling that we all have towards our automobiles. That feeling we have that isn't understandable to those that haven't felt it before. The personification of a heap of steel and rubber that's been moulded into something beautiful. There's a good chance that if the customer was given back another car without him being aware of that, that it just wouldn't feel right. I can only speak for myself, but I would have to say it's the same with Pacifica II. Maybe not, but I guess we may never know. I think it's the feeling you get that makes a car what it is, but as wierd as it sounds, I feel like the car communicates it with you. I feel sorry for the cars owned by people who just want to look cool in front of their friends. It may be a side effect, but to me, that's not what having a car is all about.

  5. #5
    Boulevard Bomber

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    I think I'm to old for this one

  6. #6
    Harvey's Front Row

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger O'Dell View Post
    I think I'm to old for this one
    Hardly. You are one of the key characters of preserving what we all love, and in the memory of the greatest person to ever pick up a gun.

    Besides, age is experience, wisdom, and a perspective a lot of us might not see. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say your input and thoughts are welcome in any conversation. The new guys like myself can theorize and attempt to understand the past, but we will never understand it like the guys who know it and created it.

    I don't know if Dalton has told you, but I have a question I have been wanting to ask you for a few years. I hope we can catch one another soon.
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  7. #7
    Harvey's Front Row

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    Haha... Roger...

    I'm of the camp that makes a clear distinction between a tribute (no matter how well-done) and the original. As a custom car is undeniably an example of art, there is only ever one, and once the original of a piece of work is gone, (whether in total, or piece-by-piece) it's gone.

    For the sake of a quick and clear example - in my work, I now manage a Frank Lloyd Wright home here in Phoenix. One of our slated projects is to save some beautiful mosaic work on mahogany panels that function as a sort of screenwall. The paint is peeling, the mosaic mirror tiles are falling and chipping, the mahogany itself is delaminating... now some within our group are of the opinion that we should completely rebuild the things, reskinned with new wood and painted to appear as new originals. I take the nearly opposite stance of a hard-line conservationist - save all original material and preserve the pieces wherever possible, replacing only those items already missing or too far gone to save - that's keeping something original.

    As for cars - I've nearly tossed my Chrysler down the road to buy a cleaner example a dozen times, but the truth is that it would NOT be the same car, and the history, the bumps, the rattles, the hard times would be gone forever. In essence, the soul of the thing has value and is ultimately irreplaceable. A tribute can be a wonderful reminder and even an idol to be praised, but they are not the original work and should not be regarded as such.
    I think we can do better than that...

  8. #8
    ♠ LBCC Arizona ♠

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    I've always dug the story of Lee Pratt's Nomad... That he had been in the process of recreating it, stumbled across the original, and then started all over again to rebuild it. It's completely impractical but I love the sentiment behind it.
    Nostalgia is a powerful feeling that is sometimes best appreciated by perserving the bumps and bruises that help tell the story.
    "Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit."
    -Henry Rollins

  9. #9
    Harvey's Front Row

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinman View Post
    Haha... Roger...

    I'm of the camp that makes a clear distinction between a tribute (no matter how well-done) and the original. As a custom car is undeniably an example of art, there is only ever one, and once the original of a piece of work is gone, (whether in total, or piece-by-piece) it's gone.

    For the sake of a quick and clear example - in my work, I now manage a Frank Lloyd Wright home here in Phoenix. One of our slated projects is to save some beautiful mosaic work on mahogany panels that function as a sort of screenwall. The paint is peeling, the mosaic mirror tiles are falling and chipping, the mahogany itself is delaminating... now some within our group are of the opinion that we should completely rebuild the things, reskinned with new wood and painted to appear as new originals. I take the nearly opposite stance of a hard-line conservationist - save all original material and preserve the pieces wherever possible, replacing only those items already missing or too far gone to save - that's keeping something original.

    As for cars - I've nearly tossed my Chrysler down the road to buy a cleaner example a dozen times, but the truth is that it would NOT be the same car, and the history, the bumps, the rattles, the hard times would be gone forever. In essence, the soul of the thing has value and is ultimately irreplaceable. A tribute can be a wonderful reminder and even an idol to be praised, but they are not the original work and should not be regarded as such.
    I'm with that. The example of the home is good. I would be on the side of conservation as well, if there was enough left to restore. In a perfect world cost would not matter, but for most the cost of replacement is less than the cost of restoration. Therefore, for the purpose of preservation, some originality is sacrificed. It sucks sometimes and I hope you can restore as much as possible of the original architecture.

    Yesterday I saw the Gypsy Rose for the first time. It was an emotionally moving experience and this thread came to mind the second or third time I went to look at it. This car can never be restored. The paint may be lacquer checking, chipped, cracked, and some panels otherwise damaged, but I am firm in my belief that no attempt should ever be made to restore the car. I am also of the belief that even if someone wanted to restore the car, there is nobody who could do it correctly. That paint job was a one time only deal and any attempt by even today's best painters would be certain to fail.

    This realization made me wonder how I really feel about the topic at hand. I fail to see how it could be black and white in general application, and it is a fascinating paradox.
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  10. #10
    ♠ LBCC High Priest ♠

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    As it seems with most things, I'm in agreement with Sperry on this one. The original version of a car is really the only one. Repairing and replacing parts may be necessary to preserve it but starting fresh with a new vehicle of the same make/model and recreating it doesn't allow the new version to fully replace the original.

    A good example is Howard's re-creation of Allen Duke's Impala. The transformation from the magenta version to the Bloody Mary version was an update of the same car. Howard's modern day version is a tribute to that last incarnation but I don't think there is anyone willing to step up and say that it is THE Bloody Mary.
    Tradition didn't end in 1964

  11. #11
    Harvey's Front Row

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    "Oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

    I know any replacement is not the original. Is a car that was the original, but had 98% of its original parts replaced still the original?

    Pacifica is not the original. It is not a clone. It is not a recreation. It is not a restoration. Yet it is Pacifica. Maybe it is Pacifica II. It has to be, right? But too much of it reflects the original. It is then a tribute, right?

    At this point, what do labels matter? Shadows on the wall.

    As originally mentioned by Nic, if a car had key parts of the original car grafted on to it, how could that be anything other than a restoration. Does whether a lot of good parts are placed on a bad original car, or a few good original parts placed on a good car change the identity of the car (restoration, clone, etc.)? Both accomplish the same, but one is a reversal of the other forced by the poor overall condition of the original. Can a line really be drawn in such a case? Why?

    Was Joan Rivers still Joan Rivers?
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