Clearing Up The Collector Car Pedigree Versus Provenance Confusion

The word “provenance” is a popular catchphrase in recent years in the collector car hobby. Unfortunately, it has joined another popular and overused phrase “pedigree” in misinformation. To avoid rehashing what many believe they already know, let’s just cut to the chase of which is which.

“Pedigree” is a rarely used collector-car phrase simply because it is lumped into the provenance conversation. Pedigree is defined as “The origin and history of something especially when it is good or impressive.” Shelbys, Boss 429s, Boss 302s, K-codes, etc., that were built new from the factory have pedigree.

Though Shelbys are highly sought after today, majority were built to the same specifications depending on how you ordered when new and therefore share pedigree. Only a small percentage will also have unquestioned provenance. The SAAC registry is a great place to start.

These cars were originally built above the norm and likely in smaller numbers than majority of other Mustangs of that time period. Build sheets, special documentation/paperwork, titles, etc., all reflect and support pedigree. However, this pedigree only solidifies a particular car’s origin.

An original invoice goes a long way toward establishing history but beware, there are many reproductions available for purchase. Knowing how to spot them is critical. The SAAC registry is the best authority.

Here is where the lines blur.

“Provenance” is defined as “the origin or source of something. The history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.” Obviously we are talking cars not art or literature here but you may be asking yourself, “Aren’t both definitions the same?” The answer to this question is no.

This original K-code GT certainly has pedigree. Add just 13,000 miles over 50 years of ownership, a trunk full of paperwork, original Ford press and promotional history and you firmly establish provenance.

For this argument we present this question. Was your car any more or less good or impressive than any other when it was new? Could anyone else buy one with more or less options, paint color, add-ons, etc., at that time if they wanted to? The answer, of course, is yes, if they had the means to do so. This would not change the car’s pedigree.

Does your car have pedigree and provenance? Provenance is the history of a valued object. Yes, your car is valued, but how would it stack up against the one-of-a-kind Henry Ford deuce coupe at a sale? That, of course, isn’t a fair fight but that is an example of provenance versus pedigree.

Henry Ford’s one of a kind HiPo Mustang is a great example of both pedigree and provenance.

So what does provenance consist of? As an owner you no doubt have stories, photos (possibly your own or from previous owners), and a drawer full of restoration receipts. This is first-person provenance. But what about 20, 30, or 40 years ago? Did it win a major race? Did Carroll Shelby own it? What makes this car special?

Keep in mind that different does not equal special. Was your car a factory test mule or appear in every major magazine for the past 25 years? Any original press back in the day? What makes your car more valuable than the rest and more importantly, can you prove it?

Originality and claims of low mileage alone do not equal provenance. Cars such as a Boss 429 have pedigree but not necessarily provenance. The original Shelby Super Snake, for example, carries both benchmarks. (Photo Credit: Auctions America Mecum Auctions)

Provenance is fact with original or available proof; not copies and not stories told by eager sellers or auction houses. Provenance adds value, but seldom without pedigree. Therefore they should be measured accordingly.

Any car can claim pedigree, but pedigree alone is not provenance, it is merely an ingredient. In today’s vintage-car landscape buzzwords, such as these, are prevalent for a reason — profit. The value of provenance can vary greatly, but regardless, the car must be a high-quality example with proven history, events, ownership, and pedigree.





About the author

JP Emerson

My affliction with vintage iron is matched only by my knowledge of classic Rock ’N Roll. Although a heavy lean to all things Ford blue, I have a sharp appreciation for all makes and models, especially those that gulp gas and drop oil to mark their territory. Having provided work for multiple magazines, manufacturers, SEMA, and a top secret list of celebrity and auto insiders, I understand the bond between cars and owners.
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