✨ “Take it easy driving – the life you save may be mine.”
― James Dean


Saturday, 17 August 2013

What is a Classic Car?

1965 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II - British Racing Green

Over the past six months or so there has been a debate in the UK about what constitutes a classic car. This debate is re-visited from time to time, normally either for tax or legal reasons.

It is difficult to know when our cars started to be called classics and some people have it coinciding with the publication of Classic Cars or Classic & SportsCar Magazines. For some people in the UK it relates to the rules on paying Road Tax (Road Fund Licence or Vehicle Excise Duty) – just one of the many ways that our chancellor has of extracting tax revenues from the UK motorist. In what now seems to be the dim and distant past, one of our more enlightened chancellors decided to exempt cars over 25 years old from paying road tax. Interestingly the cars were then classified as ‘Historic’ for tax exemption purposes, rather than classic, but the 25 year rule sort of stuck with many people.

Having said that, the MSA, who organise our own favourite run, the Euroclassic, and used to run a number of other classic car events, including the once famous ‘Norwich Union’, always used 20 years as their cut off point.

Then in 1997 the government changed the 25 year rule for road tax exemption. They obviously calculated that using a rolling 25 year rule, the number of cars that were exempt from road tax would keep increasing and they froze the date, changing the rule to only exempt cars that are ‘pre 1973’.

Every few years some of the car clubs get together and try to get the tax rule changed back to a rolling 25 years, but now that road tax is based on CO2 emissions the government has a ‘green ‘ reason for not changing it as well as a fiscal one, so I don’t think it will ever happen.

So what has kicked off the latest round of the debate? This time it is some proposed changes to the rules governing MOT tests on our vehicles. Currently all UK cars have to be tested once they are 3 years old and then annually (the so called 3-1-1 rule). Across most of Europe the testing regimes are 4 years, then every 2 (4-2-2). For many reasons it makes economic sense for many of our rules to be in line with the rest of Europe, although there is a large xenophobic tendency in the UK that don’t want anything that they perceive to be ‘imposed on us by Brussels’.

Studies have been done to calculate the cost (or savings) of changing the testing rules. Magically some prove that owners will save money, some prove it will cost us money. Other studies predict catastrophe across the motor industry for whom the MOT test, and subsequent repair work are a good source of income.

One suggestion is to exempt cars of a certain age from the MOT test in its entirety, on the basis that our classics are always well looked after, polished and maintained regularly and statistically have been proved to be involved in fewer accident that newer cars. So what date do we pick for classic car MOT exemption: 1960, 1940 or maybe 1920?

When I was young and poor, I regarded the annual MOT as a real pain as it normally found things wrong on the car that I couldn’t afford to fix. Now older, wiser, and not so poor, I believe the MOT is actually an extremely effective way of carrying out a thorough test on a car, for not a lot of money. We have our whole fleet of classic hire cars serviced each year. As they are working cars we never skimp on the maintenance and I tell the garage to replace things that are starting to wear, instead of waiting for them to fail. I have used the same garage for 30 years, so know them, trust them, they are thorough and wouldn’t rip us off.

However, occasionally even after a service, the MOT test has spotted a couple of small things that need fixing that weren’t picked up on the service. Maybe a classic car owner that only drives a few hundred miles a year, may think the MOT is unnecessary or excessive. But road use isn’t the only cause of deterioration. Some components degrade with time. Electrical contacts can oxidise or corrode, rubber deteriorates, brake and clutch fluid absorb water. The reason that England is a ‘green and pleasant land’, is that it rains a lot and not even government bureaucracy can halt the march of the tin worm. So overall I am not keen on changing the frequency of the MOT tests.

Anyway in its infinite wisdom our government has come up with the ideal solution to the problem. They have decided not to do anything at all. So apart from keeping civil servants gainfully employed looking at the pros and cons, and whipping up a storm across the industry and classic car fraternity – nothing will change.

This still leaves us with the question - what is a classic car? Is it 20 years old, 25 years, pre 1973, pre 1960, pre 1940 or what? Is a Morgan a classic whether it was built in 1960 or yesterday?

I have my own favoured definition which comes from our experiences of running The Open Road Classic Car Hire since 1997. We keep having this debate with customers about what they like, why they favour a particular car etc. And it generally comes back to one thing:

A classic car is whatever was around, and you aspired to, envied, or planned to buy, while you were growing up.

This means that it changes from year to year and with each generation of motorists. My favourites are the cars from 1960s and 70s (I was born in 1953). Older customers want cars from the 1950s. Younger customers want cars from the 1980s. I admit that my definition is not ideal for writing Europe wide legislation.

The challenge we all face for the future is keeping the interest of the next generation. The current clutch of 20 and 30 somethings have grown up in a period when the British motor industry no longer makes affordable sports cars (I rule out Jaguars and Astons as not being affordable). Sadly their idea of a classic could encompass anything from a Mazda MX5, Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru, Toyota MR2 or a VW Golf or Scirocco. Not a British Marque in sight.

This article was Tony Merrygold's "Letter from England" published in the May 2012 edition of the American classic car magazine "British Marque". 
- Info from Open Road Classic Car

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The passion for classics

 1953 Austin Healey BN1

There are few, if any, pieces of hardware as emotive as the car. With the birth of car designers rather than pure engineers, the door was open for them to express their visions for the future. These cars are celebrated here as we look back at what fired the imaginations of yesterday's creative minds.

The story of classic and dream cars charts the progress of our own history and experience and these pages are a celebration of that progression and a recognition of the value and importance of these cars in our lives.

AsonMartin O.I. V8

But have you ever thought about owning a TRUE classic? Something that makes your heart race and pumps adrenalin through your body? There is nothing quite like the feeling of owning a one-of-a-kind, hand-built, prestigious, super-car. AND having the added advantage of investing your money in a Solid, ever growing-in-value item.

Like antiques, classic and vintage cars have escalated in value through the decades—like old wine (and women!) they only improve with age. Even a neglected old lady picked up in an old barn somewhere, will reward you with her golden patina during a loving restoration undertaking.

Jaguar XK

Proof of the popularity of these beauties is the number of Classic and Vintage Car Clubs that are in operation in South Africa and throughout the world. These clubs are promoting the on-going interest in these old classics and also offer technical and general knowledge sharing, great get-togethers and outings, not to mention all the ‘noggins’!

If you’ve ever been on a ‘vintage rally’, you will know all about the camaraderie, fun and great experiences that happen on these get-togethers - the helping hands extended when you break down (even if it means them losing their place in the race!), the memories shared over a beer/glass of wine at the picnic tables, great food and great friendships forged.

1954 MG TD

1953 Austin Healey BN1

Of course there’s the downside (but not many classic collectors even recognise this as a downside!) of owning an almost 50 year old piece of history, and that’s the constant ‘tinkering’ that takes place—oil leaks, electrical problems, carb settings (most of the modern cars don’t even have carburettors anymore), constant polishing and general pfaffing with all the little items that makes your ‘ol’ lady’ so special!

 from this ... 

and this... 

 and this... 

to this!-Austin Healey BJ8


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Morgan Plus 8 - 1968-2004 and Morgan Plus 4 1954

1954 Morgan 

As government regulations threaten to engineer much of the character out of modern cars, as our roads become more congested and dangerous and the air we breathe gets more contaminated, we can look back to the "classic" era of the 1950's and 1960's as the romantic Golden Age of the motor car. In Europe, more and better mass-produced cars were seen as a liberating force for families previously restricted to public transport.

In north America, cars simply got bigger, reflecting the wealth and confidence of the most powerful nation on earth. Traffic was yet to reach its often grid-locked state of today, petrol was much cheaper and, in Britain at least, there were no speed restrictions on the newly-opened motorways.

1954 Morgan 

Before the mergers and close-downs of the 1970's, buyers could choose from a far wider range of makes reflecting national identities. The Japanese motor industry, later so dominant, was not even a speck on the horizon in the 1950's and 60's. In engineering and styling, too, cars tended to be more varied and individual - you could tell an Austin from a Morris, a Vauxhall from a Volvo, without having to look at the badge. Safety was optional: it was speed, glamour and style that sold cars, and in the 50's and early 60's nobody had even begun to think of the exhaust-emission regulations that would strangle power outputs in the 70's. Back then, the motor car was our servant. Now, through its very proliferation, it has become our master. 

Dave Clarkson in his 1954 Morgan 

The Wooden-framed Plus 8 was in continuous production for 36 years, always powered by the venerable lightweight alloy Rover V8 engine. It's also one of the only cars in which the passenger compartment actually gets bigger in a frontal impact. Not that you'd want to find that out...!

1954 Morgan interior

With a 150bhp high-compression V8 (Rover P5B spec), it's an astonishingly accelerative device, as fast to 90mph as a contemporary Porsche 911. Only 850kg to shift, and brilliant handling, at least on smooth roads, the tail gives about half an hour's warning before it breaks free.

1954 Morgan rear view

Yes, it's made using antique methods, with steel and/or aluminium panels wrapped around an ash frame. This means Mogs don't last as well as all-steel cars; like a thatched roof, they need 'doing' every couple of decades, especially if wet and rot have penetrated.

1954 Morgan at the Centenary Car Club show

When supplies of the 2138cc Triumph four-cylinder engine dried up in the late 60's, Morgan were left without a high-performance engine for their flagship Plus 4 model. Help was on the horizon, in the form of Rover's all-alloy 3.5-litre V-eight derived from a discarded Buick design of the early 60's and recently introduced in the big P5B saloon and coupé. Light, compact and powerful (165bhp) it was ideal for the job and transformed the Morgan into a real road-burner: top speed leapt to more than 120mph (193kph) with stunning rapid acceleration matched by very few road cars. Renamed the Plus 8, it looked at first glance identical it its predecessor, but in fact, had a slightly longer wheelbase and wheel track and subtly difference body contours. The most obvious change was the light alloy wheels but, underneath, the sliding pillar front suspension and leaf-sprung live rear axle remained - along with the rock-hard vintage-style ride.

1954 Morgan at the Centenary Car Club show 

It was an immediate success, with more than 4000 built to date, though never at a rate of more that 15 per week. Steel bodywork was standard - with ash framing, of course - but there was an optional sports light-weight version from 1975. Early cars used the noisy, old-fashioned Moss gearbox familiar on Jaguar saloons, but from 1972, the Rover-four-speed transmission was used.

Fuel injection was introduced in 1984 and rack-and-pinion steering in 1986. The latest cars have a 3.0litre version of the Rover engine, giving 190bhp.

As with the 4/4, demand for this anachronistic car remains healthy, with a waiting list of several years.

But if you want the best of British and the deep-chested appeal loved by Bentley Boys and Spitfire pilots, it's the only choice.

There's a lively owners' club and the factory that originally built all 6233 Plus 8's is still going strong.

Morgan 1968-2004 Specifications 
Engine : 3528cc V8
Power : 160-190bhp
Top Speed : 124mph 0-60mph : 6.7sec
Fuel Consumption : 21mpg
Transmission : 4-5 speed
No. built : 4,000 plus

Morgan Plus 4 (1954) Specifications
ENGINE :4-Cyl CAPACITY : 1172-1599cc
POWER : 36-96bhp
TRANSMISSION : 3/4/5-speed
TOP SPEED : 75-110mph (120-177kph)
NO BUILT : 6,803 up to 1991

- Info from 'The World Encyclopedia of Cars' by Martin Buckley and Chris Rees 

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