classic cars

MoT exemption for classic cars is madness – here’s why

Classics like this MGB GT V8 will no longer need an MoT

“IT’S ABOUT the Toyota,” the voice on the other end of the line crackled. “I’m afraid it’s going to need a bit of work.”

The news from the garage came as a bit of a shock. The 1998 Avensis that I’ve been running around in for the past few months isn’t particularly renowned for its country lane prowess, and it’s so dull that I can’t even recall what it looks like, but it is the single most reliable thing I’ve ever owned. I’d also checked it fastidiously before it visited the MoT station, so I wasn’t expecting it to fail.

In the end I coughed up to have a sticky rear brake sorted and I was back on the road an hour later, but if the same problem pops up on my 1972 MGB GT next summer I needn’t bother. As of next May if my 19-year-old Japanese repmobile develops a glitch I’ll have to fix it before it can earn its annual ticket, but my 45-year-old piece of British Leyland heritage won’t legally be required to go into the garage at all.

Which – and I choose my words carefully, lest I be whisked away in a mysterious car belonging to the Department for Transport – is complete madness.

The aforementioned Avensis has never broken down, shed any of its components or so much as hiccupped over 12 months, but the fact that the MoT testers picked up the sticky brake on one of their machines means they were able to spot something I’d have missed otherwise. If a bombproof motorway cruiser (with a fresh set of tyres, belts and barely 30,000 miles on the clock, before you ask) can fail, then what horrors is my MGB or any other forty-something classic car harbouring?

Nor do I buy the Government’s argument that we’ll still be able to take classic cars in for inspection voluntarily; owners of pre-1960 cars, which have already been exempted for the last five years, simply don’t bother. The Department for Transport’s own figures show that only 6% of them take their old cars in for an MoT, given the choice.

The upshot is that this time next year there’ll be quite a few Ford Cortinas, Austin 1100s and MG Midgets rattling along Britain’s roads with no MoT whatsoever – and the thought of one of them suffering some critical component failure at the wrong moment troubles me. The Government reckons the risk involved is very, very small, but I’d rather there’d be no risk at all.

My MGB won’t be among that number, and if you own a tax-exempt classic car I’d urge you in the strongest possible terms to carry on getting it checked. Even if that means getting a few unexpectedly expensive phone calls…

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These are the ten cars that made my 2016, and why

IT’S been a whirlwind year of motoring adventures. Over the past 12 months I’ve driven 88 different cars and been to 34 classic shows, but a couple have left particularly big impressions, and for very different reasons.

These are the automotive memories that’ll stick out more than most…

 

Porsche 928

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

Confession time. I’ve had my fair share of Ferraris, Astons, Jaguars and TVRs, but until 2016 I’d never driven any kind of Porsche. No 911s, no Boxsters, nothing. But what a car to start with. Wonderful looks that have barely aged in four decades, a thumping great V8 soundtrack, plenty of straight line shove and handling to die for.

 

Vauxhall 6hp

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Where: Luton, Bedfordshire

How can a car that only does 18mph be so tricky – and a bit frightening – to drive?  This 112-year-old is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s heritage collection, and for one morning its custodians were brave enough to let me have a go. The steering’s by tillar, none of the pedals do what you expect them to do and it has just two gears – but boy is it rewarding when you finally get it right.

 

Wolseley Hornet Crayford ‘Heinz 57’

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Where: Swanley, Kent

Regular readers will already know I love Minis. I’ve owned two and over the years sampled many a Cooper, van, Moke and just about every other derivative besides, but this just about tops the lot. It’s one of only 50 convertible versions of the Wolseley Hornet created by Crayford as prizes to give away to the winners of a Heinz competition back in 1966. It’s Half a century on it’s still bloody brilliant to drive.

 

Ferrari Testarossa

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Where: North York Moors, somewhere near Whitby

It’s one of my favourite Ferraris and it was in the North York Moors – home to some of the best roads you’ll find anywhere in the UK. You might think the Miami Vice poser might not be the best car for this sort of territory, but the Testarossa handled more deftly than any of the armchair critics would have you believe. It didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Ford Mustang

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Where: Birkenhead, Merseyside

It’s a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, you have a bright red Ford Mustang convertible at your disposal – oh, and it has a V8 for good measure. It didn’t matter a jot that the summer afternoon in question was in Birkenhead rather than Beverley Hills. Everybody loved the ‘stang, including the guy grinning behind the wheel.

 

 

Volkswagen Up!

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Where: Stelvio Pass, Italy

I have longstanding affection for the Up!, honed after many weekends using a company-owned one on Classic Car Weekly adventures. What turned out to be jolly good fun on the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District translates into equally smile-inducing motoring on the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. It might have only had 60bhp at its disposal but its size and agility made it a perfect partner, embarrassing plenty of quicker cars up there. Hire car motoring at its best.

 

Messerschmitt KR200

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Where: Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Until 2016 I’d never driven a bubble car – and then I got to drive three in one day! The BMW Isetta and Trojan 200 were huge fun but for ultimate kicks the Messerschmitt KR200 is in a different league. Super-sharp, yoke-operated steering, a tiny engine that thrived on revs and a centrally-mounted driving position made this a drive quite unlike any other. Utterly exhilerating.

 

 

TVR Chimaera

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Where: The Golden Mile, Blackpool

Over three wonderful days I fell just a little bit in love with a TVR Chimaera I borrowed. It was very, very good on the roads criss-crossing the Trough of Bowland (keep an eye for the forthcoming feature in Modern Classics magazine) but the real highlight was cruising into Blackpool at the height of the Illuminations. It was a huge privilege to bring this piece of the resort’s motoring heritage home for the night.

 

MGB GT

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Where: Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Not just any MGB GT, but my MGB GT, and it was finally on the spectacular journey I’ve always wanted to do with it. Wonderful roads, spectacular scenery – and it actually got there AND BACK without breaking down!

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

I wasn’t even behind the wheel – that job I left to Bryan Glazer, the car’s owner – but this was the most important journey of my motoring life. On 29 July a blushing bride hopped out of it – and she’s now my wife. Then I got to do a champagne-fuelled lap of my hometown of Southport in it. It was the motoring moment that left the biggest impression on me. Well it had to be, didn’t it?

Additional photography courtesy of Richard Gunn and Classic Car Weekly

Why you really ought to do the Blackpool Illuminations in a classic car

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YOU DON’T have to venture far for one of Britain’s greatest drives. Blackpool’s Illuminations are big fun in the right car – as long as you’re prepared for it to average about three miles an hour.

I’ve ‘done the lights’ pretty much every year since I earned my licence and loved every minute. You can enjoy it in just about any car but to make the most of it bring a convertible that won’t overheat in prolonged stints of traffic, make sure it’s an auto so your left leg’s still working by the time you reach the Pleasure Beach, and tell your mates to wrap up warm because at no point will the roof be going up. Vauxhall’s Cascada, Mercedes’ E-Class Convertible and BMW’s 4-Series Cabriolet are pretty much perfect for the job.

The cars to cruise up the seafront and bask in the gaudy glitz of the lights and waft in the vinegary smells are better than ever. The only problem – if my last couple of trips up the coast have been anything to go by – the traffic management seems to have got worse.

Go on a busy Friday or Saturday night and you can expect to be queuing as you soon as you emerge from Lytham St Annes, sometimes with your engine off for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. That’s fair enough for one of the North’s most congested tourist hits, but what isn’t are the scary manouveres other impatient motorists pull to try and beat the queues.

On a visit last weekend drivers routinely drove up the wrong side of the road at well above the 30mph speed limit, usually with terrified-looking tourists heading straight at them in the other direction. For the best part of half an hour I watched as headlights flashed, horns blared and tyres screeched as people desperate to see the lights before everyone else caused other cars to career towards the kerb. It wasn’t just cars full of impatient Illuminations-watchers either; the single worst offender was a double decker bus, its driver thinking sticking his hazards on was enough to allow driving up the wrong side of a busy road.

Without wanting to sound like Alastair Stewart on some bad Nineties rerun of Police Camera Action it was some utterly appalling driving – but I reckon the ball’s in Blackpool’s court to sort it out. It’s great the Illuminations are hauling in the sightseers, but I suspect a massive accident caused by an impatient oik driving up the wrong side of the road won’t do the show any favours.

It’s a resounding A+ for the lights themselves – and I’d still recommend seeing them – but a firm ‘must do better’ on the traffic front. Same again next year?

The new editor of Classic Car Weekly? That’d be me

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AT THE END of this week I’ll be taking on the biggest and most exciting challenge of my career – I’ve been appointed as the new editor of Classic Car Weekly.
It’s been three-and-a-bit years since I arrived at CCW‘s offices and passed what I’m still sure was some sort of unspoken initiation test on only my second day – handling the stress of breaking down rather conspicuously in an E-type in Southampton’s rush hour. Since then I’ve worked as both its news editor and features editor and loved every minute of it.

Obviously the drive up Blackpool’s seafront in a Corvette Stingray, lapping the Nürburgring in my Mazda MX-5 and a wonderful afternoon with a Ferrari Testarossa on the North Yorkshire Moors stick out in the grey matter, but more importantly I really enjoy just chatting to people who love old cars and immersing myself in a world of chrome bumpers, tail fins, Bakelite steering wheels, GTI badges, go-faster stripes, chokes, evocative exhaust notes and folding chairs in the grounds of stately homes. Always have, always will.

What an exciting time it is to take over the reins at my favourite motoring publication. You only have to look at the findings of the latest National Historic Vehicle Survey in today’s issue to see how important Britain’s classic car owners – and the jobs and shows they support – are to the nation’s heritage.

There’ll be more of the cars and events you love in CCW’s pages, and more news stories on the issues that affect them. I’d also like to thank outgoing editor Keith Adams (yes, him of the not-at-all-addictive AROnline) for the hard work he’s put into Classic Car Weekly over the past two years, and wish him all the best in his new role as editor of used car bible Parkers.

And Life On Cars? That’ll continue as always – and feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about Classic Car Weekly in the comments.
For more see today’s issue of Classic Car Weekly (19 October, 2016)

Why you should act NOW to save classic car MoT tests

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SO IT’S your lucky day. You’ve won a free pleasure flight in a vintage aircraft over the North West – but when you arrive at the airfield things don’t seem right.

The aircraft in question looks a bit rusty, there’s mould sprouting from the window frames and the engines seem to splutter as she starts up. It looks like something that’s been dragged out of a hedge rather than anything you’d entrust your life with.

So you ask about what safety certificate the old girl has – and sure enough, it doesn’t have one. The pilot tells you it doesn’t need a safety check he’s done all the checks himself and everything’s fine. Or rather he would, but his voice is drowned out by the propellers stuttering and spluttering.

Still going to don those flying goggles, then?

That’s pretty much the exact position the Government wants to put me – and a few hundred thousand other car nuts – in this week. The vintage aviation buffs can bring their letters of complaint to The Champion’s editor to a shuddering halt because I know their aircraft are covered by tight safety legislation, but if Whitehall has its way all cars made before 1977 won’t be. That’s a long list of cars for which an MoT will no longer be necessary.

A list of cars that includes my 1972 MGB GT. I’d happily give you a lift home in it because I know it’s been checked over by experts in a garage at least once a year, and anything nasty they find is quickly rectified, no matter what the cost. But the idea of old cars being allowed to tootle up and down our dual carriageways and motorways with no legal safety check whatsoever is a recipe for disaster.

Sure, there are plenty of classic car owners who are fastidious, have their vehicles checked and lavish whatever attention they need, but it’ll only take one accident caused by an old car with an undiagnosed fault for all hell to break loose. 

I’ve no intention of allowing my beloved MGB out onto Her Majesty’s Highways without the experts giving it the once over first – but under the Government’s proposals I no longer have to. So there’s absolutely nothing to stop some unscrupulous soul dragging a Morris Oxford out of a 30-year slumber, sticking some fresh fuel in it and driving it to the shops.

Yet there’s a very real prospect that MoTs will be dropped entirely for older cars – and if you’re worried about it you’ve barely a month to have your say. There’s a consultation on the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s website, but it closes on November 2.

If you like your classic cars to come with the added thrill of not knowing if a tyre blowout or brake failure is imminent, then do flick through to the sports pages. But if you care about people’s safety, do the right thing and have your say.

The Morgan dealer that’s still in business NINETY YEARS later

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IF ONLY car dealerships could talk. I suppose if they did, the one I popped into the other weekend would be able to regale you with some brilliant anecdotes.

I was there for a 90th birthday party – and while it’s entirely reasonable for any 90-year-old to be taking it easy over a glass of sherry this one was surrounded by nightclubs and scary three-wheeled sports cars with motorcycle engines (I should know, I’ve encountered both). Lifes Motors could’ve sloped off to a retirement home decades ago, yet it’s still very much alive and kicking.

All of which makes this showroom on one of Southport’s quieter streets the oldest Morgan dealership of the lot. Not just in the North West or even in Britain, but the whole world.

What’s more, the 90th anniversary is only of it selling a certain brand of ash-framed sports car from Worcestershire; if you count its history of selling motorcycles, it’s actually 93 years old.

It’s hard to believe that the same dealership was operating at a time when televisions hadn’t even been invented and most families’ idea of motoring was a motorcycle and sidecar combination, as the Austin Seven would’ve been too newfangled and expensive.

In the nine decades since car showrooms have sprung up all over the North West, switched franchises a few times and then slowly sloped off the mortal coil; only the other week I was sad to see Formby Ford closing its doors for the last time, after decades of selling cars with blue ovals on their snouts and Austin Rover and BL products in the years before that. Yet this one dealership just keeps going, powered by cars that to the untrained eye look exactly like the ones it was selling half a century ago.

That’s the thing with Morgans. Whether yours was made in 1926, 1966 or 2016, it’s a safe bet that it’s exciting and prompts conversations with bystanders at whichever pub car park you take it too. I know plenty of people – particularly ones who work in or around cars – who hate Morgans, but the ones who appreciate them really love them for what they are. I’m definitely one of the latter, and smile whenever I hear the bass-heavy thump of a Plus 8 babbling past or see the wind-battered smile of someone clearly enjoying the elements in a Threewheeler.

I’ve no doubt it’ll still be trading sports cars that look vaguely the same when the centenary comes around. In fact, it’ll probably still be doing it long after you and I are consigned to the scrapheap!

Why the Goodwood Revival needs to heard north

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DEAR Lord March,

I very much enjoyed your nostalgia-tinged car show on the outskirts of Chichester last weekend. I suspect just about every other petrolhead from across Europe did too, given the size of the traffic jams on the way in and the fact the 3,500 classic cars eventgoers brought along made what’s effectively a visitor car park bigger than most classic car shows in its own right.

The Goodwood Revival is a motoring event quite unlike any other. Nowhere else has the same near-obsessive attention to detail – everything from the cars and bikes to the shops and costumes has to fit in with the idea you’ve somewhere stepped back in time to 1966. Nothing else has quite the same scale of ambition too. You might think squeezing the cream of the world’s touring car talent, Le Mans winners and David Coulthard into identical Austin A35s for a race sounds a bit far-fetched. But it isn’t. Last weekend the sort of race you’d dream up six pints into a night out actually happened.

But there is one real problem with the Goodwood Revival. It’s miles away, and nothing in the North even comes close.

The Cholmondeley Pageant of Power – sorry, Cholmondeley Power and Speed – is a noisy step in the right direction but it doesn’t have quite the same atmosphere or scale as the Revival. An event I went to over in Scarborough last year, the East Coast Classic, nailed the motorsport pedigree bit by bringing classic cars to an old street racing circuit but lacked the sort of ruthlessly efficient timetable that makes the Revival’s every-other-minute thrills so beautifully coordinated. The closest thing I can think of is the Oulton Park Gold Cup, which is brilliant and very well attended but lacks Goodwood’s sense of theatre.

What you need to do, M’Lord, is venture up here and bring a little Revival sparkle to the North West.

Happily we’ve just the venue too; Aintree. We already hold a small race meet there called the Grand National but it’s also the place where Sir Stirling Moss won his first British Grand Prix. It’s steeped in motor racing history, and thanks to all the horse racing fans it has proper grandstands and facilities too. I think you can see where I’m going with this one.

Just imagine how brilliant it would be if you could have some Team Lotus F1 cars or Jaguar C-types belting around the circuit in its full, three-mile glory. You could insist everyone dressed up in 1960s costume too, and have vintage aircraft circling overhead. There’s so much potential for a Goodwood of the North – and we have the perfect place for it, right here.

You know you want to – and if it all goes wrong, just say that bloke from The Champion put you up to it.

Regards,

David

Classic cars pack into Southport pub for new meet

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ADMITTEDLY the car park behind The Arion pub in Ainsdale isn’t massive, but filling it with classics on a quiet weekday night at a new event is still quite an achievement.

Aintree Circuit Club – which is also behind the Ormskirk MotorFest – says the first of its monthly meets on Wednesday (7 September) was a big success, with 50 petrolheads from across Southport bringing their cars along. The turnout included three Jaguar E-types, six Minis, a Jensen Healey, an MG RV8 and two Austin-Healeys.

 

The next weekday meet takes place on 5 October from 6.30pm, and the first of the club’s Sunday morning meets – which also take place at The Arion – starts at 9am on 3 October.

Love classic cars? Then don’t miss this brilliant new event

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IF YOU love classic or performance cars you won’t want to miss a new car meet being launched in Southport next week.

The first of the Aintree At The Arion meets – following a successful trial last month – takes place at the Arion pub on Kenilworth Road in Ainsdale from 7pm on Wednesday, 7 September.

Organiser Aintree Circuit Club is also planning a weekend meet, starting in October.

The MotorFest is Ormskirk’s slice of petrolhead heaven

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ROUGHLY 15,000 of you had to put up with my waffling over the weekend. This year’s Ormskirk MotorFest was a hit – but someone thought it was a good idea to let me into the commentary box!

That someone is Steve Berry, who still holds the record for the most northern person ever to present Top Gear. So for the bits of this year’s parades when you weren’t being deafened by BRISCA’s stock cars or applauding the bubble cars you were treated to me rambling on about classic cars while Steve flicked through the event notes, trying to work out who the Jensen Interceptors belonged to.

One thing we agreed on was how much West Lancashire’s day of petrolhead heaven has evolved since I first got the phone call from an Ormskirk councillor six long years ago, letting me know the powers-that-be were thinking of putting on a car show. 

What’s resulted since is one of the busiest days on Ormskirk’s calendar – and persuading all those people and their cash into West Lancashire has got to be a good thing. Folk who aren’t necessarily car geeks like you and me. The free-for-all format and the town centre location meant a lot of the showgoers I saw were young families learning about the joys of cars.

Take the Jaguar Mk2 that won the car category of the MotorFest’s concours last weekend – it might not be a Ferrari or an F1 racing car, but the fact the owner’s transformed it in the eight year’s he’s owned it from a box of bits and a rolling shell into a shimmering slice of Sixties nostalgia is genuinely inspiring stuff. Same goes for the 1906 Franklin Model E Runabout – at 110 years old it’s easily the oldest car that’s ever taken part in the MotorFest, but it still did the same parade laps as all the Subaru Imprezas and the Ferrari 458 Italia.

There are things that would make the MotorFest even better still – there are still too many long pauses between the parades, and I’d love to see the organisers take advantage of scheduled changes to the law to allow the event to have a more competitive element – but having an event that puts F1 cars, Aston Martins and race bikes onto Ormskirk’s one-way system is a real achievement.

Even if it involves having to listen to that chap from Classic Car Weekly who does The Champion’s motoring column rambling on over the loudspeakers. Sorry about that.