MoT

What the Reliant Scimitar taught me about MoT exemption

A VALIANT quest I set out on last November is nowhere near journey’s end. Over the past few months I’ve been on what feels like an epic voyage through the classified ads – and I still haven’t found the right Reliant Scimitar.

It’s not even casual browsing this time; it’s the serious, hardcore end of the car buying spectrum. I’ve sat for hours on end in front of computers, poring over the tiniest details in online ads. I have gone out and been on test drives. I’ve even, and this is a genuine top tip for anyone thinking of buying an old car, pre-emptively joined the owners’ club to get their help. It’s been three months, and yet I still haven’t found the right one.

I reckon having the patience of a saint and the persistence of a right pain in the proverbials will eventually get me there, of course – but it’s got be the right one. It has to an SE5 or SE5A-series GTE in any colour other than red or black, and it’s crucial that it’s one that’s been cared for.

Nor can it be the one I gave a miss the other day, which proved that changes to the MoT test last summer are a bit of a double-edged sword. Browse the ads for old cars at the moment and there are plenty being advertised as being not only tax-free, but exempt from the annual visit to the garage too. The idea is that it’s a good way of saving money on a car that you might only take out on a couple of sunny Sunday afternoons a year, and no MoT is one less thing to faff with.

So it sounds like it’s a bit of a sales pitch – but it’s also the reason why I gave one Scimitar a swerve entirely. These days you can pop virtually any car registration number into a Government-run website and it’ll tell you all of its mechanical misdemeanours, going back years at a time. It’ll tell you, for instance, that my MX-5 picked up two advisories when it was tested last month and that my Toyota Avensis needed its brakes tweaking, but for the car I checked out there was nothing. Not only no records of previous faults, but no records of it being tested at all. Anywhere. Ever. This, on records going back 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong – it could be a bit of a hidden gem with impeccable underpinnings (in which case, it should have no problem earning an annual ticket anyway). But, given the choice between one old car that’s been looked at on a ramp and has a record of all its little foibles, or one that doesn’t, which would you go for? I didn’t think rolling MoT exemption was a great idea when it was first announced 18 months ago because of all the safety implications, but on this occasion it’s about appealing to my wallet, rather than my conscience. An old car with an MoT, to my mind at least, is better value than one without.

So I’ll continue with my adventures through the car ads for now, thanks. Speaking of which, anyone thinking of flogging a Reliant Scimitar?

The Reliant Robin isn’t technically a proper car – but I still love it

I’VE JUST got back from three days of exploring the national classic car show – where one question seemed to be asked more than any other. What’s it like driving a Reliant Robin?

Regular readers might remember earlier this year I snapped one up for £600, and promptly discovered that virtually all of it was broken. It’s taken several months of frustrating repairs to get the little three-wheeler up and running again, but now that it’s through the MoT I can finally reveal the answer.

Or rather, I was about to, but then the radiator decided to drop all of its coolant across a busy dual carriageway, prompting a tail-between-legs phone call to the fourth emergency service and a lengthy roadside repair. Then it needed a boxful of bits and a morning with a timing gun because it was richer than Donald Trump and coughing like Theresa May at a political party conference. So you probably get already that the Reliant Robin is a proper classic car – the sort that people enjoy tinkering with on a Sunday morning. Or in a layby at rush hour.

But then I – by which I mean the talented folk at the Reliant Owners’ Club – finally got my £600 three-wheeler to behave like a car and I could finally go for a proper drive. I’m now happy to report that it’s addictively good fun to buzz around in.

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Top Gear would be forgiven for thinking that every corner is a rollover-in-waiting but it just isn’t true. A Robin that’s set up properly will happily flick through roundabouts or through even quite tight bends perfectly happy, and is only going to throw you into a hedge if you really muck about it.

In fact, the bigger problem is Britain’s proliferation of potholes. You end up hitting them a third more of them than you would in a normal car, and if it’s the front wheel that hits one the ride’s particularly unpleasant. So you end up driving it constantly thinking about where the middle of the car is, which is strangely rewarding because it encourages you to really think about your driving to get the best out of it.

But it’s worth it because the steering – which only has the one wheel to control, of course – is light and nimble, the gearchange is wonderfully direct and the engine loves to rev. In fact, it’ll comfortably overtake things on a motorway at seventy, even if the 850cc lump next to your left knee is doing about a million RPM.

It might be noisy and have a habit of breaking down, but it’s a car that’s overflowing with character. Which makes it more than alright in my book.

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…

Why you should act NOW to save classic car MoT tests

david-is-glad-his-mgb-is-always-given-an-mot-but-other-drivers-might-not-be-so-scrupulous

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.