25 May 2016

Enjoy your classics. Please.

I was at a classic car show the other day. And there were some beautiful examples of old tat there; Unexceptional and rarefied old cars stretching almost as far as the eye could see. And yet something bothered me. There were some cars there which were too god to be true. Too good to have driven there, with nary an oil dribble in the engine bay or wear to the tyres.

At the end of the show I saw why. When cars started leaving, suddenly trailers started to arrive. And the clean, concours cars were loaded up for the journey home. What a waste.

I’ve never understood the appeal of owning a trailer queen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a near concours classic; back when it was my sole car and daily driver I could have challenged anybody to find a speck of dust on my Montego, and their searches would have been in vain. I was expert at wet-look shines, with a car cleaning process that could occupy most of a weekend – and usually did. While there were better examples on the show circuit, none could claim a five figure annual mileage and get close to competing on condition. And it felt good, often having the best example on show and collecting awards with gay abandon.

But that is not quite the same thing. I can understand why, after years of restoration, gallons of sweat and tears, and the inevitable marital strife of endless nights spent in the garage, a proud classic car owner might want to treat his newly recommissioned baby with kid gloves. After all that work, you wouldn’t really want to start again 2 years down the line. But cars were built to be driven – that’s why we own them. If all we wanted was to look, wouldn’t it be far easier to buy a poster?

I’ll grant you, a car can be a work of art. Take a look at an early E Type, early Silver Shadow or even a Vauxhall Magnum and you’ll see what I mean. There are several very good reasons to look at it and admire it for what it is – this is why museums exist, after all. But the function of a car has always been transport first and foremost – and why should we deny it what is almost its birthright purely and simply to satisfy a vanity and a necessity to own the best example?

I have a mate, a several-time concours winner. His 11,000-mile Allegro is driven to and from events despite looking far better than it would have done when new. Though, in fairness, as it has all its panels attached and in a matching colour it’s an improvement on many. And Tom’s car is the ideal example with which to refute claims by the trailer brigade that it’s the only way to keep a classic in good order. There’s something a little bit sad about a car that has spent 20 years resting in a garage, only to be restored to pristine condition ready for another 20 years of resting. There’s something even sadder about low mileage originals confined to trailers in a desperate bid to maintain their mileage. It’s a world I cannot fathom, and nor do I really want to.

Those who drive to shows in well-maintained classics, well done, and I take my hat off to you. Those who turn up in shabby-chic examples which look like they might at ten years old, I’m fine with you. Use and enjoy it as intended. You’re benefiting from the hard work you’ve put in and you’re reaping the rewards by enjoying your classic. Cars which are trailered everywhere seem to benefit nobody – not their owners, who spend their weekends remembering how to reverse a trailer; not visitors to club stands who would dismiss such cars as overdone, and not event organisers – after all, the trailers have to go somewhere.

In fact, I’d argue we need to go the other way. Show people just how valid your classic is as transport in 2016 by using it as regularly as you can. And when it comes to showing it, let it wear those hallmarks of daily use with pride - the odd supermarket dink, paint scuff, stone chip or rusty edge. This is motoring as it used to be, rather than rose tinted nostalgia for a past which wasn’t there. And, moreover, it’s fun.

If you’re at any shows over the summer, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the one with the unwashed and rusty P6.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Wilson Laidlaw Lewes, UK June 1, 2016 at 02:25
    I trailer my 1977 911 RSR to the classic car rallies I do for a very good reason. Nobody makes regular road tyres in the correct size for the rear any more (265-45 x 15"), so I have to use either Michelin TB15 or Pirelli P Zero Corsa Classico D5 road legal race tyres. These arrive "pre-worn" to about 5mm or less tread depth and particularly in the Michelin's case are very soft compound. Each mile on these costs around 50p in rubber alone and I want to use the mileage on rally miles not trundling around.
  • 2
    Norman Burrell Shepperton June 1, 2016 at 06:06
    Although I admire concourse cars at classic shows and feel a pang of envy at their low mileage and mark free bodywork I have always felt that it must drive people spare getting those cars ready for shows and fearing someone leaning over to have a closer look. I have owned an XJS V12 convertible in Jet Black with magnolia upholstery for the last 19 years. It was registered in 1990 and I bought the car from a friend in 1997 just having done 67,000 miles.and I would say that it is definitely in better condition now than when I first took it over. The previous owner kept it well maintained however he left it at his fathers house having purchased a brand new XK8. His father was a bit careless and flicked some blue paint on the car when he was painting his windows. I carefully removed the paint splashes It has had a couple of areas of rust taken out and metaled and a minimal amount of respray done in those areas. The side stripes were scuffed in places so I removed them with a hair drier and have never replaced them as I have not been able to obtain an original set. Hence it is stripe less which always causes comments at shows. my excuse is that it makes the car look more shapely which I think is true. Two weeks after purchase I also had rear leather seats installed in place of the parcel shelf to accommodate my then young daughter on trips. The car is not my regular drive (which is a Mercedes 350 SL) but the XJS has now done 91,000 miles and always draws admiration from folks either at shows or when I park it in a street. I have lost count of the times that people have gone out of their way to comment on the car when I have been stationary at traffic lights with the hood down. My view is that it is a very underrated modern classic which by now should have moved out of the shadow of the E-type. It was as radical step forward for the company as the XF, XE and F-Type are today and along with the XJ6 it helped to save the Jaguar mark under the direction of the brilliant John Egan. The model was In production in all variants for 25 years and it is still one of the biggest production sports GT cars ever made although just under 7,000 are left worldwide. In my opinion it stands as one of Jaguars most important vehicles. Sadly the company hardly bothers to acknowledge it and even omits it out of their DNA list of important cars. They hardly gave it a mention on the XJS 40th birthday. I love my car and could never just polish it and leave it in the garage covered up.all the time. It deserves to be seen on the road as much as possible. It is a legend as the Jag ads used to state.
  • 3
    John Greenhalgh NW June 5, 2016 at 13:55
    I can understand why people do it after spending a lifetimes savings on restoration and want them for a glass case show piece or they are too old to be practical on todays roads but isnt the point that they are a car a means of transport from the past and isnt it much better to drive them for the public to see in action and admire in the environment they were intended for.

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