19 December 2016

A Matter Of A Pinion: Better Off With The Underdog?

I’m fed up of classic car snobbery. That facet of our existence which excludes the supposedly inferior, that pushes for the most expensive, the flashiest, the ones we supposedly always wanted. And for once, I’m not talking about how the classic car scene has for decades shunned cars of the Unexceptional cadre. I'm talking about a more widespread problem; snobbery within the ranks of certain makes and models. The sort of snobbery which promotes halo models, and dismisses the rest of the range as barely worth a look in. Not only is it unfair, but it’s often badly targeted.

I’ve just had to hand back a Jaguar XJ-S, which I had on loan for a feature for another title. Very nice, you might think. But as soon as you learn that it was a 3.6 manual with tweed seats, I bet a few of you are wondering why I bothered. Why I didn’t choose a V12. And the reason is this; because despite the verdict of a thousand armchair enthusiasts, more is not actually more. The 3.6 manual is the forgotten XJ-S, and it’s the best of the lot.

The same happens with Rover SD1s. People fawn over the V8s, to the point where perfectly usable four and six pot variants are chopped up and fitted with the 3.5 from a scrap car. And yet the V8 is not the best; the 2600 is. The 2600 might lose out on power, but it’s a revvy and willing engine. The V8 needs working harder – yes you get more out of the process, but the 2600 is an easier car to drive in a spirited manner. And it’s cheaper. Yet you don’t see many SD1 2600s championed by their owners, save the ones with V8 transplants.

In fact, it goes further. Certain models are actively discouraged. Manual Jaguars and Mercedes, for instance – people gripe about the quality of the gearchange, and yet in well-kept examples of both I’ve found nothing to whinge about. Neither was as bad as the box in my old SAAB 9000, and you never hear people complain about the shift quality in those. Apparently 6 cylinder SD1s all let go of their timing belts at 50,000 miles – but this isn’t a reason to shun them, just change the belt at 40,000. Four-door Escorts are worth a fraction of the price of an equivalent two-door, and likewise the estates. There’s a whole stratum of classic motoring that is being missed out on, because the majority of people want the halo models from any given range.

Perhaps this is a hitherto unexplored facet of unexceptional classicdom: the unexceptional-exceptional classic, the forgotten hero cars. After all, a BMW 518 is no less worthy of celebration than an M535i, a big Citroen doesn’t need a big engine, and there’s nothing wrong with poverty-spec City trim on an Austin Maestro. And while people will entertain Capri Lasers, any earlier four-banger is dismissed – when did you last see a cherished 1.6GL MK2?

These people are missing out. Because while everyone grew up dreaming of the posh one, the Capri Injection, the V12 Jag, the V8 Rover, we all grew up trying to attain the dream. The boy who dreamed of a Manta GT/E got himself into a 1.8 Berlinetta as soon as he could, SD1 fanciers bought 2300s and 2000s in their droves, and the boys who dreamed of Granada Ghias loved their V4 Consuls.

Classic cars are about emotions. And what inspires the fonder memory? The one that was always out of reach, or the one you owned and enjoyed? Perhaps you took out a much missed former girlfriend in your Capri 2.0S, or you brought your children home after birth in your Astra 1200S while dreaming of the GTE your finances now couldn’t stretch to? The only feelings most ever associated with the posh ones when new were disappointment and envy – and why would you want to re-live that by buying one now?

So ignore the nay-sayers and be less ambitious about your classic car searches. Embrace the lesser models of your chosen classic range, because they’re far better at being classic cars than ones with fake halos hovering above them.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David T. Brown Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada December 21, 2016 at 14:28
    Amen! I have long revelled in reverse snobbery, cherishing the unexceptional classics - the bone-stock, plastic-seated pleb-mobiles; the rubber-matted, base spec utility variants; the four-door, tartan-upholstered dad-mobiles; the windowless commercials. The others are of course fine for those so inclined (or financed), but there is always a spot in my heart and a place in my garage for a run-of-the-mill proletarian classic in good nick.
  • 2
    Steve Lord Sussex December 24, 2016 at 16:01
    I'm in the fortunate position of being able to use my 1953 Morris Six on a daily basis. I like this car's ungarnished style and understated approach far more than its upmarket leather and wood-trimmed relative, the Wolseley 6/80.
  • 3
    Aeneas McGhie East Ayrshire December 28, 2016 at 13:15
    I have to agree I used to have a 2300 sd1. To be fair this particular car was a disaster and had to be scrapped. I still love the idea of the 2600 sd1 and would have one in a heartbeat given half a chance. Probably looked after they are still a lovely classic car.

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