DON’T BE AN APRIL FOOL . . .
The post-war growth of the vintage car movement has been remarkable. The VSCC now has more than 6,000 members, which compares favourably with 9,600 BARC and 8,100 BRSCC members on the modern side. One-make Clubs range from 500 to 2,000 or more members apiece. Alas, this mass enthusiasm is pricing the hobby out of reach of all but wealthy followers. High values can justifiably be placed on veteran, Edwardian and vintage vehicles which are delightful to drive, have scarcity and historic value, and/or which have had much time and money spent on their genuine restoration.
Exorbitant prices demanded for cars which are merely old are a different matter. By and large, we like most old vehicles and those which are not eligible for the more important events can be great fun, most enjoyable, on one-make rallies, charity events, etc. But just because a car is old it cannot logically be valued anything like as high as true vintage (pre-1931) cars. So don’t be an April Fool and pay far over the odds for a car just on account of its naked headlamps and visible radiator! High mileage and the demon rust all too often play havoc with such cars, especially those which were in at the beginning of mass-production, and their restoration should be balanced against purchase price. Spares can be virtually unobtainable, only a few of the older cars run on tyres of currently-made sizes, and with tougher MoT tests, rising insurance charges and the excessive tax on petrol, running even the less distinguished old cars is fast becoming a rich man’s pastime. If, to top all this, you pay a ridiculous price for a car of the 1930s, 40s or 50s, you must be a fool.
Remember that many old cars are nicer on paper than behind the wheel, that fine woodwork and real leather may point to a great heritage but are qualities found in plenty of 1970 cars, which are nicer to handle, much faster, easier to maintain, and free for a while from test anxieties and that the moderns, by the standards of some motor-copers, are not much more expensive!
It is elevated prices for cars which are old rather than worthy which we object to. It can be galling to read an advertisement for a mildly desirable ancient and come to a more or less reasonable price, only to find the words “needs assembling”, “no engine”, “non-runner”, or suchlike appended. And the inclusion Of mileages like “80,000 only” Or similar would be amusing if they were not rather pathetic, trying as they do to suggest that after such distances these fine Old motors are just nicely run-in. . .!
The foregoing sounds as if we are decrying the very vehicles we have in the past done so much to support. We are not! We are just advising you to keep a sense of proportion when shopping for the older vehicles, tempering your keenness to be off on a rally or one-make picnic with prudence, lest you pay too dearly and soon regret it. Prices of old cars are coming down (they ranged from £2 upwards in our last month’s “smalls”). The one-make Clubs provide much help both before and after purchase and private transactions can eliminate excess trading profits (hysteria is not unknown at auction sales). If the ancient car you fancy is advertised by a motor-coper, take heart in the knowledge that the advertised prices are not always realised, that all old cars, even quite exotic ones, do not sell that quickly, as you will discover if you spend some time browsing through our back issues, checking on cars which have been previously advertised but apparently have not found buyers at the prices demanded. In short, buy sensibly. Don’t be an old-car April Fool….
The dictionary we consulted after writing the above heading says “ballyhoo” is American slang for exaggerated advertising. American or not, we don’t like it. We used to rule that a new competition car was not worthy of much attention in MOTOR SPORT until it had at least achieved a starting-grid, if not won a race. Look what a mockery was made of the V16 BRM project by too much and too powerful advance publicity and prediction. There have been other cars which have suffered in this fashion. The pre-race publicity for the F1 March was on a scale which made it sound such a fabulous newcomer that one almost expected it to fill the first three places at Kyalami, and a gasp of astonishment followed the news that those old gentlemen, Brabham and Hulme, had been able to keep ahead of the World Champion in his new wondercar. (To be fair, two March cars were in pole position on the grid and perhaps it was a case. of Goodyear vanquishing Dunlop.)
Basinful’s of publicity nearly spoilt the Hillman Avenger for us, making us expect too much of what is a satisfactory but by no means sensational or revolutionary family car. But at least Rootes had plenty of Avengers for the dealers and the Press, whereas we waited all last year, to no avail, to try the promised Ford Capri with 16 valves and last month had to abandon our road test of a BDA Escort because Ford’s AVO couldn’t get the Cosworth engine to deliver the goods. (Mass-producers have never made much of twin-cam engines—MG abandoned their’s, Rootess dropped the IHRG double o.h.c. power unit intended for a Singer, and there have been anxieties with the Lotus Cortina power unit.) We note, too, that in a recent advertisement Ford claim that their 3000GT Capri will “give an Aston Martin a run for its money”, which is causing correspondents to ask “Which Aston Martin ?” High-pressure publicity, released too early or too lavishly, can tarnish rather than enhance the image it aims to promote. So let’s have less of it. . . .
There are those car-of-the-year exercises, for instance. Some useful publicity no doubt derives from them, although we have never felt any need to organise one ourselves. Especially when in one such competition many of the Judges appointed by the organisers to decide on the top car were said to be upset and influenced by ill-feeling caused by an inept Press launch of the VW/Porsche, for which they might otherwise have voted. The promoters of this contest used many. thousands of words convincing those who read them that their panel’s choice of top car was correct but admitted that on a test run in one they had had to stop, on average, once every 147 miles, to refuel, to adjust the lamps and to try to cure quite bad misfiring. . . . However, the manufacturers paid for the subsequent party and as this little car has won other 1970 car-of-the-year contests we suppose it may add up to something.