Veteran Edwardian Vintage, April 1985

A few words of caution…

…Those thinking of taking up the hobby, pastime, obsession or whatever you care to call it of running an old motor-car should think carefully before taking the plunge. Those who are already active members of the VSCC or other old-car clubs need read no further — they well know of the pitfalls as well as the pleasures of the game. What follows urea few words of warning directed at those contemplating joining in, particularly the dilettantes to whom this somewhat exacting pursuit is not altogether suited.

D.S.J.’s recent remarks on the fakes of the old-car world sound the first warning. He made the point that a fake 0-type Jaguar would be worth £30,000, while in “Trade terms” a genuine D-type might be worth £130,000. How would you feel if, having spent the latter not inconsiderable sum, you ended up with a bogus car, unacceptable among the experts in the appropriate one-make clubs, or at rallies? Especially as it would not then be all that easy to recoup the outlay… That apart, old-car ownership involves a good deal more than just buying and driving an aged vehicle. Sooner rather than later, Sod’s Law being what it is, such a car will play up, prove temperamental, or worse. It may start with quite simple tricks, perhaps boiling the fuel in a petrol-line on a hot day, or developing mysterious ignition lapses smacking of petrol starvation but actually connected with a faulty condenser within an early coil, both of which have ruined rallies for me in my own vintage cars. Such things are simple to cure but if your old car develops series defects rectifying them may well prove very expensive. If you have chosen a car of which a Club mists holding plenty of spares, these will keep you on the road, at a cost. Remember, for instance, that a new cylinder head for a Rolls-Royce 20 or 20/25 will cost £1,880 and a used one can cost about as much and crack as soon as it is hot… Then there is the pitfall that parts for, say, a 1933 car may not fit a 1930 model of the same make, which can lead to further problems and delays in getting back on the road.

If the bits needed to get your car back into running order are unobtainable they will have to be made specially, which can be a costly process; even when specialist Clubs have batches of parts made, this is so. It may be cheaper to make the bits yourself, but this involves having a workshop equipped with lathe, drill, welding equipment and the like, costly in itself, and assuming you are qualified to use such equipment. If you are not, you are in the hands of the small engineering concerns and while some are excellent, others are not. The firms claiming to supply parts for individual makes of the older cars do not always come up with bits to original specification either, in my experience. In this context, I hear that the Riley RM Register has been having problems with brake master-cylinder seals supplied under a Club part no., which the makers say are within the prescribed limits…

So, having invested in an old car, it may turn out tube a fake, or too difficult to keep on the road when spares are required, giving you a feeling akin to that of the chaps in the TV advertisement who, having brought various expensive modern cars, discover that all the individual qualities they sought are combined in the Mazda 626…! Then there is the matter of tyres. Sooner or later your old car will need new ones. But those in the funny sizes most old vehicles use are becoming ever dearer, even harder to find. It is good news that Sumitomo, who has hived off a large part of the former Dunlop empire which was formerly the main British source of tyres and tubes for the older cars, says it will go on making them. But we do not know how soon, or at what prices. And other sources sometimes have tyres safe only for vintage cars no more demanding than a farm trailer, and definitely unsafe for more than 60 mph or so, especially in the case of many remoulds.

Another deterrent is the inflated values now placed on almost all old vehicles. In this respect, I never fail to wonder why people pay high prices for cars of a kind which were not very nice to drive when they were new, selling in fact only because of their then low purchase prices of around the £100 mark, and which are unlikely to have improved simply because they are now around half-a-century older! Yet these little horrors, which now have more exacting traffic conditions to contend with, are now marked up anything from about £3,000 to £4,500, and more. I have used such vintage ironmongery myself, but only when the price paid was in the region of a hundreth lower. So think about this before falling for one of these mechanical calamities at today’s values. And as the discerning Paul Freer observed recently in Motor, of far, far better examples. “However good a car was in its time, one should never be tempted to drive one again, after so many years”. As with women, cars can be a disappointment as the years roll on…

Supply and demand control the high prices asked for the better vintage and so-called classic cars but it can be a sobering thought that nowadays an average 12/50 Alvis or similar commands much the same price as a sad Silver Shadow. So, before the dilettante old-car buyer parts with hard-earned cash he or she should reflect on how pedestrian and hard-work-to-drive many of these heavy, underpowered “heirlooms” can be. If you are contemplating long, happy days driving to far-afield rallies ponder on this, because unless you are a dedicated “vintagent”, such low mph allied to a heavy gear change might well drive you bananas. In this context I remember a friend who before the war used a vintage-type car, a Riley 9 Gamecock as it happened, for regular, long-distance business journeys. He maintained that unless such a car could cruise at at least 55 mph it was useless. How many owners of vintage cars, rich 30/98, Bentley and Frazer Nash men apart, can say, hand on heart, that you can still cruise that fast? To do it on big-engined old cars is one thing, to be able to do this with a small vintage car is unlikely, unless it is highly tuned, when it will be apt to be temperamental, and probably better off on a trailer, whereas the whole point of owning a vintage or pvt car is to enjoy driving it to and from events.

That the older cars can be exacting to rebuild and to maintain is reflected in advertisements that read: “Dismantled, requires finishing”; “Ripe (how ripe?) for restoration”; “Excellent chassis, no body”; or “Basket-case, all parts for malting a delectable … … “, the trouble with the last being that however accommodating the basket, it is difficult to be sure everything is in it. You find the sat problems among the model engineering fraternity, where such explosive ads. are as to appear as: “Scale-model loco, no tender, boiler untested”.

So, unless you are truly dedicated, and good mechanic, you might do better to spend your money on a modern car! No fakes, you see, no devious chassis-number, plenty of available spares and replacement tyres, no nasty “It’s not original, old boy sneers, plenty of performance to test your skills, and a guarantee into the bargain… If you completely disagree then you must really and truly be ready for the VSCC. W.B