How Much and When?

Laurence Pomeroy, M.S.A.E., had a very learned article in The Motor of April 30th entitled “When Can I Buy a Car?” With the aid of statistics he set out to investigate when the delivery of new cars may be expected to improve and whether or not prices are likely to drop. He might well be dubbed Pomeroy the Pessimistic, for he sums up: ” . . .strong possibility that for five years at least we shall be short of half-a-million motorcars. This, in turn, must lead to a waiting period of at least two years between order and receipt during the whole of this period, and to the retention of very high secondhand values for moderately-used cars in good condition.” Pessimistic as these views are, they certainly seem likely to prove correct.

However, Pomeroy’s statements about secondhand prices need not unduly depress impecunious enthusiasts. His contention that secondhand prices will remain inflated for the next five years applies, note, to moderately-used cars in good condition. If we accept, additionally, that the classic vintage types, like the “30/98” Vauxhall and old Bentleys, are becoming as rare as “old masters” and therefore can command very high prices, there are still the lesser cars of the nineteen-twenties to which to turn. Such cars, if overhauled, can offer pleasure-driving to mechanically-minded enthusiasts — but they have no other value. Business men needing daily transport naturally distrust them; even the farmer, seeking a car for heavy service, nowadays looks for something with better spares-prospects. Therefore, we contend that cars built prior to 1930, unless of grand origin or in exceptional condition, are not worth more than about £40 — with the £ worth 8s. 6d. and such cars available for less than £15 in 1939, this is the obvious figure. As soon as buyers of aged cars curb their impatience to get on the road and refuse to pay “stupid” prices, so soon will abnormally high prices cease to be asked. Remember that such cars will invariably need a re-bore and general overhaul, probably a repaint, that spares are often unobtainable that insurance is difficult (and impossible without a satisfactory engineer’s report), that these cars run on tyres of sizes no longer made, and then ask yourself whether or not they are worth ten times their pre-war prices in un-overhauled form. One good, point arising from Pomeroy’s investigations is that “if the life of old cars could be doubled from the beginning of this year, there would then be a very big change for the better.” This should encourage Authority not to be unduly finicky about having old, rear-braked cars about the place, providing they are in safe mechanical condition.

Indeed, Pomeroy’s article contains much to warm the vintagent’s cockles. Thus he estimates that “out of every 100 cars made in a given,year, 97 survive after 21 years have elapsed, 80 are still running at the end of 5 1/2 years, less than 10 remain running for 10 years.” This should be a cause for pride on the part of those with vintage or Edwardian motorcars in regular service, the more so as Pomeroy observes, “Mass-production cars of 1933 onwards are largely made from thin-gauge pressed steel, and there comes a time when corrosion makes these cars virtually irreparable, even if mechanical parts, such as bearings and brakes, can be kept going.”

Delving into statistics on our own account — by reference to those excellent data books issued by the British Road Federation, whom we should all be helping to combat transport nationalisation — we discovered more interesting things. For instance, in 1904 there were 8,465 private cars in use in this country. On Pomeroy’s assumption, by 1914 only about 850 would have survived. All credit, therefore, to the V.C.C., whose members preserve well over 100 pre-1905 cars — although this figure does bear out Pomeroy’s contention very reasonably. By 1905 nearly twice as many cars were taxed as in 1904, and this number doubled again by 1907, to more than double yet again by 1911. The 1911 figure was 72,106 and by 1914 it had risen to 132,015. This raises the query why so many pre-1905 carriages have been found by collectors while comparatively few 1905-14 motor-cars are in the combined lists of the V.C.C. and V.S.C.C. A possible explanation is that the Kaiser war absorbed many Edwardians, whereas the earlier cars were unsuited to military duties; and probably didn’t yield much in the way of metal salvage, either. Certainly by 1918 there were fewer cars in use than in 1912. V.M.C.C. members will he encouraged to learn that in 1910 (the first year figures are given) 36,242 motor-cycles were taxed, and that over the period 1916 to 1924 there were more motor-cycles in use than cars. Such figures are of little interest without means of comparison, so we will conclude by saying that in the last complete year prior to the war (1938), 1,944,394 cars and 463,375 motor-cycles were in use. At the present time the figure for private cars is 1,655,000 and of these Pomeroy estimates approximately 1,000 of 1927 vintage, 4,000 of 1929 vintage and 9,000 of 1930 vintage still survive. The moral of the whole thing seems to be that impecunious enthusiasts can still hope to motor if they will be content to run self-overhauled versions of the lesser vintage models. They must not scorn the few remaining specimens of early small cars, while remembering that big cars are often cheap because of their high h.p. and that, taxed for odd quarters, the saving in purchase price may balance taxation. But whatever class of car of the nineteen-twenties they seek, they must first force down the price by refusing to pay “stupid” sums.