What is a Vintage Car?

It is generally accepted that an antique is some objet d’art around 100 years old. If it wasn’t, those old chairs, a bit outdated and shaky in the seat, stuck up in the attic a dozen years ago would rank as antiques. A line has to be drawn somewhere. The V.S.C.C. drew it at the end of 1930 because its Committee, when this excellent Club was formed, thought that motor car design and quality had fallen into a degenerate state after that date. The V.M.C.C., formed after the war, used the same date limit. But it is now in the throes of debating hotly whether the limit should be extended to 1939, or even later.

This, I think, would be a pity. For one thing, an antique evokes interest and admiration because of its age—it should not only be something from an era of craftsmanship, not necessarily better, but different from equivalent objects of the present, but should be aloof in form, purpose and conception, so that it is in no way a substitute for, or merely an extension of, modern products. Extend the vintage date-limit to 1939 and someone will suggest 1949, and in the end the dividing line between old and new, vintage and modern, will be so narrow as to have little purpose.

During the war the V.S.C.C., wanting to remain a big, powerful Club as well as being one of the best there is, decided to admit certain cars made between 1931 and 1940 inclusive, giving them the clumsy designation of “post-vintage thoroughbreds”. A rather odd list of qualifying makes/models was drawn up, which included some rarities which the Committee had probably never seen, let alone driven! The general idea of eliminating mass-production vehicles of this period remains in being, with the droll result that, for instance, a 1930 Morris Minor qualifies for full vintage membership whereas a 1931 Morris Minor is regarded as quite unworthy of recognition.

The introduction of this p.v.t. category also meant that the S.S. 100, for example, is now regarded as a very fine motor-car for a V.S.C.C. member to own, whereas before the war the Committee tended to make jokes about such modern sports-cars, calling them “Soda Squirts” and drawing funny pictures of them.

Moreover, things like Le Mans Singers, J4 M.G.s, Alvis Fireflies and Rileys are accepted as thoroughbreds whereas, in 1937, interest in such low-geared monstrosities was discouraged by a little verse in the V.S.C.C. Bulletin which read:

Changed at twenty, down to first;

Wondered why the motor burst?

Gave him quite a nasty turn,

Buzz-Box owners live and learn.

I am in favour of all cars over a certain age being preserved, because, depending on their age and merit, they are either unusual, unique, amusing or just “different”, and have all contributed something to history and evolution. But they must go back reasonably far in time—otherwise it is a case of attic chairs instead of antiques.

The fact that a new V.S.C.C. Membership List is pending excuses me the tedious task of calculating which proportion of the membership is vintage and which is p.v.t. But I rather wish they had kept to the vintage limit of pre-1931, excluding cars built later than this.

The one-make clubs cater adequately for the up-to-1940s or for cars of any age, depending on their function, and thus the better makes/models of most ages are protected from extinction. The trouble with p.v.t., apart from confusion, is where to draw the line. Moreover, it can put up prices. We all know that a car made in 1931 is worth considerably less than one that can claim to have left the factory in 1930. But the p.v.t. tag covers a great many cars, the prices of which are thereby elevated, although they have far less scarcity and interest value.

A sliding-scale date-limit is favoured by some; i.e., adding a year each twelvemonth. But had the V.S.C.C. adopted such a scheme after the war it would now be accepting 1949 cars as vintage and certain 1957 vehicles as p.v.t.—too much like those chairs in the attic! Although, of course, these are just the sort of “vintage cars” you see advertised in Swap and Bazaar and the less well-informed motor papers!

The V.C.C. has wisely never brought the veteran date-limit below 1904. The V.S.C.C. adds a year once a year for Historic Racing Cars, which has already led to confusion, for “more than 12 years old” seems to mean 1951 in 1964, but, in fact, 1952 cars are eligible, or at all events those a full twelve months old at the time of their race—I am told that the Cooper-Bristol seen at the April V.S.C.C. Meeting made its debut at Easter 1952 and so had a perfect right to be in the programme. But, personally, while sufficient E.R.A., Bugatti, Delage, Amilcar and other pre-war racing cars remain fast and race-worthy, I would have preferred the limit to have been 1940—in fact, the V.S.C.C. uses the rather odd definition of “before 31st December 1930”, and “before December 31st 1943” in dating vintage and historic racing cars, although I do not think that much racing took place on the last day of 1930 or any at all on the last day of 1943. This haggle over the last day of the year used to affect non-racing vintage and p.v.t. membership. I always feel so sorry for those would-be members of a Club that has given so much pleasure to so many people (myself included) whose Austin Seven, shall we say, is ineligible because it left Longbridge on December 31st 1930, or whose 4¼-litre Bentley, to quote a mythical possibility, bought perhaps at some exorbitant cost from a modern motor trader, cannot qualify as a p.v.t. because Derby gave it its final coat of paint on the very last day of 1940—if Derby was doing things like that in that particular year. This ruling applied as recently as the beginning of last year but has, I believe, been revised.

Those one-make clubs not embracing moderns sometimes, permissibly, disregard the V.S.C.C. vintage limit. Thus the 12/50 Alvis Register goes to 1932 to bring in 12/60s, and the S.T.D. Register, although having no truck with Sunbeams and Talbots made by Rootes, comes down to the last of the Wolverhampton Sunbeams in 1935 and a year or so later to let in the last of the Roesch Talbots. The 750 M.C. Register believes that all Austin Sevens are worth saving, so goes down to 1938. In the case of the club (alas now defunct) formed to cater for vintage aeroplanes, and the H.C.V.C., somewhat later vintage designations are permissible, or even just post-war. There was one 1944 vehicle, for instance, in last month’s H.C.V.C. Brighton Run, although generally I think even commercials are not encouraged to be post-1939. In fact, a proposition that all commercial vehicles up to 1949 be automatically admitted to the H.C.V.C. was defeated at their recent A.G.M. One-make clubs with no age limits have no complications to face.

My advice to the V.M.C.C. is to stick to 1930 and have no p.v.t. section. One-make clubs or lone enthusiasts will look after, and look out for, the better machines built between 1931 and 1940, or later, but there is no reason why they should have to pay outrageous prices for makes/models that are not truly vintage, which, indeed, bear a close resemblance to modern motorcycles, machines, in fact, which do not begin to qualify as antiques.

Having written this, I now read in the current V.M.C.C. Journal that the question of admitting post-vintage machines was, at the A.G.M., submitted to a referendum of the membership by a vote of 86 to 6. If they decide to let in the later motorcycles I wish them the best of belt-drive luck in trying to decide what does and what does not qualify as a p.v.t. . . .

Even the V.C.C. weakened in the end and let in what are termed “Edwardians” (spare me from trying to recall which are the limit years for these!). . . . Perhaps the solution to all these vexatious problems is an Old Car Club (with a section for Fairly Olds). It would certainly sweep away many complexities!—W. B.