Brexit barrier threatens thriving classic car industry

New research shows the success of Britain's historic car industry, but Brexit leaves some worrying unanswered questions about travelling to and from Europe

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It is around this time of year that I usually start to look back at photographs and footage of the previous summer’s races and recall the smell of cut grass mixed with race fuel, the sound of birdsong and the bark of engines firing. For obvious reasons this year it has not been Silverstone’s vast crowds basking in the sun and the frisson of excitement that comes with a big race weekend that have lingered in the memory, but the gentler thoughts of historic race car meetings. E-types and pre-war Bentleys belting around Donington or Ferraris sweeping through Madgwick, the clatter of pre-digital tools and bonhomie of the paddock.

But it is not just nostalgic memories that make the historic scene so important. Like many things to do with cars and racing, it is an area that Britain both excels at and undervalues. Which is why I was pleased to see a recent report which aimed to place historic and classic motoring on the map.

‘The Economic and Environmental Impact of the Historic and Classic Motor Industry in the UK’, produced by the consultancy Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), found that the historic and classic motor industry contributes £8.7bn to the UK economy in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA – a similar measure to GDP). It’s about twice the size of the Scotch whisky industry and comparable to the performing arts and ports industries.

In particular the report highlights the success of the classic car restoration and repair industry, which contributes £1.33bn in GVA, and accounts for 25,000 of the 113,000 jobs that rely on the historic and classic car sector.

“Ironically, historic race teams may prefer to go to Brands than Spa”

The CEBR was commissioned to establish the industry’s economic credentials by HERO-ERA, the classic rally and event organisation. It came against a backdrop of government commitment to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and a fear that owners of classic and historic cars may be hit with punitive taxes as internal combustion engines fall further out of fashion. So aside from the economic contribution of the industry, the report highlighted the low carbon footprint of classic cars, which are only driven for an average of 1200 miles a year. The 563kg of CO2 per car is said to be a sixth of the emissions from a conventional car. Not to mention the fact that in terms of manufacture emissions, classic cars are greener than any electric-powered vehicles – which, as the owner of a 20-year-old Honda, is an argument I have long been making to anyone who will listen.

The report was commissioned pre-Brexit and raised several questions about how the industry would continue in 2021. In an update released last month, the authors combed the small print of the Brexit agreement. They discovered that despite some fears being allayed, there remained questions unanswered.

“Problems were broadly in two categories:

The status of historic or classic vehicles that might be brought into the UK for repair and renovation. Would these be subject to tariffs either when brought into the UK or when returned to their country of origin? Would there be difficulties in bringing parts for historic vehicles into or out of the UK?

Touring with historic and classic vehicles either organised individually or formally, in for example a rally. Would there be difficulties in taking such vehicles across borders? Would driving licences be recognised? Would rally organisers have legal status?”

I have heard similar concerns. According to Paul Lawrence, who has spent decades covering the historic scene, it won’t be the larger operations that will be affected but the hobbyists: “The bigger team owners like Martin O’Connell and Martin Stretton, for example, will find a way to cover the costs and absorb the additional paperwork,” he says, “but if you’re the guy with an MGB who likes to go to Spa Six Hours, you will look at the requirement to create an inventory of every spanner and spare tyre plus the £250 carnet cost, and may think twice.”

Ironically, Lawrence predicts that this may help the domestic scene, with UK-based teams and owners preferring to go to Donington or Brands rather than Pau and Spa.

Tomas de Vargas Machuca, chairman of HERO-ERA, puts it fairly succinctly when he says: “It is important that when the details are tied up, this sector is not impeded by the Brexit arrangements. It will be crucial for the relevant departments to contact the leaders of the relevant bodies to ensure that this happens.”

For the sake of a vital area of our sport that brings much pleasure to fans and competitors alike, let’s hope the powers that be do just that.

Follow Joe on Twitter @joedunn90

This month’s cover image

A special gathering of legendary Group C Porsches
Photography by Jayson Fong Retouching by Midas