A well-known firm of auctioneers withdrew all its advertising from Motor Sport because the Editor dared to question their business methods and ethics.
Now this criticism was not made lightly, for if you move around in the old car world and listen to the prices asked or claimed for some pretty mundane cars you hear a lot of adverse comment about the situation. This comes from ordinary, everyday people who are not involved in the auction world, the used car world, the "restoration" world, the "wheeler-dealer" world or anything like that. These people come from all walks of life and all manner of trades and professions — in other words you, the average reader. Old car motoring is their hobby, just as golf might be for their bank manager.
Invariably these people are members of the Vintage Sports Car Club, the Vintage Motorcycle Club, or a one-make Club or Register, and all are part of the brotherhood of enthusiasts for everything from Bond Minicar to Bugatti, or MG to Mercedes-Benz. All of these organisations, whether of many thousands of members like the VSCC or VMCC or a small group like the Dellow Owners, have their Club magazine or news letter. I read a large number of these, and over the past few months two subjects ring out loud and clear.
The first refers to auction-sale prices (real or imaginary), dealer prices or that obliquely vague tag, POA (Price On Application), private owners's prices and so on. The big worry is the disappearance of known usable cars into museums or private collections, and in particular the disappearance to Japan of some especially interesting cars through their sale by one of the specialist used car dealers.
On this topic there has been some comment about the action of some of the members in one-make clubs, and an editorial in the latest newsletter of the Sunbearn-Talbot-Darracq Register says it all. By courtesy of the Editors of the STD Register Newsletter I quote the following:
"It happens that through changed circumstances or sickness a car has to be sold. The owners contact the Editors to place an advertisement in the club publication, or just for advice. In some of these cases we may be able to offer some help and it is NOT unusual for us to see the replies received from Newsletter advertisements.
"Could we ask , if you are a Club member, or enquire about a car through an advertisement in the Newsletter, BE HONEST, declare your hand if you want a car to sell on, after completion maybe, or restoration; share the truth and shame the devil.
"The same openness should apply if you are interested in a car for your own enjoyment, be honest about your intentions; do not abuse the privilege of membership to deceive the seller and destroy the trust of fellow members.
"Standards of honesty may be slipping, the 'sharp deal' may be smart and clever these days amongst 'yuppies', but at least among friends let's be honest and open in our dealings.
"See how the 'yuppies' have fallen.
"At least consider that your reply to an advertisement may become common knowledge among the people who thought of you as an honest and trustworthy friend."
In another one-make club an advertisement appeared in the newsletter with only a telephone number given, no name, but it said that a club member was looking for a particular model of the marque. Another club member answered, offering his car for sale, and the advertiser gave him a long and passionate story of how he was having to part with his beloved two-seater because of a growing family and the four-seater would fill the bill splendidly. He went on and on about how he had really always wanted a four-seater in preference to the two-seater, regardless of family problems.
In the end the club member who was parting with the car was almost weeping with emotion and hardly liked to ask for the money for the car. Wiping away a tear or two he watched his car go to a splendid new home, to a fellovv club member who was really going to enjoy it and look after it.
Imagine his feelings when he saw his car offered for sale in one of the glossy monthly magazines shortly afterwards, for a grossly inflated price and from the same telephone number! This "wheeler-dealer" belonged to a number of clubs and was running similar advertisements in other club magazines, with the same sob-stories and the same end result. Obviously this man did not consider that replies to his advertisements would become common knowledge among the people who had thought of him as an honest and trustworthy club member and friend.
I would not have thought it was too difficult to act as the STD Editors suggest: be honest. One does not expect it in big business or Formula One(!) but one should expect it in the old car club world amongst enthusiasts.
Strangely enough, while mulling over the subject of /may I was reading the story of "Chuck" Yeager, the amazing American pilot who did all the initial experimental flying with a rocket-powered plane to probe into supersonic speeds, and flights to the very edge of space. It was Yeager who paved the way for the American astronauts to set off in their space rockets, to eventually fly to the Moon.
As the man who first ventured into the realms of speed of more than Mach 1, Yeager was well used by the American publicity and prestige machine. After John Glenn had made his first space flight he and Yeager were at a banquet, and Glenn asked Yeager what he did about all the fan-mail asking for autographs and photos and so on. NASA had suggested that Glenn should use a mechanical device to sign his name, and thus save time. He wondered if Yeager used one.
Yeager's reply was: "John, I don't care if it takes you the rest of your life, but if a kid writes wanting your autograph, sign it yourself. I know how you feel, they arrive by the thousands, but stay honest. Don't use a signing machine." Glenn agreed.
If you cannot be honest with yourself, you are hardly likely to be honest with a friend, and when he finds out he won't be your friend any longer.
The other worrying problem in the old car world is the effect of the EEC regulations on our freedom to enjoy old cars for their own sake. Those wonderful people who act as watchdogs for the rest of us are beginning to put out warnings that our freedom to use old cars may start disappearing if we are not united in our opposition. They warn that anything over 20 years old might be banned from being used after dark, banned from motorways, and restricted to use on recognised events only.
These warnings are very serious, so pay attention to your club magazines and newsletters. Yours, DSJ