John Simis­ter

Why not save some for the fu­ture, won­ders John

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - JOHN SIMIS­TER

‘We need to act quickly to pre­serve the dis­pos­able gen­er­a­tion,’ says John.

Itook part in a pho­to­shoot at Brunt­ingth­orpe Prov­ing Ground re­cently, which, as well as having an ex­cel­lent track, is also home to a gi­ant Man­heim car auc­tion. We love our clas­sic cars; to us each one is spe­cial, and has a story to tell. But there is noth­ing like a sea of mod­erns, none older than three years, to kill that cosy re­la­tion­ship. Here, cars are com­modi­ties, noth­ing more.

Of course, ev­ery main­stream clas­sic car has gone through a sim­i­lar com­mod­ity phase, when no longer brand new but still having a high value to the mo­tor trade. Then, over the years, the value drops and most cars go into grad­ual de­cline, even­tu­ally to meet the crusher. For­tu­nately, some of them es­cape that process and live to see their val­ues (and rar­ity) rise, to en­ter the world that this mag­a­zine cel­e­brates.

The mid-nineties to the mid-noughties are the twi­light model-years of dan­ger, I’d say. These are the years that fill the break­ers’ yards. Any­thing older is now likely to have been through the end-of-life process, leav­ing no trace.

As­sis­tant ed­i­tor James touched on this re­cently (PC, July 2017), im­plor­ing read­ers to think twice about scrap­ping a ser­vice­able car of this era when, of­ten with min­i­mal out­lay, it could be en­joyed and pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. A visit to a scrap­pie re­veals shock­ing waste, cars cast aside be­cause they have no value. Com­modi­ties again, but now ob­so­lete. It’s salu­tary to re­mem­ber that one of the first se­ri­alised restora­tions in PC was of a 1967 Mor­ris Mi­nor 1000. The mag­a­zine launched in 1980 so the Mor­ris was 13 years-old, the age of an 04-reg car now which is at the younger end of our dan­ger pe­riod. I can’t think of an 04-reg­is­tered car that has needed the sort of ma­jor struc­tural re­build per­formed on that Mor­ris; cars gen­er­ally last longer nowa­days, and death is more likely to come from me­chan­i­cal or elec­tri­cal mal­func­tion, or sim­ply through be­ing worn out, than from rust.

As cars be­come more elec­tron­i­cally com­plex, so they are more likely to suf­fer fail­ures un­eco­nomic to fix. The main deal­ers will charge too much to fix such faults, but spe­cial­ists will grow in their ex­per­tise and will con­tinue to of­fer the chance of re­newed life to cars whose own­ers want it. That’s the fu­ture for such cars, much as it has al­ways been, but to­day the chal­lenges are greater and the pool of cus­tomers prob­a­bly smaller, given the ease of ‘buy­ing’ a brand-new car on a PCP.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to see how cars of the dan­ger era have aged. There are still some ob­vi­ous rot­ters, such as the Ford Ka and Puma, along with some sur­pris­ing ones such as many Mercs, the E46 BMW 3-series and Jaguar’s S-type and X-type, but mostly the met­al­work holds up quite well.

Rather than ram­pant rust, the age shows in the way plas­tic head­lamp lenses, which started to ap­pear in the mid-nineties, go opaque and yel­low, how black or grey plas­tic trim goes pow­dery, how paint lac­quer peels away. Plas­tic parts have al­ways suf­fered un­der ul­tra-vi­o­let light, but these cars have more of them so the dam­age is more ob­vi­ous.

What is clear is that a pre­mium badge is still no guar­an­tee of ex­tra longevity, as the num­ber of cor­roded fix­ings and rust-ooz­ing seams on the 1999 Alfa 156 that I bought in 2002 re­vealed – never mind those cre­pus­cu­lar Ben­zes.

Any­way, I have just bought a fas­ci­nat­ing and mas­sively un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated car from 1997 for a lu­di­crously small amount, given its con­di­tion, equip­ment tally and mod­est mileage. I ran a sim­i­lar car as a long-ter­mer back in 1994, and loved it. Now the breed is close to dis­ap­pear­ing, so I felt it my duty to pre­serve one. A Staff Car Saga beck­ons, of course. Clue: it’s French.

‘‘What is clear is that a pre­mium badge is still no guar­an­tee of ex­tra longevity’

One of PC’S ear­li­est resto projects s was on a 13 yearold Mor­ris Mi­nor.

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