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Classic cars are history?

This morning I saw a very old (black and white number plates) VW minibus parked down the road. A real hippy transportation device (it would have been quite old already parked outside some stoner’s gaff in Berkeley in ’68). Of course then it would have been adorned with flowers and bad psychedelia and the CND emblem but this motor wasn’t like that. It was in a neat two-tone paint scheme of cream and pale green and looked like it had just rolled off the line at Würzburg. Clearly it was the pride and joy of it’s owner. Quite put a smile on my face.

It got me thinking about the other cars I could see parked nearby. I wonder how many of them will or indeed even can last that long. That VW was from the days when your Dad would “tinker” under the bonnet of a Sunday morning and when your mum called him in for the roast she’d look disapproving as he got oil all over a hand towel… Now I know that is an idealised view of the ’50s but that is not really my point. My point was the ease in terms of equipment of mending things back then. I mean there is a profound difference between gapping sparking plugs and fixing an electronic engine management system. Will anyone be driving a Ford Focus in 2050? Is classic motoring coming to an end? I just can’t imagine the parts being available.

More generally what antiques of this age will there be?

Update: The VW wasn’t just parked there. It “lives” there. It (he?) is called Tyler and is mint condition (won shows and all). It’s a 1964 and originally from Oregon (so it’s LHD). I know this because I spoke to the owners at their launch party (got a free beer too!). They’ve taken a small unit on the high street and are planning on adding a new interior (fully bespoke, horseshoe seating for 7, DVD, champagne on ice etc) to the VW to turn it into a hire-motor for weddings, proms and such. I think that is pretty cool. They also run a sort of clothing boutique and deal in bits and bobs for classic VWs.

Their website is cremecaravelle.co.uk though it isn’t live yet (scheduled September 1st). So if you live in the North West of England and want to arrive at a function in quirky style that’s the place to go.

Anyway, here’s Tyler…

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21 Comments

  1. Lt Ogilvie says:

    Windmills.

  2. Tim Newman says:

    A big difference is that nowadays fixing a car involves replacing an entire part, rather than actually fixing something, with those parts being complex multi-component systems in themselves. Gearbox broken? Replace the gearbox. There’s no stripping it down and replacing the worn synchromesh any more, like I did with my old Lightweight Landrover on the street in Didsbury. So I agree with you, it is unlikely these parts will be available more than 5-10 years beyond the life of the car, and they are too complex to be made in small runs by semi-amateurs.

  3. JuliaM says:

    I bet those old classic cars will still be going in 2050! The less complex they are, the easier they are to keep going, while the all-singing, all-dancing models of today will have gone the way of the dinosaur..

  4. Kevin B says:

    I blame Issigonis! When I needed to work on my old Viva, I could open the bonnet and climb in next to the engine. When I got a mini, I had to take out the radiator to change the bloody fan belt. Hands up any ex mini owners who had more than four screws holding the front grill on.

    Course, nowadays on the rare occasion I open the bonnet on my Focus, all I see is pipework and cables and strange lumpy bits. Nothing I can recognise as a dipstick or an oil filler cap. Or an internal combustion engine come to that.

    As for your question Nick, yes there will be classic cars from this era, and Honda Civic EMS chips will go for a fortune on e-bay.

    I’ve owned a few classic cars, before they came to be classic of course, including an Austin Seven, a Morris Oxford and a Austin Healy 100. Maybe my Focus – it’s a Ghia you know, with the saloon option – will eventually become a classic.

  5. RAB says:

    Built in obsolecence innit. Back when cars were a rare and expensive item, they were built to last and be easily fixed by laymen. Now, as Tim said, if something goes wrong with your headlight say, that’ a whole new unit taking half the wing off, and eye watering labour charges, when previously you just unscrewed the front and did it yourself.

    And Nessessity is the Mother of Mendation. I was in Sri Lanka a few years ago, and that seems to be the last resting place of the Morris Minor. A basic but very reliable 50s British car that is easily repairable. There are loads of them there, and they are ideal, because the roads are so bad you wouldn’t want to drive over fifty for fear of serious damage to your motor.

    As to those VW Minibuses, They were quite scary to ride in because there is nothing in front of you, no engine, no boot, if you ran into anything the impact was immediate and possibly serious to fatal.

  6. Bucko says:

    I tend to go for the more modern ‘classics’. 80′s Fords in particular. I have stripped and re-built a Fiesta XR2 engine in the past and swapped a Capri 1.6 engine with a 1.8 out of a Sierra.
    When I look into a modern engine it brings me out into a cold sweat. I wouln’t know where to start.
    It’s the same with things like kitchen appliances and consumer electronics. Stuff is built to be replaced rather than fixed these days.

    Mrs Bucko has just bought a 92 Sierra XR4i thats in need of some loving so the fun can start all over again now :-)

  7. Woodsy42 says:

    Have you noticed that classics stop at 1972, few are kept newer than that because the road tax system penalses them compared to the pre 72 historic vehicle free tax and lower rates on new small cars. Thus there are plenty of morris 1000s around but hardly any cortina MkIII – just as easy to work on and probably more practical to keep on the road.

  8. View from the Solent says:

    “antiques of this age ” ?

    And the ones before it, books.

  9. Tim Newman says:

    Have you noticed that classics stop at 1972, few are kept newer than that because the road tax system penalses them compared to the pre 72 historic vehicle free tax and lower rates on new small cars.

    Another of Gordon Brown’s vindictive little tax squeezes: abolished the rolling 25 year period for tax exemption on classic cars.

  10. David Gillies says:

    Can’t meet modern emission standards without a catalytic converter. Can’t run a cat outside a narrow fuel/air ratio or you’ll either poison it or burn it out. Can’t maintain the tight fuel/air ratio without a sensor in the exhaust. Can’t interpret the signal from the exhaust gas analyser fast enough by hand or even with electro-actuated vacuum retard. Carburettors don’t have the servo loop bandwidth. Fuel injection is mandatory. Fuel injection needs an engine management system. Can’t tinker with those unless you know how to program a microcontroller, and what to program it with.

  11. Tim Newman says:

    Back when cars were a rare and expensive item, they were built to last and be easily fixed by laymen.

    I’m gonna disagree with that to a point. True, laymen can’t fix modern cars, but modern cars last far longer than their counterparts from 30 years ago.

    Cars from the 70s and 80s used to corrode in the wheel arches and sills within 5-10 years of purchase, and you could buy kits consisting of wire mesh and some kind of filler to repair it yourself. Nowadays, the galvanising and painting and under-sill protection is so good you rarely see a car under 10 years old with any serious corrosion. Also, the mileage of a car is becoming increasingly irrelevant. 20-30 years ago if a car had done 80,000 miles then it was probably not going to go for much longer. The engine and gearbox would be worn, for a start. A modern Toyota engine and gearbox could probably go for 250,000 miles without serious problems, 80,000 miles is nothing to a modern engine. True, you’d need to replace wear parts such as bushings and gaskets as part of the routine maintenance, but the actual mileage barely matters. It is interesting that this is still the most common factor considered when buying a car though, even though it is fast becoming irrelevant. I’d be more interested in the service history, ensuring all recommended maintenance has been done, than the actual mileage (unless some huge service is coming up in 2,000 miles, of course). But you take a German or Japanese car with a full service history, there is no conceivable difference between 50,000 miles and 80,000 miles.

  12. Robert Edwards says:

    The newest car I run was built in 1990, the oldest in 1962. The 1990 car is a Merc; the 1962 car an Aston which I have owned since 1987. In neither case is any part (that I can think of) unavailable. And if it were to prove to be so, restoration skills are higher now than they have ever been.

    The stuff which will let an old car down generally lies in the area of cooling – overheating has killed more cars than any other factor which I can think of. Component failure is comparatively unusual and is generally restricted to ‘service’ parts – plugs, wheel bearings, steering arms, engine electrics and so forth, many of which are common to current cars.

    So, on balance, I’d say that old cars are safe for the moment. The ludicrous scrappage scheme has taken thousands of the road for no good reason that I could think of, which has left the remaining ones even rarer.

    All the improvements in performance and economy (and I don’t deny that there have been many) are down to electronics – basic engine architecture has changed very little in forty years.

    But there are some sensible things to lay in against the day if you run a 1927 Crossbeam Turbot – chief among these must be a windscreen. most other stuff can be fixed…

  13. NickM says:

    Fascinating comments. I’ll address a few points specifically.

    RAB,
    “As to those VW Minibuses, They were quite scary to ride in because there is nothing in front of you, no engine, no boot, if you ran into anything the impact was immediate and possibly serious to fatal.”

    Having had a close look that was pretty much my first thought.

    Robert,
    Scrappage. Phenomenally bad on so many levels.

    Tim,
    “Another of Gordon Brown’s vindictive little tax squeezes: abolished the rolling 25 year period for tax exemption on classic cars.”

    He really is a truly petty-minded malignant cunt. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done it (though I wouldn’t) as much as I wouldn’t have even thought of it (I didn’t even know about this until you mentioned it)! Not in a million years. So that’s my dreams of being a bargain-basement Bodie (or Doyle) crashed and burnt! And I so wanted to do donuts in a Capri, in a blasted post-industrial wasteland (Brown managed that) and pointlessly drive through piles of empty cardboard boxes!

    VftS,
    D’oh! I really should have thought about that seeing as I do like buying old books.

  14. RAB says:

    I was thinking more of the 30′s through to the 60′s Tim. Yes, after that they were punched out tin boxes, that’s when the built in obsolecence started.

    Think Old Rover 90′s like my dad had with a proper chassis, or Rolls Royces. Rollers never ever broke down, they merely “Failed to proceed” :-)

  15. mike says:

    “Carburettors don’t have the servo loop bandwidth. Fuel injection is mandatory.”

    That’s happening to some extent now with scooters here in Taiwan. When I bought a new one two years ago to stick the dog on, it was the last of its’ kind to have a carburettor – they were discontinued and entirely replaced with fuel injection models in accordance with new legislation. But they won’t be able to get rid of the carburettor engines for decades and the reason is simple: they’re so cheap to mend, and there are too many farmers and peasants running around on both 4-stroke and 2-stroke carburettor engines (and of course there are still plenty of old Vespas hanging about, like this one). Also, a lot of the laws here are selectively applied – especially where the old and poor are concerned.

  16. NickM says:

    RAB,
    Monocoque. Like a Spitfire. Supermarine, not Triumph. Building something with a “proper chasis” is the territory of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

  17. Barman says:

    As I type I am (literally) surrounded by the component parts of a 1973 Mini 1275 GT…

    Why oh why did I take this on….?

    Anyway, hopefully it will still be running in 2050….

  18. RAB says:

    Wow! Never mind the car, that is one great old lady! Imagine what she was like at 21!

    Kinda brings to mind my Aunty Betty and my Mum, 94 and 87 respectively.

  19. dwmf says:

    I’ll underline what Julia said. Our old pride-and-joys should still be going in 2050, because the rust will have been properly treated and/or cut out and replaced. I can foresee small metalworking shops turning out bespoke replacement parts to keep them going.

    Some jobs (like tuning a set of carbs) can be learnt and done by the owner.

    I have a 1973 Jaguar XJ6 Series 2, so I just miss out on the free road tax. But the old girl has much more style and personality than any other on the street, even my more modern XJ8!

  20. Pat Legg says:

    A massive thank you to each and everyone one of you for our opening day 20th. August. We are just making last minute alterations to our website in order that it is as user friendly as possible. We have invested in a ‘camper van’ marquee tent for the next open day conscious of our glorious English weather and the fact we were generously oversubscribed with well wishers on the day. Creme Caravelle are now proud to announce its professional range of car polishes and cleaning attire which are avaialble to purchase on our site from 9th. September…Our Fukenwagen range of clothing and merchandise will also go live too and it costs nothing to browse!
    We will open to the public again in October ….date yet to be set…with our usualy hospitality facilities and some pretty awesome bespoke canvass VW pictures! Best wishes from Pat, Lise and Amanda

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