Joining the club on the classic commute


Author: Alastair ClementsPublished:

I have a confession. At C&SC we have always advocated using classics as much as possible, and several of the team genuinely do use their old cars every single day, but for me it was not always thus.

As a result of my Suzuki being in long-term dry dock, until fairly recently I was in a modern more often than not because I didn't have an old car that I trusted (or wanted to risk) with the twice-daily hack across town.

And I was convinced that everyone else felt the same.

Although hardened classic commuters Port, Elliott (in his Triumph, above) and Evans swore blind that they saw interesting old cars being pressed into use day in, day out, I just wasn't seeing them.

Perhaps, I thought, the part of Surrey I drive through was a bit of a classic-car vacuum.

Then I found a classic that I was confident with in traffic jams (click here to read all about it), and it was as if my eyes had been opened.

Suddenly there was an interesting car in every traffic jam and a cheery wave at every junction.

And not just from the driver's seat of my mate Pete Brown's Moggy Minor, with which I play a game of cat-and-mouse along the rat-runs to work.

These aren't just tatty MGB GTs like mine, either - although Abingdon-built classics make up the lion's share, along with Youngtimers such as the Bentley Turbo R I saw last night (above), plus various VW Beetle variants and the ever-rugged Volvo Amazon/1800 range.

But there are some startling sights: a glorious 1957 Chevy Bel Air custom, a canary yellow Trident Clipper (or was it a Venturer, I didn't get a close enough look?), a Lotus Elan +2 with Christopher Neil drop-top conversion (above) and, best of all, the military vehicle I spied running along a Thameside road.

At first I thought it was some sort of VW Schwimmwagen, but after a bit more research I reckon it's more likely to be a WW2-era Ford GPA Amphibious Jeep (lead image). Can anyone confirm?

Even dropping into the supermarket can prove a happy hunting ground - I've spotted everything from a mint Austin Ambassador 1.7 HL to a slightly scruffy but deliciously well-used Riley RM. In a funny kind of way, I'm jealous of both owners!

But my favourite, mainly because I was in the Magnette and another '50s car is a slightly rarer sight, was a couple of nights ago when I saw this wonderful Mk1 Ford Zodiac (or perhaps it was a Zephyr, sorry, it was pretty dark!). Sadly, I couldn't get any closer because the traffic was too heavy.

What's the most interesting thing you've seen on the commute? Don't forget to post a picture on our forum thread classic cars spotted on the road.



Yes Ford GPA, (seep) about 1943. It's a nice tidy one, a challenging vehicle to drive but quite capable in the water. Have a Google of Ben Carlin and see what he did with a modified one about 50 years ago. There is a Russian copy of the GPA called a GAZ46, there are quite a few around but I don't think it's one of them.

Nuno Granja

Thanks Alistair for sharing,

Usually I dont post big "articles" but this subject interest me a lot, so there is my point o view and experience.
(sorry about my english, its not my native idiom as I'm from Portugal and from a generation who only learn french at school... )

I have a lot of friends who drive modern diesels and have classic on the garage for week-end rides and events, they are nice people, interesting petrolheads to spend quality time around cars and a few are really good friends, but for me there is no other option than drive the cars.

I run small business with clients spread all over the country, I often do business and leisure trips around the country, I have two houses, with 300km between them, two small kids, wife, big family, a social life and I go surfing with regularity.

So there is no such thing of "week-end time to take the classic out of the garage for a leisure ride". Cars must be an active part of our life or bust.

Since the begginning of my adult life I have organized it to don't do daily commuting, living in town's center close to the office, with all the usual commodities within a walking or bicycle range . Probably the reminescence memories of growing up in suburbia during the 80's (no web or mobile phone...) and staying completly isolated when the motorbike was broken or in maintenance, force me do this option.

I allways used old cars as regular transport, but I don't trust italian or british brands (sorry, nice cars but...), from VW Type 1 "beetles" to Type 2 "Splits" and "Bays", from Type 3 "Squareback" to Type 4 412 "Variant", I had a lot of aircooled VWs and used them pretty well around the country and some times across Europe.

I allways buy uncommon (from my point of view...) cars around 20yo who are cheap to buy and mantain, restore the body and interiors to good level and do the mechanics as good as it gets. Then I use it for a few years.

Almost of my cars are buyed at the low point of value curve, a few directly from the scrapyard driveway and if I did not preserve them from that point, they will never reach the classic statuts. So I had saved few cars that no one wants, and the perfect example is my ex-VW Type 2 63 Split, brough from a scrapyard in the late 80's by 250euros . After one year and 4500euros spent, I use it for 10 years with a few surftrips to France and for longer periods was the only vehicle available. I drive it much more than 100.000km and even today people remember me with it. I remember someone saying in the late 80' about the restauration "what a silly way to spend money...". But I also remember in 91, during the first trip to Biarritz the crowds around it at the surf contest car park. It was sign of times to come.

In the late 90's I start to need and want faster cars and switch to the liquid cooled phase, running two Sciroccos (early) Mk2 GTI (from 99) and an Audi Coupé Gt, FWD - 2.3L (from 2002)) wich for a lot of people are no classics, probably only youngtimers.

For the same reasons to d'ont drive it only at week-ends, with a a few exceptions I d'ont do the maintenance or repairs jobs. They take a lot of time and a non professional tends to do a lot of atempts to get it right. I prefer to drive it. As some enthusiasts have a genuine pleasure on working their cars, I get the same sensation from going to the garage, talk with the mechanic (after 20years is a friend...) pay the bill, and get out in a revised vehicle.

I buy my Audi Coupe Gt in late 2002 and start to use it in early 2003. In November of the same year my (then) girlfriend buy a new Golf IV. Since then the Audi have done 185.000km with 3 big european trips, one (from Oporto) to Berlin and the Golf is reaching the 70.000 mark with only an week-end trip to Spain.
Now with one and half year old twins, we have used the Golf a little more, as the baby seats dont feet at the Sciroccos and the Audi have no aircon a valuable commodity in south of europe summer.

About the reliability, maybe a lot of people d'ont believe me, but in all those years I only have a few breakdowns, probably a one figure number. The only serious one was when the engine of my ex-VW Type 2 63 Split seized at Salamanca (Spain) on the way back from Biarritz, but in 1997 it have done more than 100.000km in my hands. A few other times I have done some repairs on the road ; Cleanning a carburetor of a 68 VW Type 1 on the roadside near Zurich, under a 74 VW Type 2 Bay cutting the extremity of a leaking fuel rubber pipe in a camping near Porto Fino or even repairing a broken acelerator cable with electricity connetor and a wire from a fence in the deep south of Portugal.

I allways do the maintenance and repairs by the book, use quality oils, etc, etc and even with 6 volts as with the Split, if everything is good working order no problems (of course I d'ont expect the power of 12v ligths...).
Until a few years ago I only use Castrol oils but now i switch to ENI (ex- Agip) as they are on of my biggest clients. I'm a MIchelin and Kony client since the begginning of my motoring life.

I have my share of restaurations when I'm single, and live in a small flat, but at this point and probably for the years to come I can´t afford them (time and money), so after something close to 275.000km in Sciroccos and 1850.000km on the Audi, I'm start to think in Corrado or Porsche 924 for my personal use, and for the family trips a BMW E34 525i Touring or an Audi 100C3 Avant 2,3 5cil with aircon. Those 2 station wagons are big reliable with a resonable mpg, they are on the market by pocket money and I can repair an engine without broking the bank account. The Audi is very rare here but have the advantage of keeping me in my zone of (mechanical) confort.

To finish...

Sometimes I miss my VW Type 2 Split, not for the usual reason as had enough good times on it, so no envy of the good old days, but when caught me over the speed limit as at the last week , I think for myself " there are no such problems with a Vw aircooled "....

nuno granja

Chris Martin

An interesting tale from Nuno. I am sure a similar story applies to a lot of us, but may I suggest you copy it and post it on the forum as a new thread. I suspect these blogs get forgotten once they have been read, but it may generate more interest on the forum.
Chris M.


Nuno Granja


Thanks for the comment, its an interesting ideia to post this subjets on the main forum, but let some else start, then I will follow as i have allready a an "unffair share of occupied area" there...

nuno granja

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