Think the supermarkets start Christmas too early? Al's got the drop on even them!

| 24 Sep 2011

If you’re into concours competition, the following probably doesn't apply to you. To the rest of you, have you heard any of your classic-owing friends start talking about “putting the car away” yet? It happens like clockwork every year – at around the same time that the supermarkets start selling those bizarre Mars bar-filled plastic stockings and shopping centres suddenly start to smell of a festive (and artificial) combination of oranges, cinnamon and pine needles.

I heard it yesterday from someone at work with a highly usable classic, and I still don’t get it. Yes, there will be salt on the road (in a few months’ time) and there’s a fair amount of moisture around, but to wrap your beloved in cotton wool and lock the garage door until the days start to get longer and the buds begin to bloom is to miss out on one of the greatest joys of classic ownership: the wintry blast.

OK, so it’s only early autumn, not the deep mid-winter, but on the way home after my colleague's revelation I was reassured to see a hardy commuter enjoying a brisk drive home in his Cobra rep. And, from the look of joy on his face, it certainly won't be his last run of the year.

I’m not advocating that you drive your precious – and very possibly pretty valuable – old car to work every day through the festive season; bashing through the snow, fighting the cold, condensation and a weary battery. Some do, but they are in the minority – and probably mostly work for C&SC. BUT, take my advice and, please, don’t let that MoT lapse, don’t be tempted to put it on SORN (even if it isn’t tax-free).

Why? Because I guarantee that, no matter how rubbish the prevailing weather, one morning sometime in early December will dawn clear, crisp and beautifully blue. There may even be a dusting of snow on the verge, glinting in that low sun. The white-grey roads will be so tempting that you’ll think, ‘Why not?’ You may not have anywhere particular to go, but you’ll roll the classic out, go through the near-religious process of checking the levels, carefully warming it up, then – if you’re really lucky – folding the hood. Perhaps you’ll even pull on a pair of favourite driving gloves before easing out onto the chilly tarmac.

And you’ll love it! Your car will revel in all of that ice-cold air rushing through its radiator and the relatively empty roads, smiles and waves from pedestrians and fellow road-users are doubled by the rarity of the sight, and there’s little to match the thrill of an open car in the cold: feet roasted by heater, torso rugged up to the nines, nose and ears numbed. Afterwards, you’ll clean it up extra carefully, slip it back into the garage, perhaps give it little pat on the still-warm bonnet on the way out, glowing with pride. 

But that’s not the end of it. For many, the argument for wrapping their cars up for three to four months is that it is to protect it: the bodywork, sure, but the rest? I don’t think so. What’s the cardinal rule for most old cars – particularly complicated exotics? Use it or lose it... which means that even an occasional pleasure-ride will be enough to prevent that depressing spring morning when you open the garage (having had to WD-40 the padlock to get it open) to discover a seized wheel cylinder, a leaking water pump, or a misbehaving carb. Or perhaps you’ll miss out on that glorious spring morning entirely because you’ve let the MoT lapse or the Post Office is closed and you don’t fancy running the risk of the police ANPR cameras.

By all means dodge the salt and the grit, leave your pride and joy safe, warm and dry through the worst, but keep it on the button and ready to go, just in case – ready for a spot of first-footing on New Year’s Day, perhaps. You won’t regret it.