Classics and the need to 'own' them!


Author: James ElliottPublished:

Those not fortunate enough to mix daily with an office full of 24 hour classic people may look on with envy at what we do and who we share our office space and air with.

But it does have its pitfalls, too.  Especially when buying, or even thinking about buying any marque or model.

There is a sort of unwritten, sadly competitive hierarchy of "ownership" you see that reaches far beyond actual ownership, past, present or even the future.

Sure, express a vague interest in any classic car and you will be instantly swamped with goodwill in the form of helpful advice and links to cars for sale. You'll suddenly find magazines with highlighted classifieds mysteriously appearing on your desk, too.

And, most of all you will hear of mysterious friends of friends of friends who have one - whether it be Mini or Maybach - "round the back" that they will give away for the price of a cuppa and which needs only the rear-view mirror adjusting to walk its next MoT.

The latter, obviously, always turns out to be apocryphal, but the good intention is barely diminished by that.

After all, if you boil it down (or create a reduction in up-itself-telly-chefery speak), beyond revelling in and celebrating great classics, what we do for a living 
is, in essence, little more than telling tens of thousands of readers how they should spend their money on old cars. It stands to reason we would do the same to each other.

Then again, that it so often where the trouble begins, that "ownership" I mentioned. It would be a brave man, for instance, who launched himself into Alfa land without a second thought: that is Walsh territory.

Mind you, that case is irrefutable and it gets far more tenuous than that.

When Al Clements wanted to buy himself a 1950s family saloon he first suggested a Riley. And I took umbrage for him treading on my toes.I had never owned a Riley, and might well never have, but I had long flirted with the idea, openly, and therefore in C&SC land that meant it was "mine", the concept, the cars and the entire marque and its illustrious history.

Al cooled on the idea,of course, but, as I breathed my sigh of relief, his eventual choice - an MG Magnette - was similarly "owned" by Martin Port, who had a couple of years earlier thought about maybe considering buying one.

Al knew what he wanted, though, and had the independence of mind - and determination to own one - to stick two fingers up at whatever anyone else may think to achieve his dream.

Admittedly, years back I was so smitten with Elans that I wilfully overlooked decades of ownership and expertise on the team, happy to be the rookie know-nothing just to have one.

It goes further than individual cars, too.  While anyone buying a BMW 2002 is unthinkable as long as David Evans draws breath, and Hurst has a loose grip on Jaguardom, our little allotments make Buckley's sphere of influence look like Kew Gardens.

Sure, I have always had a penchant for big bruising saloons, but my revved up Triumph can hardly be considered a barge.

Similarly, Buckley has always been so disparaging about Elans and their apparently  'techie slicker' owners, that that could hardly be deemed his patch either. Nor indeed would such follies as a Westfield Eleven or a Piper P2.

Yet, one Rover P5B followed by an Interceptor (a model Buckley has never owned and was only ever a brief custodian of long after I bought mine) and suddenly I am some kind of wannabe Buckley.

If I'd started smoking around in a Silver Shadow that I "spunked two large ones on" (no I don't really know what that means in English either) or, better still, blagged long-term from a dealer before hastily stitching some elbow patches on to my jacket (while going on the Slimfast Plan) the level  of unspoken accusation wouldn't have been any higher.

In my colleagues' minds I was on a one-way trip to Buckleydom, a feeling only slightly mollified by the fact that the Interceptor could alternatively have meant step one on a route that would inevitably mean a future of clogging up the car park with Luton blandness or Czech weirdness, or a transitory stage before embracing Balmism and throwing myself irretriveably into the world of rolled-up jeans and quiffs.

You see, that is the point: at C&SC there is nothing new under the classic sun, nothing that is either individual or original, nothing that hasn't been done before, better and longer and with more purity, or even simply lusted after with the same criteria. Every wagon here is a bandwagon.

So, if you work and mix with people with only a passing interest, or none at all, in your passion for classics, you may long for someone to share your hobby with, but your glorious isolation is not always a bad thing.

It means for example that, unlike me, you could buy a Silver Shadow with impunity.



There is indeed something about the need to own a classic. When I say 'need', it must be understood as a highly individual experience of emotion. While it is a choice to own and operate a classic car (not an obsession, as those are much more dangerous and probably in need of professional services), there is a bit of common sense that must be exercised; elusive at the point of attraction.

If you're tugged towards late 80s Fiat Spyders, you must eventually come to grips with the care & maintenance and the associated expense; preferably before purchase, thus considering something a bit more normal (normal for the US, anyway).

When we 'need' to drive a classic, it's not that we're stupid, only that we know what it means to love something true. What is truly challenging is discovering which classic is best for the individual. While some have the monetary backing to restore an Iso Griffo to full pageantry, some are driving what feels a classic due to the challenges of replacing it. If you do need to drive a classic, first consider what is 'classic'. You may be driving one already.

Bret Self
Birmingham, AL, US
1996 Saturn SL1; 213,912 miles.


My problem is that I 'need' to own far too many classic cars. About every four months I will start to get an insatiable desire to own something different. There is a permanent list of some 30 or 40 cars in the back of my mind that arouse me to a greater or lesser extent. It mainly depends on how much money I have to hand which one comes to the forefront at any one time.

I can't afford to own more than two or three cars at once so there is a constant churn of new arrivals and regretful departures. Many of them will probably never come to fruition (the Ferrari 330GTC, for instance, or the Maserati 3500GT) while others have come and gone on a regular basis (I must have owned ten Alfa 105 Coupes, half-a-dozen Porsche 911s and as many Mk2 Jags).

What I really 'need' is a collection and somewhere to house it. It has even crossed my mind to start buying model cars instead to see if that will satisfy my craving and leave me free to drive around in a normal, reliable and economical car instead. But a shelf full of model cars is too tragic to contemplate and would mark me out as a pathetic loser to my friends so the full size thing it has to be.

Nine times out of ten I quickly regret buying my latest acquisition and enjoy it for perhaps one week and then spend a miserable two months trying to offload it. There are probably only about 10 cars in my life that I regret selling and I must have owned 100. I am off now to buy a 4-litre XJS that I know is ridiculous and too big for my street, but it has recently been fitted with a low mileage and supposedly uprated engine from a bomb proof diplomatic vehicle so I have to have it.

My wife has long resigned herself to my affliction and is only glad that I don't treat her in the same way. Though she hasn't seen my Barbie doll collection yet...


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