Are the bureaucrats coming for our classics? The signs are worrying

| 2 Mar 2016

Ever since the first concession to classic car owners – giving VED exempt status to pre-1973 historic vehicles – the more suspicious of us (those who believe that you really don’t get owt for nowt) have been warning of the fact that if you are aiming to restrict the freedom of a group of people, first you must identify them and then label them. When the MoT exemption for pre-1960s cars was introduced a couple of years ago, I became all the more certain that more stifling regulation was just around the corner.

Thankfully it wasn’t and at the moment I am still free to use my cars as I wish. This morning, as on most days, I packed my two daughters into a ropy 1965 Triumph 2000 auto that's packing a 2.5 engine and manual/overdrive gearbox and drove them to school. After that I drove to work in the same car. And this evening I will drive home in it. At the weekend, like most dads, I will just be a taxi between gymnastics, drama and all the other activities designed to drain kids of energy in the same car. The only real change in this routine is when the car is a 1968 Jensen Interceptor or, when both my current classics are off the road, and it does happen, the car is actually a bus.

Now, I don’t want to debate the necessity of using my classic cars for this as much as my freedom to use my classic cars for this. 

And that is why I find the recent statement from FIVA so sinister. You see FIVA president Patrick Rollet has declared that because I use them like this they cannot be historic vehicles. On three counts: daily usage, modifications and condition. That is not only a nonsense and an insult, but also a threat. It is taking us down a one-way street to regulation and restriction for those few cars that, by his definition fit the criteria to be considered historic. Or worse, those cars that do not fit the definition – which is just about every regularly used classic – potentially being legislated off the roads completely.

A lot of noise has been made about how attitudes towards classics on the continent vary to those in the UK, but while I have bumped into a few Europeans who treat their seldom-used, pristine classics as jewellery – and one Dolomite Sprint owner on Club Triumph’s Round Britain Reliability Run who declared every other cars a disgrace that wouldn’t even be road legal in his native Switzerland – no higher a proportion than in the UK.

The vast majority I have met are exactly the same as us, have the same passion and the same priorities.In fact, to my mind anyone who can declare that any classic that is modified, used regularly or less than pristine is not historic is not an enthusiast at all.

There is an equal amount of back-pedalling suggesting that something might have been lost in translation, but rest assured the statement from M Rollet was unequivocal: for a classic to be a historic vehicle it must be “preserved and maintained in a historically correct condition and not used as daily transport”. 

If that just meant that I couldn’t drive in a Low Emission Zone, it wouldn’t worry me at all (why would I want to put an old car through the torture of driving in central London anyway?). What does concern me is that in securing the right for historic vehicles to use these zones FIVA is happy to negotiate away far greater freedoms for the rest of us.

Of course, it is important to distinguish between the usage of the terms “historic vehicle” and “classic car” in an emotional sense and in a legislative sense because my default is the former and FIVA’s is the latter.

If FIVA gets it way and its intent in defining the cars is solely for the purpose of negotiating exemptions, then that is absolutely fine by me. On one condition: that I can tax my non-historic car and stay out of ULEZs and continue to use it daily. Let’s get this straight, I am extremely grateful for, but do not have any sense of entitlement to, any of the legislative and financial perks of classic car ownership. I would be the same obsessive even without them, but the only legislation I truly hold dear is my right to use a classic car when and how I like. I’m happy to pay for that, but my biggest fear is that the thin end of the wedge we stand on today is one in which, with barely any effort on the part of the authorities, classics such as mine could be outlawed entirely. 

After all, now M Rollet has idetified them and labelled what makes an historic vehicle, the next step in this process is for all those immaculate, 100% original hobbyist historic vehicles to have their movement restricted in return for tax, MoT and ULEZ exemptions, while the next logical step for Government is to start banning non-exempted cars systematically on the grounds of emissions. With the truly “historic" vehicles listed, the next time the authorities want to stimulate car sales (sorry, I mean protect the environment) by driving older cars off the road, suddenly lots of classics will neither fit FIVA’s description of a protected historic vehicle nor a potential future Government definition of legal road transport. And that is the danger: this would rid the streets of a lot of old cars, but it would take thousands of much-loved and genuine classics with them. Including mine.