Monday, February 14, 2011

Richard Hammond on classic cars

Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond on classic cars

Last month, i 'fessed up to the general ineptitude and idiocy of the three of us on TG telly when it comes to buying our own cars; but what I may not have done was explain just how painful an experience this can be.
For example, as the specialist told me my 1972 Aston Martin DB6 MkII Vantage - bought in a red mist of excitement and desire, just six months earlier - was not quite the full ticket after all, my bowels turned to lemon juice and my shoulders slumped through my ribcage.
I had added the car to my collection of leaks and hulks, secure in the knowledge that it would prove to be the pearl among the cow turds. As I mentioned last month, it came with a massive box of history and is, critically, a one-owner car.
But the engine bay was made of paper and sticky tape, and peering by torchlight along the inside of the sills was like inspecting the mangled rusting innards of a long-sunken destroyer. The news was, indeed, not good. That one owner, it seemed, had kept it in a pond.
"Knackered old Land Rovers lying derelict used to be worth less than the trees growing out of them, but not any more"
A plan was needed, and in the devising of it, I have come up with a useful theory. Do bear with me. My choices were stark. I could sell the car immediately for two-thirds of what I'd paid for it. Or I could spend half as much as I paid for it again on having it refurbished and spammed up to be all lovely and shiny. At this point, the car would, I was assured, be worth twice what I paid for it in the first place. So that's the way to go, then. Look out for me hosting celebrity napkin-folding at 4am on Challenge and cutting the ribbon on a new car-park ticket machine near you.
But with this plan settled I got to wondering: is the classic car market some sort of self-levelling, self-righting thing? And if not, could it be made to be so? One classic car or another is always drifting into or out of favour. There was a time in the Eighties when you had to pretty much hand over the keys to your house even to take a longing look at a Jaguar E-type.
I stood in a car park full of them in Harrogate in 1986 and worked out that they were, combined, worth more than all of the buildings surrounding them. And then suddenly, the bottom fell out of that market, and they were each worth 25p. It was nasty: a lot of people got their wallets singed. It's happened since with other cars.
Knackered old Land Rovers lying derelict in farmyards used to be worth less than the tree growing out of them, but I've read recently of 50-year-old Landies going for five-figure sums. Had the City but known, people might have avoided the whole banking crisis; pensions might have been saved.
What we need to do is elect an official Car Council that has the power to set the values of classic cars in the UK.
In the present climate, once a car reaches a certain point in its life, where it no longer meets the practical needs of the family man or fulfils the dreams of the teenager, it will fall into disrepair. It will be bought as a cheap runaround, a bit of fun and then be run into the ground like a pit pony. Which means some poor bugger is going to get stuck with it, and have to chuck it away.
But if at this point, the Car Council decided that this particular Kia or Hyundai were worth a hundred grand, you can bet your life that owners would sort their bloody act out, mortgage the dog, get the car fixed and advertised in the back of a car mag.
Imagine the scene: disused, old relics lying on front lawns, suddenly picked up, fettled and burnished to the highest gloss to become the property of a stock-broking car collector who bought it from a bloke in Burnley for just 90 grand.
He's happy, the bloke from Burnley is very happy indeed, the garage bloke who now advertises himself as a �Classic Daewoo Matiz Specialist' and charges 10 times what he used to is happy, and the environmentalists should be happy because the rebirth of that car means one less hillside has to be mined for the resources to make a new one to be shipped around the world in fume-belching cargo vessels. It's a win, win, win, win idea, and I've just saved the world.
Of course, there is one slug in the salad; there is no way on earth to stop James and Jezza getting on the Car Council and buggering it all up by deciding that office chairs are worth �8,000,000 this week, and this year's Murci�lago is suddenly downgraded to a tenner. We'll need a few other members on the Council to stand up to them, and then we will have it, the perfect market. Everyone's happy, and every month, someone is going to wake up and find that the old Mondeo heaped on their drive or that Seat on bricks next door is suddenly worth a quarter of a million quid. Result.
This column was originally published in the Awards issue of Car Evolution magazine

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