My name is James, and I shouldn’t be trusted with an old car.
I may have owned a Mini Cooper for over 30 years, but for most of that time it has been off the road gathering dust, invoices and rust bubbles.
Sometimes it was under repair, occasionally being bodged by me. Mostly, though, the Mini wasn’t going anywhere at all. I did, though, make sure that it was always comfortable and dry. The very least I could do was put a blanket over the Cooper while it waited for some spare part to arrive through the post.
Consequently, mileage was not something that my Mini actually accrued over the years. I should have worked it out along with just how much it cost to mostly stand still. The resulting calculation wouldn’t be very pretty. It won’t make me look very normal, though, because running a classic car isn’t a very sensible thing to do.
For every Porsche 911 SC owner who takes it on an epic road trip, on the race track to dice with other period racers or compete in a concours competition, there are thousands like me who just muck about pointlessly with their classic cars for years on end. That’s until it rusts to bits, becomes the subject of divorce proceedings, or takes root in the garden. That’s right: we achieve nothing, enjoy very little and drive no more than a few yards, if we are lucky. A classic car is something to waste money on and generally fret about.
Some of the odd things I have done and then justified on the grounds that it will help the restoration of my car defy belief. Such as buying other Minis I didn’t need. I’ve reduced Minis to their constituent parts and then lost some of the most important bits.
While some have the inclination and the ability to collate, record and refurbish those parts they never lost in the first place, before planning a detailed rebuild over a strict 24-month period, others just get a little bit depressed and overwhelmed by it all. They might have been keen and indeed capable of making it all good once upon a time, but age and real life have overtaken them. Maintaining a roof over your head – and steering a meaningful relationship between those who live under it – is rather more important.
Owning a classic car isn’t logical. You don’t actually need it. It's designed for an era and motoring conditions that no longer exist. Most of these classics also have all the durability you would expect from something hammered together in the Britain of 50 years ago. If it hasn’t been rebuilt twice already, it'll need plenty of TLC to ensure it's a going concern.
Classic cars have a habit of hanging around. This is often because they can’t be moved as a fuse has blown or the tyres are flat. It can be that simple. Sometimes it won’t work because the engine is at the opposite end of the garage sitting in a pool of oil. The car’s owner doesn't see a problem, only a future where it really will work. They can polish it for that concours contest. Once rebuilt, that engine is likely to be better than new and perfect for taking to Goodwood and entering races.
Obviously, none of this deluded dreaming is ever likely to become reality. The sufferer is quite likely to keep the classic and even add to the collection with more hulks and more dreams. Trouble is, even if the owner wants to kick the habit, a half-bodged classic car can be difficult to get rid of. No one else would be stupid enough to take it on. That’s why a certain type of classic car owner will continue to stockpile parts, plus useful magazines and books.
Slowly it dawns on him, and I guarantee that it will be a him (as women are far too sensible to waste their lives and money on something like this), that perhaps buying a finished classic, like those pretty ones in the colourful classic car adverts, would be a good idea.
However, while buying a fully restored classic car may seem like a solution to one sufferer, it is the bitter end for another. Mostly they will be selling under some sort of duress. If the rebuild has been properly done, it is unlikely that the amount it sells for would even begin to cover the restoration costs. That’s the reality, because only in exceptional circumstances – if, say, the vehicle is a Bugatti Royale, rather than a Vauxhall Royale – is there any potential to make a profit. Financially, there is little justification for this hobby. But is it actually a hobby?
No, it’s an obsession, and often a slightly unhealthy one at that. The hours spent in unheated garages or open driveways must increase the likelihood of arthritis. Submerging hands in used engine oil is more likely to cause cancer than clear out clogged pores. Then there are the other health and safety issues involving a lack of axle stands, a hydraulic jack and an overeager pet that could result in a Jaguar E-type being parked on your head. Yes, classic cars can be very bad for your physical as well as mental health.
Having said all that, though, there is nothing better than mucking about with old cars. You learn new skills, meet people at least as bonkers as you are and eventually you get to drive something that feels truly, wonderfully alive.
Even so, my name is still James and I really shouldn’t be trusted with an old car.