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A guide to Left Hand Classics

Left Hand Classics Published: 9th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A guide to Left Hand Classics
A guide to Left Hand Classics LHD is nothing to fear and you can get a better cheaper car although with classics like the Healey, condition is everything rather than where you sit
A guide to Left Hand Classics
A guide to Left Hand Classics Modern classics such as newer 911s represent big savings although will be harder to sell and many specialists won’t touch them as the service history will be patchy at best
A guide to Left Hand Classics
A guide to Left Hand Classics Many cars, like this Morgan can be converted back easily if so desired - but may attract a foreign buyer
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Despite being surrounded by left-hand drive (LHD) countries, the UK remains a right-hand drive market. This isn't just a headach

What is LHD?

In medieval times, common sense dictated that when people passed each other on the road they should be in the best possible position to defend themselves if attacked. As most people were right handed (and still are) and held their swords in their right hands, they generally kept to the left - a practice formalised by the Pope around the 14th century when he even advised his pilgrims to keep to the left. The keep left custom was enforced once again, by the Government’s General Highways Act of 1773, which came about due to the increase in horse traffic and in 1835 the keep left order became law as part of the Highways Bill. Interestingly, the French actually travelled on the left until the Revolution. Before then, the French aristocracy drove their carriages at such speed the peasants were forced to use the right side of the road. However, during the revolution the aristocracy took to using the right in order to blend in and so avoid being guillotined… Today, notable right hand drive countries remain, such as Japan, Australia, Pakistan and of course, the UK; but the whole of continental Europe is a left-hand drive market, as is the United States.

Why buy a LHD car?

You may think that driving a left-hand drive car in Britain’s more trouble than it’s worth, but there are lots of good reasons for us to buy a LHD classic. The obvious one is price. Savings of up to almost a third on the same or lowerspec right-hand drive equivalents aren’t uncommon. So either you pay less for the car of your choice, or you use the saving as an excuse to upgrade to a better model. You could even get into machinery that you’d otherwise never afford - we’re talking about buying a used, left-hand drive exotic here. RHD exotics are simply harder to find than LHD models; worse than that, the RHD versions can be very expensive. A good many Brits now have holiday homes abroad, so if you have to drive on the continent as part of business or pleasure, at some point you’re going to be sitting on the ‘wrong’ side, so you might as well buy LHD and benefit from the cost saving. But it’s not just about saving sheer cash; in reality, LHD models can be better to drive because cars are almost always designed as left -hand drive, then converted for the UK market. Benefits often include a better feel from the brakes and clutch, no awkward off set pedals and a generally crisper driving experience. It doesn’t take long to get used to a LHD, either. If you’ve ever taken your right-hand drive car onto the continent you’ll know that you soon adjust to sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and it’s the same here in the UK albeit in reverse.

What’s the long term outlook for LHD?

Japan, the world’s largest car producer, is the same as us so naturally produces such cars for its own domestic market as well as for export. It’s also unlikely, given the impracticalities, that the UK would now change over to LHD, as Sweden did 40 years Bearing in mind this scenario, industry observers are not predicting much change in the UK LHD market, but it is also true to say that certain models will continue to be more resilient and accepted than others. American cars have always been LHD only and whilst the UK market is small, it’s very consistent. Similarly, specialist LHD cars such as the Citroen SM, Lancia Integrale and Alfa Romeo Montreal have their own loyal, dedicated following and will continue to do so. Other established classics such as E-Types, TRs, and Austin- Healeys are the a lot cheaperto buy in LHD form, mainly because the UK RHD equivalent is readily available and more desirable although we’d never turn down a concours LHD in preference to a good RHD. Given the differential between, say, a RHD and LHD E-Type (around 20 per cent, it is worth the £2k cost of a good conversion. For cheaper classics such as MGBs, this makes no economic sense, however. Exotics such as Ferraris and Porsches depend entirely on model and spec. Buying a Ferrari 208 (the lo-po 2-litre Italian market-only car) in white for example, will not be a sensible bet - wrong car, wrong colour. But buy a LHD 328 in Rosso Red, with cream leather and you won’t go far wrong.

So, what should I buy?

From the chart you can see that certain cars were only ever produced in LHD form, so if you want one of these, LHD is your only option. Some of these were imported new by the UK concessionaires, but most around now will have found their way over privately. This can be a good thing, as specifications can be higher for home market cars and often the servicing will have been a lot more thorough. Then there are the Americans with the evergreen Corvette and Mustang heading up the charge, followed by the Firebirds and Camaros. Avoid more obscure models as the parts and service aspects make them tricky and expensive to keep on the road. Some models that were never imported into the UK, such as the all wheel drive 325X and the M5 Touring estate, can make practical LHD buys, especially if you plan on some continental trips away. Others, such as the Golf G60 with its supercharger make little sense, except for novelty value, when you can buy a more powerful and far more satisfying VR6 cheaply in RHD form. Exotica is where the big savings and benefits come in though; as a general rule, left hooker Ferraris and Porsches will save you around 20 per cent over the equivalent UK car - enough to upgrade to a newer car, or just to pocket the difference to cover the running costs.

Where should I buy?

That’s the big question - and the answer isn’t straightforward. It depends what you’re after. A dry US state is a good bet for some of the more rust-prone models such as Alfas, VW Campers and British sports cars, but the downside is the cost of freight and tax (10 per cent duty, plus 17.5 per cent VAT) which can make this an uneconomic and, thanks to US emission engines, impractical proposition. If you can’t find what you want in the UK, Europe is a better way to go; for starters, within the EU, there’s no duty or VAT to pay between states; secondly, most of Europe is only a cheap plane fare away. If you’re buying European machinery, there’s a better chance of getting the spec you want ant a better price, too. However, beware those models that are actually dearer in LHD form; this is usually due to the fact that the home country is buying their LHD cars back because of high demand! Examples of this are the BMW CSL and Porsche 356 - especially speedster models, demand for which outstrips supply in Germany. The same is true of other rare Porsches such as the classic 911RS 2.7 too. Of more humble origins, but still in demand in its home country is the E30 BMW M3; the Germans are now starting to look to the UK for stock and that’s pushing prices up.

What about selling?

Be prepared to either wait longer for a UK buyer, or be brave and advertise abroad. That’s not as daft as it sounds, because although you may not get a huge amount more than someone will pay in the UK, European buyers will often be prepared to travel to buy your classic – especially if it’s rare or in particularly fine condition. Remember, if it’s LHD they will be able to simply repatriate it without fuss.

Anything else?

Yes - firstly insurance. Some insurers will routinely load your premium by up to a quarter for LHD, but many will not, so it pays to shop around and ensure you don’t get caught out. Secondly, the availability of parts; most home market-only models are not supported for parts in the UK; for older classics, that problem is compounded to the extent that your only option for spares may be to trawl the country of origin for that elusive part. LHD versions of cars available here in RHD are not immune, either; suspension and steering parts often differ from UK cars making servicing harder.

Our view

As we’ve seen above, you need to be wary when looking for a LHD classic. If the car is a model never imported to the UK in either RHD or LHD, then tread carefully; why buy that 2-litre Ferrari when you can get the 3-litre, which was imported here and with the benefit of better spare parts availability? Also LHD cars are harder to sell. But in the end, if like a growing number of people, you’re happy to live with LHD and you choose the right model, the cost saving can help you run that classic for quite some time. And to many, that can make the difference between owning one and not.

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