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Veteran & Vintage

GLISTEN WITH OLD GOLD Published: 1st Aug 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Veteran & Vintage
Veteran & Vintage
Veteran & Vintage
Veteran & Vintage
Veteran & Vintage
Veteran & Vintage
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Fancy enjoying classic motoring at a slower more genteel pace? Then why not look at golden oldies from the start of the automobile? David Burgess-Wise is your guide

Even with a classic car, do you still find that the sheer enjoyment of driving is slowly being drained out of taking your vehicle out for a spin? Increased traffic congestion, fuelled by revenue-raising speed cameras, and ill-conceived “traffic calming” nonsenses takes its toll on even the most determined of enthusiast.

But there may be a solution to all this and that’s getting back to basics with a real golden oldie! Okay, they may not be fast but that’s half the fun as you watch the world whizz by, plus you have the thrill of knowing that every journey is going to be an experience to remember – which may mean getting home without a breakdown!

Values for good cars are on the rise and will remain so, making them an appreciating asset that you can enjoy at the same time – and we don’t mean just the London- Brighton run. Have we got you interested? Well in this special feature we look at all aspects of buying, owning and running a golden oldie starting with 20 top tips!


If this is your first pre-World War Two car, the first thing you need to do is get focussed. While “Classic” is a catchall term covering just about anything over 20 years old, pre-World War Two cars fall into strictly defined time slots: Veterans were built prior to the end of 1904, Edwardians happily ignore historical accuracy (Edward VII died in 1910) and are classed as being built between 1905-1918, Vintage date from 1919-1930 and cars from the 1930s can, if they are on a sometimes controversial list drawn up by the Vintage Sports Car Club, be classified as “Post Vintage Thoroughbreds”; no-one has yet fixed on a term for Thirties’ cars that aren’t on the PVT list. But don’t worry if your Thirties’ choice isn’t on that list; there’s almost certainly a local or national club that caters for you, and the rarity of all 1930’s cars ensures a warm welcome at the majority of events. But which era to choose? Obviously, in many cases, practicality diminishes with age but then the oldest cars can be extremely desirable, and practicality here probably isn’t a consideration. How to choose? Go to events, take photos to study at home, visit museums, see what period appeals to you.


Early cars were, by and large, built by skilled engineers. This has two big benefits for the buyer. The car is likely to be well- built, even if the make is obscure – it was usually poor management or lack of finance that forced companies out of business – and if spare parts are missing, a skilled machinist can usually make a replacement. The flip side is that there may be eccentricities in the design – early engineers were hardly averse to trying out their pet ideas on the unsuspecting customer – but then if you wanted predictability, you’d have bought a modern car, wouldn’t you?


There are plenty of dealers in our sort of cars, and a magazine like Classic Motoring carries lots of colour adverts for V & V vehicles. Prices vary widely, so “compare and contrast” should be your motto. Why is vehicle A more costly than vehicle B of the same make? Is it the colour scheme (relatively easy to change) or the body style (difficult to impossible/expensive to alter). Know what sort of vehicle you want – economy or luxury, sports or saloon, fast or slow. Find out the distinguishing features of the model, the availability of spares, points of historic interest, the existence of appropriate clubs and marque specialists. Allow a bit of slack in your top price, because whatever you buy is likely to need extra work – even the youngest pre-1940 car is almost 70 years old. Make sure it has a valid MoT and licence and that you are covered by insurance if you plan on driving your new acquisition home. And remember, once you’ve shaken hands on a deal, that amounts to a binding agreement. Good hunting! Dealers have a reputation to protect. If there’s an unsuspected problem with the car, they will almost certainly put it right for the sake of their image.


Buying at auction can be the way to acquire a car at a very reasonable price but you could get carried away in the excitement of the occasion and end up paying over the odds! The procedures are simple: you’ll need the catalogue to gain admission to the sale, you have to register as a bidder – that confirms you have the means to pay for your purchase – and then all you have to do is wait for your lot to come up. What happens next is in the lap of the gods. Always set yourself a no-go limit (and remember that the buyer’s premium can add anything up to 15 per cent to your total bill) and stick by it. Private buys are another good way as you get the chance to meet the current owner who can pass on experience and tips. By far the safest option is to use the services of a known specialist who can advise and source the right car for you and your budget. Further benefits are that they will look after you after the sale and help maintain the car plus buy it back at an acceptable price if you want to ‘drop out’ or even trade up to another golden oldie.


Pre-World War Two cars are usually built on sturdy channel steel chassis, which normally ensures that the basic understructure is very strong. However, the bolts or rivets holding the structure together may be loose, and the chassis could be bent or fractured through hard use. Some 1930’s cars have well- known weak spots in the chassis: Model C Fords can rust badly at the base of the scuttle, for instance. Primitives may have wooden or tubular chassis, where rot and fracture may exist. That said, they’re easier to repair than unitary structures, rarely found before 1940 – Lancia and late 1930’s Vauxhall Ten were pioneers of unit construction and are best left to specialists. I still remember the technical and financial agonies a friend went through restoring a ’37 Lancia Aprilia whose unit construction concealed some nasty rust pockets. But horrid surprises can also lurk beneath the panelling of wood-framed bodies and that means the vast majority of pre-1940 cars.


History can make a huge difference to an old car’s real value. Early photographs, magazine articles – especially “in period” ones – a buff log book, letters from previous owners, restoration or service bills and so on: all these help build up the story of the car. A car with a good provenance can be worth maybe double an equivalent model whose past is unknown. But a spurious history is ultimately worse than no history at all, because if you pay over the odds and the story fails to stack up, then you face a serious financial loss.


A test drive can reveal much about an early car, but be prepared for the differences between ancient and modern. Many early cars have central throttle pedals and right-hand gear shifts; gear gates may have a different layout. Practice makes perfect, and the skills involved in driving a pre-1940 car are quickly acquired. It’s as well to learn how to double-declutch when changing gear, as even cars with synchromesh (only in the 1930s in Britain) usually have unsynchronised bottom gears. Steering may be heavier than you may be accustomed to, but you’ll soon adapt to all this. Watch the gauges (if fitted); pressure can seem low, but that could have been the norm on some makes; you need to know what the expected pressure might be. And unpressurised cooling systems shouldn’t normally run too hot, though boiling on long hills was not unknown, even when the cars were new.


Originality is a key factor with early cars: indeed, a car in the condition that the French picturesquely describe as “dans son jus” (“in its juice”) is particularly desirable, for patina is as important with such a vehicle as it is with antique furniture. Whether or not the paintwork and upholstery have been renewed, original coachwork and equipment enhance the value, both in financial and historic terms.


Club membership can make ownership of an antique even more enjoyable. Once you’ve acquired your veteran or vintage car, you’ll almost certainly join the Veteran Car Club or the Vintage Sports Car Club, which cater for all makes, including the “orphan” makes of which there are only one or two survivors (and, in the case of the VSCC, many 1930’s models, too). In addition, there are excellent one-make clubs where you can find all the information you need about running your car and obtaining spares and specialist service; they also organise events keyed to your sort of car.


Restoration is usually costly business. An expert’s time doesn’t come cheap, and restorations have an alarming habit of taking longer than expected. So before you embark on an expensive restoration, ask yourself whether the finished vehicle is likely to come up to your expectations. There’s a lot of satisfaction in carrying out as much of the restoration as you can yourself, but the important thing is to know your limitations, be it space, time or skill; there are experts out there who have the specialised equipment and the skill born from years of experience who can almost certainly do the job better and faster than you can!


What should you carry in the car? Major roadside repairs are no longer safe. Your best accessory these days is a mobile phone and membership of a breakdown rescue service. Otherwise, spare bulbs and sparking plugs, a jack and – as appropriate – wheelbrace or copper-faced hubnut hammer in case of flat tyres. Rain-X for the windscreen and RedEx or similar additive for the petrol are good, too. If yours is an open car, keeping wet weather clothing in the vehicle could be a good idea…


Pre-war cars were designed in an era when service garages were few and far between, and home servicing was the norm. Just remember that service intervals were much shorter in those days, and some items call for checks on a very regular basis, often as regularly as every 500 or 1000 miles. But then you should check an early car over frequently for your own safety, so the application of the grease gun or oil can at the same time won’t be a hardship. Grease nipples vary in design, so make sure you have the right gun for the job as early vintage cars may well have Tecalemit slide-on greasers, and here you may have to search the tool stands at autojumbles. Other routine checks should include the braking mechanism: a couple of seconds spent taking up free play – usually easily adjusted.


Clubs like the Vintage Sports Car Club, who had a list of friendly insurance brokers and who would issue cover to members’ cars that had been inspected for mechanical condition by a VSCC official, could keep on motoring.

Gradually, more and more insurance companies realised that early cars are a very good risk, for their accident rate is extremely low. Many clubs have also arranged dedicated insurance schemes for their members. Expect to have to submit your car to inspection by a specialist engineer; this is no formality, but if your car is capable of getting through an MoT inspection, you should have nothing to worry about.

However, remember that insurance is one service you can’t afford to cut corners on, though hopefully you’ll never have to make a claim.


A vintage car is no harder to protect over the winter as a normal classic. Make sure
there’s sufficient antifreeze in the cooling system, cover the bonnet with an old blanket,
use an “intelligent” battery maintenance charger and either put the car on axle stands or regularly top up the tyre pressures and move the car slightly to prevent “flats” from forming in the tyres. A major plus point of early cars with rod or cable braking is that they can be left to stand for long periods without needing extensive recommissioning, for there is no hydraulic fluid to deteriorate. Turn the engine over from time to time in storage to keep oil in the bores and the valve gear.


Early cars not only hold their value, their market is far more stable than in post-war machinery. When the values of postwar supercars like Ferraris and Aston Martins tumbled in the 1990s, prewar cars held firm (and indeed their values are now rising as more people discover their charms). Treat owning an antique car as a hobby, spend only what you can afford… and once the money is gone, consider it gone. Whatever you get, whether it’s less than you paid for it, whether you break even, or if you get more money, always consider it pure profit. There is no way you can value the fun you had with it!


So as long as your V & V car is street-legal, with valid insurance (there’s no MoT, remember), you can enjoy proper motoring all year round.


Just like a modern car, pre-1940 models must have valid documents. If you need to obtain a period registration for your newly-restored car, remember that many makers either didn’t stamp numbers on the chassis or else stamped them where the number is hidden when the body is fitted. This will puzzle an inspector only used to modern cars. Service and restoration bills are a useful plus if or when you come to sell the car on.

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