The Concept of the Sustainable Classic

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By Chris Pollitt

The world is a strange place at the moment, what with the lockdown we’re all subject to as part of the global fight against Coronavirus. We’re all stuck indoors, nobody is commuting (except essential workers of course), the roads are eerily quiet. It’s all very strange. And this gave me the chance to ponder something. Do we really need expensive, brand-new cars to get about? I’m sure some do, and I’m sure many would prefer that. And that’s fine. However, my personal experience has left me to ponder just how much I need my eight-year-old C Max? 

Travel is restricted at the moment, as well we know. However, we can still travel for vital reasons. Be that to the pharmacy, to the supermarket or in my case, to collect and drop off my daughter. And during lockdown, I’ve found myself picking up the keys for the Rover Vitesse or the Mercedes E Class. The former is twenty-one, the latter twenty-nine. 

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The initial train of thought was one of preservation. ‘I should give them a run, it’s good for them’, that kind of thing. Then it quickly moved into plain old desire. I wanted to take one of the older cars. Not the C Max. Driving the older cars is more fun, and by using them on the most vital of journeys, they have further proved themselves to be reliable and capable. I’m now looking at the modern Ford and wondering if I need it at all? 

Of course, I understand that this outlook is probably limited to modern classics from the last thirty years or so. If my Mercedes or Rover were, god forbid, involved in an accident, they’re both reasonably strong. A 1928 Austin 7, not so much. Nor would the Austin be able to mix it in modern, frankly aggressive traffic. I think driving a vintage car in amongst its modern cousins would, frankly, be terrifying. Cars such as that should indeed be used on a chosen route, away from hustle and bustle. Though that said, I’m not your father. If you want to commute in a Riley RME, have at it. I know I would. 

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The thing is, modern classics, or retro classics, or whatever Instagram is calling them this week, are perfectly usable every day. These cars have ample life in them if looked after. The Mercedes-Benz W124 I have is a perfect case in point. It has 203,000 on the clock. But since buying it, I have lavished it with care, attention and improvements and now I would drive it to Scotland. If I could. I actually will when the lockdown lifts. And before you say that said care and attention is costly, it’s not. All in, the Mercedes owes me about £700. And that includes buying it. It’s £13 a month to insure and £23 a month to tax. It’s cheap motoring. 

It’s also sustainable motoring, and this is the point I want to make. Some people need the security and reliability that comes from a new car. They need the warranty. They need it as a tool to do a job. And that’s fine. But aside from those people, how many of us are paying out £400 a month for a new car? And of those, how many need it? And by that, I mean really need it. I’ve never had a car on the ‘never never’. I don’t understand the appeal. And there are people I know that don’t really like it, but they do it anyway because they have this forced perception that new cars are better. But they’re not. 

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By their very nature, a new car is not better than an old car. A new car isn’t proven, instead we put our faith in them because we’re told, endlessly, that new is good. In reality though, cars like my Mercedes are better. 203,000 on the clock, and still running like a top. Faultless in fact. 

How many people out there could, if the ‘new is best’ blinkers were removed, happily drive about in classic car? Many, I suspect. And by driving older cars, we’re also being kinder to the environment. An older car was built once, twenty years ago. If it’s in use today, the carbon output of producing that car is still being capitalised on. If we buy new cars only to buy more news cars decades before a car’s true mechanical expiry, we’re simply doubling, tripling, quadrupling the carbon output. But because said new car is low emission, and new, we’re told it’s better. But it’s not. Okay, my Mercedes and Rover might not be as economical as a new car, but neither are they rolling clouds of smoke. They’re perfectly efficient, and while that efficiency may be less than a new car, it’s efficiency that only stands against the carbon output of building one car. Twenty years ago. 

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The automotive industry is big, it is important and we need it. But we also need to be more careful with the resources we have already. To quote a good friend of mine, “a car doesn’t know how old it is, it’s just a machine”. And if you look after that machine, it will last forever. Plus, classic cars just look better and as such, are cooler. Nobody has looked cool in a 2020 Nissan Micra. 

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