I’m currently at the Retro Classics Show in Stuttgart and am surrounded by more than 3000 mostly wonderfully-presented classic cars. However, the buzz from the assembled media was actually about the prospect of old cars being banned from central London. This, presumably, will then be followed by other cities in the UK, such as Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge or anywhere else where vehicle emissions are on the agenda.
Having been in and around the classic car scene for more years than I care to remember, and also reported the beginnings of this story during my time as News Editor on Classic Car Weekly back in 2005, it feels like we have been here before, and I have very strong opinions on this subject. The first time this subject raised its head was with the initiation of the Umweltzonen in certain German cities – in a nutshell, if your car couldn’t meet tight emissions standards, it wouldn’t get the green sticker that would allow you legal entry into these cities. It effectively meant that pretty much all vehicles built before the mid-1990s weren’t allowed in, unless their owners fitted catalytic converters professionally and had them certified.
We were up in arms at the time, raising the same issues we’re hearing now – and I seem to recall that we entered a period of scaremongering over the subject. Then, the news came through – the classic vehicles clubs, organisations and magazines all banded together and pushed hard for exemption for historic vehicles – they won the argument, securing the historic exemption. In Italy, it meant the ‘Fiat 500 rule’, which allowed unhindered access to all sub-1000cc classics into emissions-controlled areas. Clearly public opinion mattered when defending an Italian icon.
However, the story gets really interesting elsewhere – in Germany, there’s a system in place to categorise cars as as ‘historic’. Basically, once your classic is 30 years old, you take it to your local registration office, they inspect it and, if it’s in good condition and cherished, it earns the all-important ‘H’ plate – with that affixed, your car is guaranteed, taxed and categorised as a classic car,and it’s possible to drive in the Umweltzone. Wonderful…
Here in the UK, we have no such provisions to categorize your car as a classic. Yes, if it was registered before 1974, you’re now exempt from paying road tax and, for those who own a car made before 1960, you don’t actually need an MoT it either. However, apart from that, we have no historic classification for classic cars at all – save for what we, the media, the car insurance industry and the owners’ club scene decide upon. Even then, none of us can really agree terms. That’s why, from here, I’d say getting agreement on what a classic car actually is should be made the first priority in our fight to secure the future of classic cars in the UK.
Something else that we all need to do within the classic car scene is unite. The initial story about the consultation into old car usage within London’s proposed Ultra Low Emissions Zone was run by Autocar and a number of classic car magazines have subsequently picked up on it. Classic & Sports Car is currently running a campaign on its website, inviting people to sign a petition against the proposal continuing the free use of all classics within the capital, while Practical Classics stated on its Facebook feed, ‘We shall fight it every step. First by going to Parliament to discuss it with the minister, and then by rallying against it.’
May I make a suggestion to help in our fight against this move? How about we all stand together, secure proper historic status for classic cars and then work hard to ensure that proper historic cars earn an exemption from these ULEZs? The bottom line is that these emissions zones are going to happen, the political will is too strong in their favour. We just need to make sure that, as classic car fans and owners, we work hard to create an environment where exemptions can be made without too much of a path of resistance.
Boris Johnson has said, ‘My vision is a central zone where almost all the vehicles running during working hours are either zero or low emission.’ Let’s ensure that we, as spokespeople for the classic car movement, make sure that our cars are free to be used in the capital – at the very least within some very wide windows. The first step in that process is to gain officially-sanctioned classic car status for those vehicles that measure up to an agreed criteria within the industry.
So, how about coming together on this with the FBHVC, the RAC and AA, as well as other important classic car organisations, and deciding what a classic car actually is and working to ensure that we get German-style official recognition? Only then can we stand together, like they did in Germany, and maintain responsible classic car owners’ freedom to use our cars in the coming years.
I sincerely hope that we, as a community, can unite, offer solutions and retain the right to use our cars in the future…