The future’s looking bleak for modern classics

There’s an old saying ‘take an interest in politics before it takes an interest in you’.  And, slowly but with the familiar, grinding, dead-handed certainty, politicians are taking an interest in classic cars. If you own a modern classic car built between 1979 and 2005, they’re very interested indeed in you.

That’s £12.50, mate.

In the UK and across the rest of Europe, politicians are falling over themselves to impose low emission zones, urban car bans, permits and access stickers faster than speed bumps. And they see absolutely no difference between a modern classic like a well-maintained Mercedes 500E and a smoke-belching Peugeot 405 diesel estate that saw its last service in 1992. 

More taxes and bans – coming to a town near you

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has led the charge with his new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) covering the same area as the congestion charge.  Drive into it in your modern classic built between 1979 and 2005 and the Mayor will relieve you of £12.50 a day, every day. That’s because there’s a gap of 26 years – a sort of automotive no-man’s land – for modern classics too young to fit the historic tax class but too old to comply with Euro 4 legislation.  

And if you think ‘that’s fine, I don’t live in London’, think again.  There are restrictions planned for Aberdeen, Bath, Birmingham, Brighton, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, London, Norwich, Nottingham and Oxford with plenty more to follow.  

In fact, Bristol now plans to ban private diesel engines altogether; even ultra-clean modern diesels.  Presumably, collective diesel buses will be OK.

Cross the channel and you can add Lyon, Lille, Clermont, Marseilles, Nice, Rouen, and the list goes on, including a slew of towns in Italy, Germany, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland…  

Ram in the bans

The pace at which restrictions are being jammed in is remarkable.  In fact, schemes are being introduced so quickly across Europe that even the website, the ULEZ bible, can’t keep up. 

Nope. Banned.

Politicians don’t see any difference between a modern classic and a banger.  So in London your pristine Mk2 Golf GTi gets hit, as does a W124 Mercedes 500E, any proper Audi Quattro, any E30 or E36 BMW including the M3, the Mercedes 190 Cosworth, Porsche 928, Honda NSX, BMW 635CSi, Renault Clio Williams – you get the idea. 

In fact, plenty of cars older than the Euro 4 2005 cut-off are perfectly compliant. But that’s down to the owner to prove on an individual basis – Transport for London (TfL) aren’t interested in granting block exemptions even when owners can show a certificate of conformity for an entire make, model or series of cars.

Going for the easy targets?

Looking at the stats, one wonders whether the mayor has chosen his targets for political expediency rather than pollution.  Petrol cars of all types account for 6% of London’s NOX air pollution, some way behind domestic gas heating at 12%, diesel cars at 12%, TfL buses at 10% and non-road mobile machinery (cement mixers, to you and me) at 7%.  Older motorcycles, despite accounting for less than 1% of pollution and being a prime congestion solvent, pay 100% of the tax.  

Perhaps taxing transport – particularly vehicles of people outside London who need them to get in – is an easier sell than going after your electorate’s central heating boilers.

What’s next?

It won’t stop here. In October 2021, Sadiq is ratcheting the ULEZ out to cover anywhere inside the North and South Circular roads covering boroughs as far out as Bexley, Hillingdon, Bromley, Croydon, Harrow, Kingston and Richmond – primarily residential areas where plenty of people own and run modern classics. And, very smartly, the consultation period for that piece of legislation shut in February 2018, well before the first ULEZ had even been imposed

Even older, pre-79 classics are in trouble.  Oxford City Council – the people who brought you bureaucrat-sanctioned, compliant busking – are proposing not a low emission zone, but a zero emission zone, and want to force classic car owners to apply for permits to enter the city. 

It probably won’t be long until pre-1980 classics are permit-only and allowed to drive only on a restricted number of days each year.

Thinking through the consequences

Clearly, the implications for people who earn their livelihood from classic cars – restorers, dealers and mechanics – are huge: 

  • The industry is worth £5.5bn to the UK economy. 
  • 9.8m people in the UK are interested in historic vehicles.
  • 60% of owners say owning an historic vehicle is one of the most important things in their life

TfL, though, say they haven’t considered it.  A spokesman said;

“We’ve done an equality impact study, but I don’t think we’ll have gone to that level or niche areas like modern classic cars. At the moment it’s all about delivering ULEZ and expanding it in 2021.” 

It’s too early to see a direct knock-on to modern classic values, but there’s certainly evidence that some buyers are backing away from youngtimers.  Jonathan Dawson of Lincolnshire’s Horsepower Hangar said;

“We’ve already lost a sale on our Porsche 928 GTS thanks to the ULEZ. It’s really messing up the market.”  Ads are already starting to quote ‘ULEZ-compliant’ as a feature.

Screenshot 2019-11-17 at 17.33.17.png

And if there’s no market – or a much reduced market – for modern classics, more will end up in the crusher, leaving far fewer to make it into the rolling 40 year classic exemption. 

After all, who’s going to want a car that politicians won’t let them drive anywhere? 


2 thoughts on “The future’s looking bleak for modern classics

Add yours

  1. I’ve been enquiring into some kind of retrofit that would reduce emissions to permitted bands. No joy yet, but surely I’m not the only one to have considered this?

    Let me know. Thanks


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