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Time for the classic car scene to unite and fight for our place in the low-emissions world...

Published 15 March 2014

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. And 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.

But, 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. And with that affixed, your car is guaranted, 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. But other than that, we have no historic classification for classic cars at all, other than what we, the media, the car insurance industry, and the owners' club scene decide upon. And even then, none of us can really agree terms. And 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 classic 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 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. And first step in that process is to gain offically sanctioned classic car status for those vehicles that meaure 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 secure that we get German-style official recognition. Only then can stand together, like they did in Germany, and main 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 maintain the right to use our cars in the future...


David    on 15 March 2014

Agreed. But there are two points to make here.

First, where do these lovely politically correct low or zero emissions vehicles come from? Of course, they are manufactured, and what about the emissions from this process? Volvo did a study a couple of decades ago saying that the emissions created in making one new car were equivalent to running an old classic for around fifteen years. So legislating an old classic off the road – causing a new low emissions car to be bought – is utterly counterproductive, actually causing far more pollution in the great scheme of things.

Second, the ability for any national government to legislate on this is becoming less and less. The German government recently estimated that 80% of all its legislation was now coming from the EU directly, and this is likely to be a very similar situation for us as we are subject to the same EU rules. With this in mind, national governments are less and less able to have any say on this – and Germany's special exemption for classics may soon be ruled illegal or irrelevant. Almost all legislation of this nature (and most others), is now made by unelected EU commissioners, not subject to democratic vote but very subject to high level lobbying from large corporate multinationals. We as individuals are being disenfranchised by the European Union; there is no longer much connection between who or what we vote for and what is imposed on us. To secure any kind of long term settlement for classics, this needs to be back in the hands of elected UK MPs, who we can vote out if they harm us.

Phil van Loghem    on 16 March 2014

Phil van Loghem

just to join this discussion. There are products such as ours which we supply to clients wishing to reduce their recorded emissions to meet standards for Warrants of Fitness.
Typically, use of the conditioner in fuel will do three things:
1.lower emissions by a minimum of 30% (fact)
2.add a lubricant to the fuel which has been removed when lead or sulphur is removed
3.improve vehicle economy by about 5-12%

In New Zealand w have a number of bus companies who have done emissions tests to establish a baseline, then used the product for say 500kms the retested emissions to verify to authorites that the emissions have been brought from Euro3 to Euro4.
Admittedly they are required to be retested each year to confirm they are still treating the fuel. But it does work.
Here, typical treatment costs about NZ$0.05/litre and an emissions test costs NZ$65 each first one and $40 for the second one.
just a thought..

Chris brookes    on 19 March 2014

They should exempt classics as there aren't enough of them to have any great impact. I drive a (Euro 5 LEZ compliant) lorry in London frequently and can state that if Boris wants to improve the air quality he needs to sort out all those ancient black cabs before he picks on classics.

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