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The very long and winding road to finally owning a classic

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

By Tony Batchelor.

About 10 years ago I decided when I retired I wanted a classic car, well a car similar to the ones I used to drive some 45 years ago. Some 10 years later I finally achieved it, but not before a great deal of research, mulling over and soul searching as to what would be the best car to buy.

But what is it about our love for cars that we would spend a great deal of time and effort buying them, spending large sums maintaining them to keep them on the road, even forming car clubs to socialise and exchange information with like-minded individuals.

For me, my love of cars is about indulging in two of my favourite subjects, art and, engineering. I consider cars to be works of art, like paintings, and sculptures but coupled with engineering in order to provide structure and performance. People admire buildings and wonder at their elegance, for example, the Taj Mahal, or elegant engineered structures assembled from pieces of metal such as the Eiffel Tower, so why not admire cars in the same way.

I have always loved cars, my mum often joked the first word I spoke was “car”. A love of cars is in the family blood, my dad, brother and now my two sons have inherited the gene. My mum could not complain as she encouraged me by almost on a weekly basis buying me a Matchbox, Corgi, Dinky or Spot-on die-cast car. If only I had of kept the boxes instead of ripping them apart to get the car out I would be a very rich man now.

I believe I invented the “road mat” back in the early 1960s; I would have been around 6 to 8 years old. I would draw roads on the back of newspaper advertising posters, joining several sheets together to make a larger layout, with Lego, used to build garages.

Around the same time, 6 to 8 years old, I had a selection of cars which I drove, well in my head anyway. I would take the car and “drive” to collect my Grandfathers newspaper, I distinctly recall a Mk2 Jaguar but there were a couple including a Mk 1X Jag (my dad’s friend had a real one). I would imagine myself driving the car to the paper shop. First signs of madness, maybe, but I still have the Mk1X which I have not used it for a while.

Mk 1X Jaguar, a childhood dream

My first real attempt at purchasing a car was when I was around 15, I sent off for the sales brochure for a Marcos 1800. The cars were supplied in kit form, so I could buy the car in stages and assemble it myself. I assumed my dad would assist in the building aspect, particularly as I needed to use his garage; all I needed was a slight increase in wages from my Saturday job to pay for it. Needless to say, the Marcos was never delivered, but I still have the sales brochure.

For me the Marcos was and still is almost 50 years later, the most beautiful sports car I have ever seen. I apologise to Malcolm Sayer (E-Type designer), your wonderful creation is a very close second.

A Marcos was advertised in Autotrader 18months or so ago, it was around £30k which looked reasonable particularly compared with the cost of an E-Type. I looked at a Marcos at the NEC CC Show in November, a beautiful vibrant yellow, immaculately presented. I had forgotten how low it was, I thought about asking if I could sit in it, but was worried if I was able to get in I might not get out again.

Marcos 1800
Marcos 1800 (1969 to 1972) – in my opinion more beautiful than an E-Type

I learnt to dive on my dad’s Mini Traveller in 1974. I was actually at 6th Form College when I passed my test; I used to drive to “school” occasionally, especially when a young lady turned me down when I asked her out, oh well there is always the bus. I subsequently shared my dad’s Minivan which he used for work, I spent the weekend cleaning it inside and out so I could “socialise” in it. Well, apologies to my dad but I got fed up cleaning his van for him. I needed my own wheels and the first car I actually purchased for £350, well with some financial help with HP, was a 1967 Simca 1000. I have no idea why I decided to buy that, my dad actually offered me his Traveller for free. Can you imagine today, somebody offering you a free Mini Traveller?

The Simca was nothing but trouble from the moment the 3 months warranty expired, and the guy he sold the Traveller to for £50 and seemed to have trouble free motoring. Hindsight eh, if only!

The Simca 1000, worth around £2000 to £4000 now, if you can find one.

Almost bankrupt I parted company with the Simca and used my last £100 to buy a Wolsey 1500. I think for me this was the most significant car I have ever purchased. It had leather seats, a wooden dash, lots of chrome and a badge on the radiator grille which illuminated. Leather, wood, and chrome were to follow me from my early 20’s to early 60s, the kind of cars I love.

Sadly the Wolsey disintegrated and I had a series of practical cars over the following years, such as a Cortina Mk 2 Estate, Hillman Avenger and a Mk1 Vauxhall Cavalier. Thinking about it those cars are now classed as “Classics," and wearing my rose-tinted spectacles I can say I am very lucky to have owned them.

I had an opportunity to buy a Porsche 924 was when I was in my early 20’s, around 1978. A friend of my dad advised me his son-in-law was selling his car, just to let me know in case I was interested. I was driving a battered Mk2 Cortina Estate at that time and I carried out building work at the weekends. I did not think I could get a cement mixer in the back of a 924, and I do not think the son in law would let me try, or fit a roof rack for carrying ladders and lengths of wood. What really made me decide was my dad’s friend mentioned the car had been in a crash and his son-in-law had “done a really good job repairing it”.

I also had an opportunity to swap my Cavalier for a Jensen Healey, which was vaguely tempting but I was a poor first-time house buyer at that time and the flow of oil down the side of the Lotus engine caused me to decline the kind offer, plus I would have the issue with the cement mixer.

Around 1984 I acquired my first “sporty” car which was a 1971 MGBGT, bright shiny red with wire wheels; I swapped the Cavalier for that on the basis I could use it for building as it is a hatchback. Someone I knew described the B as “a Morris Oxford in drag," and yes it was slow and wallowed around a bit on corners and did not stop too well. It was however definitely a head turner with the girls, unlike a Morris Oxford, so from that perspective I was happy with the “drag act”. The problem I found with the B was that the rear door seemed to be magnetised because almost every time I looked in the rear view mirror there was a car inches from it, usually a Golf GTi.

The tailgating issue really got to me after a while, to a point where I swapped the B for a 1971 Mercedes 220. Now that was a wonderfully well-engineered car with a beautifully designed interior, the 1960s styling is so elegant and so unlike German cars of today. A very imposing car, but would only do about 90mph flat out on a motorway, so I would catch up with a car and it seemed that automatically it pulled over to let me pass, which sometimes caused a problem because I had nothing left underfoot to pass them.

The 220 was unbelievably thirsty but a joy to drive, well up until the point the automatic gearbox started to slip and a number of MOT issues, it had to go and I sold it for £150. Worth £10k plus if I had it today.

Mercedes 220, 1960s styling is so elegant, so unlike German cars of today

The scariest car I have ever owned was a Metro 115D. Cars at our house are given names, and I named the Metro “the slug," and for good reason. The 0 to 60 time of 15 seconds seemed like 15 minutes when pulling out on a roundabout across fast-moving traffic. That was really, and I mean really, scary.

Unfortunately, I lost focus on maybe owning a “Classic Car” raising a family and buying / renovating houses, but then what I was driving might now be considered loosely as a classic car. I had a Mk1 VW Golf, Vauxhall Chevette, a couple of Metros and an interest in a Rover P4, which a friend and I cut the back off and turned it into a Pick-up truck. It was only when my sons were looking for their first cars that I became interested again in cars and had great fun going to breakers yards and looking for bits to repair or improve their cars. Those were really good times for lads and dad, well and mum as she came along on occasions as well.

I cannot recall when I first became interested in the Porsche, but I fell in love with the 356 Speedster, I just love the late 50’s, early 60’s basic look. It is not fast, probably does not handle too well but it is in my mind a piece of history and an iconic design. I said for some time I would like to buy one, but the six-figure cost is way out of my price range. I looked at replicas, a fraction of the price. See from the images if you can spot the imposter.

Porsche 356 - Finde den Betrüger

A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to purchase a 1990 Porsche 911. A friend was selling it for a couple of reasons, but a great mechanically sound car, and at £18k was a real bargain. As with everything in life opportunities rarely coincide with the right timing, and I just had to decline the kind offer to be its new owner. Sadly a couple of years later there is not another 911 in that condition at that price, more like £60k now.

My current everyday run-around which has been in the family for about 8 years, and a great source of fun for me, is a little Smart 451. Usually when I am asked what car I drive I expect howls of laughter when I say a Smart Car, so I suggest the person guesses from the description, ie German, rear engine, two-seater, turbocharged. It is not that I am embarrassed to admit I have a Smart Car, but it is a “horses for courses” car which I have a lot of fun in.

I can park it in the smallest of parking spaces, annoy other drivers by parking it in car parks at the end of a parking space, share a parking space with someone else, drive down narrow country roads without constantly braking or in and out of traffic around town. It can easily do 80mph on the motorway but at 90 the steering gets light and it starts taking off, and I do not want to do an impression of a bowling ball, so I limit it to 80mph max.

The “Smarty," practical(ish), great fun and occasionally an annoying little car.

In my quest to find the right “Classic Car” which suits both my wife and myself we have ventured into the world of classic car hire, primarily with a couple of visits to Great Escape Cars based in Redditch near Birmingham (see I was particularly taken with the Jensen Interceptor, which is like driving around in an armchair, and the Healy replica with the 3.9 litre Rover V8 engine (wow that really drinks fuel, but not as much as the 7.3 litre Jensen).

I have also considered as a fun car, rather than a classic, the Porsche Boxter and the Cayman. The Boxter is often described as a hairdresser’s car, but a 0 to 60 time of around 6 seconds suggests a whole new meaning to the term “a quick trim”. The Cayman, although I love the design it just does not have the history. I might as well buy a Mazda MX5 just to ride about in an anonymous modern, but reliable, sports car.

I mentioned earlier opportunities and timing, and I decided when I retired at the end of October 2018 was the time to finally purchase that long-awaited classic car, but which one. I should say at this point my wife has been very supportive in all of this, and hence I now refer to “we” and “us”

My son helped us to focus on what sort of car we should buy when he decided to purchase a Caterham as a “fun car” to go with his 210HP VW Scirocco. I suggested he let his old dad drive it as I reduced his insurance premium, and I must confess it was a terrific experience blasting around in it. It was such fun I found myself laughing at the crudeness in the controls and handling and noise emitted from the large exhaust fitted to the side of the car when I “buried” my right foot.

However, the Caterham experience offers an unbelievably firm ride, cramped cabin and the three-point harness is such a pain to buckle up. Not the sort of car for a quick trip to the shops. But the major lesson we learnt was at 60 plus we could not get into the car when the roof was fitted, the old joints are just not flexible enough to crawl in through the small “door” opening. Driving the Caterham did however confirm that the cars under consideration, ie the Porsche 924, the MGB GT and the Triumph GT6, would also not be suitable from a dexterity perspective.

With the summer fast approaching, and the opportunity and timing just right, we concluded that we were looking for something 1960s, iconic British design, ideally, less than £10k as a starter budget, good for spares, good road manners and it had to put a smile on our faces. Most importantly my wife had to be confident driving it, as it is “our” retirement present.

Our final choice, the Triumph Vitesse Convertible. Lots of wood and chrome, and PVC in lieu of the leather.

Triumph Vitesse Mk11 – The end to a very long and winding road to finally owning a classic, an absolute beauty (Yes I am smiling, really)

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