Thursday 25th May 2006


CLASSIC CAR CLUB

You don't have to own a classic to drive one. Aaron Weddell reports.

Classic Car Club member plus Alfa
Classic Car Club member plus Alfa

My daily driver is a BMW E30 M3 and, although I love it dearly, over the past few years, I have managed to lavish over £10,000 on top of its original purchase price on maintenance, servicing and general repairs and other ad-hoc costs. As such, I’m no stranger to the running costs of a classic car. I know that much of the money I’ve spent on my car I will never see again, but then, that’s the price of owning and looking after something a little out of the ordinary.

The only logical step from running a single relatively expensive car on a daily basis was, of course, to buy another one. The running costs are clearly outweighed by the fact that, by buying something older, I can avoid the tar-pit trap of depreciation -- at least, that’s what I said to my better half.

But at the tender age of 25, and with only one set of no-claims discount to my name, what could I buy that would possibly be even feasible to insure, let alone run and maintain on a regular basis? The answer seemed to be simple: nothing. At least, not within the fairly modest budget that I’d had in mind.

It was this simple logic that turned my eyes and thoughts to stray from the pages of the Autotrader, where I was looking for a second car to run alongside the M3, and, instead, to an advert in Evo magazine extolling the virtues of the Classic Car Club. Although the name may suggest images of tweed-clad, pipe-smoking gentlemen pontificating on the golden age of British motoring, nothing could be further from the truth...

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About the club

The Classic Car Club is for people who love cars and are looking for a cost-effective way to enjoy all manner of automotive thrills, welcoming everyone from motoring aficionados to those who don’t know their air intake from their elbow.

With UK locations in Bath, Edinburgh and London, the Classic Car Club operates under the simple motto, “Run by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts.” For once, this isn’t just marketing twaddle, as all of those involved in the Club are true classic car enthusiasts, with most of them starting out as Club members before becoming staff. This ethos certainly rang true on my first visit to the Old Street, London, branch. I was soon chatting away with the knowledgeable guys and gals about some of the 50+ cars they have available in their expansive showroom and making a mental checklist of which cars I simply must drive -- the list numbered about 50-ish.

So, two years ago, I signed up, parted with my hard-earned cash and experienced a number of cars that I couldn’t have dreamt of driving otherwise.

The cars

Despite the name and the connotations therein, the club is not only about the classic motors of previous generations. Sure, it has iconic classics such as a selection of Jags and Daimlers, including the MK II and E-types, an Aston V8, a Frogeye Sprite, various MGBs and earlier Porsches, including a 2.7 Carrera RS replica and a Speedster among others, but it's also made space for the more modern classics, including a Mercedes 190 Cosworth, an Audi Quattro, Ferraris ranging from the 308 through to the 348 and more. The club' started to look forward to the performance classics of tomorrow too, encompassing the AMG E55, an Impreza Turbo, a Daimler Super V8 and a Maserati 3200 GT.

The list continues to grow as does the club itself.  The opening of New York division is especially beneficial to London members as the latest arrival at Old Street is a spanky new Mustang V8 courtesy of its American counterpart. Alongside the GT, the darling of the Playstation generation and rallying scene, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 is also a forthcoming addition to the ranks.

The club experience

Two years on and I’ve managed to drive many of the cars that I’d lusted after during my original visit -- the only thing is that the selection just keeps expanding! How far your membership takes you in terms of the numbers of cars borrowed and the days borrowed for is dependent on the Club’s simple points system. Basically, each car has a grade ranging from 1 being the lowest (BMW 2002 for example) to 6 being the highest (Ferrari 348ts to pick but one). The months of the year are also graded on the logical basis that it costs more points to hire a car at the height of summer than it does in the dead of winter. The same goes for weekdays and weekends -- weekdays at a low rate and weekends at a higher rate.

In my first year, I managed around 50 days borrowing and, on average, the Club’s members seem to enjoy 40-50 days a year. This can be increased if you stick to just weekdays, but it is difficult not to be enticed into a couple of extravagant weekend loans when the sun is shining or you have a social function to attend where you simply must impress.

While covering this area, it is probably a good time to mention that, although you are effectively hiring a car from a company, this is no Avis or Hertz. The cars are only available to members. After you’ve selected the right points package for you, there are no extra charges -- no extra cash to pay out for particular models, no insurance excess deposits and, best of all, no mileage restrictions.

As a member of the Club, there are obviously certain allowances that have to be made -- if you pay well over £1,000 to hire a spanking new Ferrari from a specialist hire company, then you’d be right to expect a showroom-standard car, but part and parcel of such an undertaking comes the mileage restrictions, the insurance payments up front and other such tie-ups. The Club’s cars may temporarily be suffering the odd scratch or scrape at times but are all maintained to a very high standard by a dedicated team of on-site mechanics, but, obviously, there are times when cars will be unavailable due to repairs to the aforementioned, routine maintenance and repairs.

It’s times like these, or when you call up for a late booking as a rare sunny spell is predicted for the weekend, that you can sometimes end up with something you’d never even considered. It was on one such occasion (in fact, the only time it has happened to me, as you can also select a second choice of car when booking, just in case your first choice is unavailable) that I had one of my most fun borrowings, simply because I got to experience something that my preconceptions told me I wouldn’t like, but which turned out to be a great drive.

The result

But this is all facts and figures. Driving great cars is all about the emotions they stir up, the admiring glances one gets in the high street and the random folk who will come and talk to you at filling stations, just so that they can have a poke around in something different from the usual Eurobox. I suggest you practice the art of lying though; unfortunately, I usually buckle under the pressure of questioning and let slip that the car isn’t mine at all!

The only downside I have found which has really affected me is that membership of the Club meant that I had no excuse not to buy a sensible runaround. As such, if I part the curtains of my study and glance out onto the driveway right now, next to my M3 is a stunning Sunbeam Alpine and next to that is a Peugeot 106 XN. At least in a couple of week’s time there’ll be a Bentley Continental R which, with its sheer bulk, will no doubt mean the Gallic shopping car being relegated to the road.