Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Future Classics.

These pages are already full of cars which we can recognise as old, with value which is beyond money, and which are fine examples of the best of the times. We pore over them in their presence and imagine what it would be like to own them for real and revel in the thought of being linked back to that time by the sounds, smells, and feel of the things. Mine is 22 years old, a relatively young car but still with some of the aforementioned ability to transport me back in time. A friend of mine restores and runs his own Beetles and VW buses from the 1960’s which must be even more of a hit, with a link to a particular culture to boot.

An Alvis Duncan saloon of the 40s era may count as vintage, but what about the next generation?

But first we must revel in our present and did you know that an event in Surrey hosted a few cars at a pub recently, and a few of them were Bugatti Veyron’s? Yes, no less than three of them were in fact Ettore’s great-great-grandchildren. There were other cars there too such as a twin-turbo Ford GT with more than one thousand brake horsepower, two Ferrari 599’s (of which one was a silver GTO owned by a flame-haired radio DJ in the racing colours of Ecurie Francorchamps), a Porsche Carrera GT, and one of those Lamborghini LP670-4 SuperVeloce thingies.

Supercars galore soak up the attention

All of which I very much enjoyed being around and desperately wanted to know how it felt to drive them. I could feel the youngster in me bristling with excitement. There were actual kids running around with all the wide-eyed awe and excitable chatter that all the adults were feeling inside but couldn’t express. In fact no, it wasn’t anything to do with that – I just ruddy love all these cars! I’m not ALL about classic cars, I’m not even exclusively all about cars. Neither are you.

It was a lovely sunny day, the crowd was cheery with banter and beer, the cars were making lovely noises right in front of our eyes and most of us knew that we would most likely never see a 1000bhp Ford GT floor it ever again. So he came back again and jostled my internal organs back into place after the damage inflicted by his first pass. Supercar Sunday it was, and it was very super indeed.

The Lamborghini Mucielago  attract the photographers and fans alike

The oddest thing about the whole day was also the most impressive, thought-provoking, and ultimately quite confusing. It’s only metal and leather, no plastics or carbon fibre, and it won a few races a relatively long time ago. There’s no way to describe it really, we were graced by the presence of a Jaguar XKSS and he was late in arriving. The guy found his way through the already thronging crowd, the seas parted as if Moses himself commanded them, this car drove in and reversed back into the space.

The crowd thronged like thronging had just been invented but literally nobody laid even a wind-blown and wayward skirt hem or shirt sleeve upon this green beast that had come upon us. Now this car has history, pedigree, various equally legendary descendants, rarity, and all the trappings which come with the above. This amounts to a value of six million pounds sterling.

That revelation was, of course, overheard from the friend of the horses mouth and it caused me to have a look over my right shoulder and what should reveal itself to me but three Veyrons in various different shades of something metallic. No British Racing Green over that particular shoulder. The most curious part of the scene involving three examples of one of the world’s most remarkable cars was that you could flog all of them for their estimated values and still have to double that to be in with a chance to own an XKSS. Fine.

What’s confusing about this is that it is just a lot of metal and some extra bits to make things comfortable and see-through for humans. The value is proscribed; it’s nothing inherent in the material or components. Who at the time of its creation would have been able to safely say that it would one day be worth so much money? Nobody. There are also more people out there that would disagree that it is worth so much than would agree. What makes the difference?

Let’s climb down from the dizzying heights of meaningless numbers and money-blathering back down to the world of more realistic classic cars. Last week this column was about lottery-win garages and that Jag would not be in mine. We ogle many different types of old and rare cars because they are old and rare, simple and either refined or unrefined, and because they have unique styling untrammelled by safety regulations or any real idea about aerodynamics. The production lines on which they were built were literally manned and the parts were handled and screwed in by those blokes. The designers used their hands in conjunction with pens, pencils and paper while sat in their country gardens looking at nature. Other cars of that time were hammered out to sell en masse with little or no real care an attention to interior design, rust proofing, or practicality.

Both the special and the everyday cars built at the time had these things in common but the everyday cars were naturally not regarded in the same way as the special ones. If we were to have been in the position that our grandparents (or otherwise!) were in during the 50’s and 60’s then we would not hold the same appreciation for them as we do now. It would be along the lines of the way we look upon the latest Vauxhall Corsa (sorry about that) in the showrooms and on the roads – a means to an end, a cruddy A2B car which will not be held in regard in the future.

John Cleland Vauxhall Cavalier is verging on Retro, but will it be a future classic?

It shouldn’t be either, and if I have to explain why (it’s a Fiat underneath, for starters) then please do see me afterwards and we’ll go through the finer points over a nice pint of best. Is this how people would have thought about the Ford Zephyr at the time? Or the Austin 1100? These were the fluff of the time, the runabouts, and the motor car was still something of a luxury and therefore pretty scarce. For myself I can’t help but look at old footage of motor-racing or general driving videos of the time and think “please, no, don’t harm that wonderful car! Look after it! It’ll be worth a mint one day!” but they didn’t think like that in exactly the same way as Sébastien Loeb flings his car around in the dirt with such vim.

Now I can say without fear that there are many cars being built today, perhaps as much as 95% that will not be held in regard in the future. Don’t worry, this is not the usual rejection of the modern by someone wearing oddly-coloured spectacles, it’s a reflection of the culture of car production which exists at the moment. We all know how cars have been built and the materials which are used on the interiors are intimately familiar to us. Those plastics, rubbers, and colours are all so common that the interiors of nearly all modern cars blend in to one. So there’s nothing to distinguish between them there. I am well aware that my old car was built by robots but there is still a division between it and the disposable fluff which is produced today.

What would be required of a modern car for it to be considered for future status as valuable and worth preserving? There are many intangible ideas surrounding the psychology of how such a car would be designed, what factors would be required of its dynamics, and whether or not such a car could be produced without referring to the past. These are beyond me at the moment, that’s for sure. Maybe what we’re looking for can be found in the old masters – but that’s harking back! This is tough.

The other confusing bit comes when you try to spot modern and future classics out on the street, which is fun, in a way! My decisions wouldn’t be the same as yours but we would agree on many of the ‘noes’. However, even if you say no it still might find a niche because if we look at what we value now such as the ability of a car to survive, its durability, this is a powerful agent in our decision to appreciate it or not. We are impressed by durability in anything, we can appreciate that such things were designed properly in the first place and if not then they were just lucky and we like a plucky underdog!

Now then, strap yourselves in; it’s time to propose some future classics. Basically we can disregard the niche cars like Ariel Atoms, Morgans, and obviously the sporty and top of the range models of flash marques as they will hold their own. This leaves the run-of-the-mill cars apart from the Vauxhall Corsa. Having driven a lot of brand new cars for a rental company I can safely say that any Ford Fiesta will do because they have a character and a driving ability to match metal twice the size. The Corsa is flummoxed by corners and it is made of blancmange. Italian blancmange. The mk6 Golf is a great drive but is it currently too self-aware? Kia cars are already breaking down and making fools of themselves. I know Lancia did this but they at least have racing pedigree.

There I go again! Looking back and being referential. Classic cars are great, yes, and my list above is not good, no, but not everyone can afford to maintain the cars we cherish and they will diminish so lets look after them while also looking to today for cars worth preserving for our children’s classic future. We have to do now what few people did back in ‘the day’ when my Granddad, a vicar, had himself a rorty little Dolomite Sprint. He chopped it in for a more modern car (admittedly after the head blew) because it was nothing hugely special at the time. The appreciation was not there, and I wish he’d have kept it or handed it down but he just didn’t.

This is already way too long to hold anyone’s interest so if you’ve made it here then you have my gratitude for your patience. None of these questions, as I’ve found, can be answered within the week but I pledge to return to them in time and reconsider our classic future but, crucially, in much fewer words! Have a picture of a car for a reward.

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