Tuesday August 23, 2016
This is not going to be one of those articles that attempt to state ‘what is a classic’ as there appears to have been more than 567,239 of these over the past twenty years.
What interests me here are those cars that were seen as future collectables even during their production run, two famous cases in point being the Jaguar E-Type and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL ‘Gullwing’. In terms of long-running mass production vehicles there are the Citroen 2CV and DS, the Morris Minor, the Ford Capri Injection, the Saab 96, the Mini Cooper Sport and, more recently, the Land Rover Defender. In each case, motorists across the globe understood that the car's eventual demise would mark the end of an era for their respective manufacturers and so they began to acquire the last examples as soon they reached their local dealers.
Another very welcome phenomenon is for once ubiquitous cars or vans to be saved due to the determined effort of groups of automotive historians who appreciated their significance long before production ceased. The Mk.1 Transit is one of the most important vehicles in the history of the British motor industry but it is a sad fact that light commercials rarely survive in great numbers. Thanks to Peter Lee and the Transit Van Club http://www.transitvanclub.co.uk/ several early Mk.1s do exist while equally devoted enthusiasts have ensured that many other vehicles that are part of British social history, from the Morris 1100 to the Austin Mini Metro, are still on the road.
A further challenge is presented for those who develop an interest in a model that was overlooked - or even derided – during its lifespan and this fascination is often not through a sense of ‘post-modern irony’ but through a genuine appreciation of motoring heritage. In reviving a car’s image – a vital issue if more of them are not to end their days on the banger circuit – such drivers often have to overcome the prejudice that is often based on false information. A prime example of recent years is the Leyland Princess ‘Wedge’ which far from being ‘rubbish even when it was new’ was actually highly praised by the motoring press on launch with the six-cylinder version, in particular, being seen as a very desirable car. As Kev Davis of http://www.leylandprincess.co.uk/ puts it ‘I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to change people’s mostly incorrect perceptions and what they may have heard about them.’
My own acid test for defining whether a current model is a classic is to apply my own ‘Cortina 1600E’ rule. As many readers will remember, this was a combination of the Mk.2’s four-door body with the GT engine, Lotus suspension and carefully applied extra fittings. The result was the right car to appeal to a certain market sector that debuted at precisely the appropriate time and so for me, the 1600E was a ‘current classic’ even on its launch in 1967. But then everyone will have their own set of criteria – so which currently built car will pass your particular test for a ‘future collectable’?