Motoring: Bored with your car? Drive the real thing

Not only is it chic to own a Sixties car, but it can also prove to be tax effective, reports James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you love traditional, thoroughly British saloons, then the NEC in Birmingham will definitely be the place to be this October. That is because the International Motor Show will be witnessing two of the most significant new car launches of the last decade.

The Rover 75 and Jaguar S Type signal a return to those companies' roots, building sophisticated, medium-sized and distinctly middle-class motors.

So far the public has been teased with artists' renderings and car bodies draped in dust sheets. What we know for sure is that these are vital models that will compete head on with BMW, Audi and Mercedes in this sector of the market.

Ironically, both companies now belong to overseas owners, yet Ford, which runs Jaguar and BMW - which, similarly, have the final say at Rover - understand precisely what the appeal of a thoroughly British car ought to be.

Both cars must be solid, yet comfortable, with a certain sportiness and utterly traditional wood and walnut interiors.

However, some car buyers prefer to stick to the real thing. In the Sixties the monied professional doing well would probably have chosen a Jaguar Mark 2, or S-type, whereas the bank manager, or company executive climbing to the top might well have been seen in a respectable, yet technologically ambitious Rover 2000 or 3500 (also known as the P6).

In the Nineties it has never been more fashionable to be seen in one of these stylish old cars. We know this because The Face magazine recently told us so, but there also seems to be a strong undercurrent of born-again classic car owners who want a real Sixties original.

The stand-up comedian Jenny Eclair's first car was a Daimler 250, which has the same characterful shape as a Jaguar, but with a powerful V8 engine. "I have always loved the styling, and that was a really brilliant car," she says. "Leather seats, beautiful bodywork and a wonderful engine. Driving it was so different from buzzing about in a silly little hatchback. Unfortunately, someone pinched it."

The desire to drive something out of the ordinary seems to be at the heart of the great British saloon car revival. "I knew that there were plenty of other people out there who wanted to drive something a little different," explains Bespokes' chairman, Mario Budwig.

His company provides contract-hire classic cars as direct substitutes for hard-working company cars.

In bottom-line tax terms, the sums seem to make sense, as there are big savings to be made in running a classic car. The most favourable situation occurs when a vehicle is valued at less than pounds 15,000 today, and is more than 15 years old. Your personal tax liability is then based upon the car's purchase price when new.

So take a Jaguar Mark 2 with an original list price of pounds 1,500 and compare that with a new Vauxhall Vectra at pounds 14,000, the same price as a decent Mk2 will set you back. Then clock up between 2,501 and 17,999 business miles and gasp in amazement as your benefit-in-kind scale charge amounts to pounds 233.33, as opposed to pounds 3,266.66.

What that means is an annual tax bill of pounds 93.33 in the Jag, as opposed to pounds 1,306.66 in the Vectra.

"We did not realise the advantages of this scheme, until someone else pointed it out," says Mr Budwig.

"I started this venture, purely as an enthusiast, because for the last 20 years I've driven classics full time. I started with a pounds 60 Riley 1.5, I had Volvo Amazons, Alfasuds, Jaguar E-Types, and I even drove a Ford V8 Pilot as everyday transport for three years. "The idea is to put the buzz back into driving and make every trip enjoyable again."

The Jaguar specialists JD Classics, in Essex, are also finding customers more than ready to invest in an older saloon, and treat them as an everyday proposition. "The market for small Jaguar saloons is getting stronger," says Derek Hood, the director.

"Our customers are bored by most modern cars, and fed up with depreciation. They have looked at modern Jaguars, Mercedes and Audis, but in the end they are prepared to spend around pounds 70,000 on one of our cars."

The way the company operates is to take an original and sound Jaguar, and then rebuild it to customer requirements. Their JD Sport Mark 2 has been developed over a 10-year period and is up-rated to perform as reliably and competently as any modern car.

The engine is completely rebuilt to produce more than 300 bhp. Moreover, you may choose any type of gearbox, from automatic to a close-ratio sports.

Tyres, suspension and brakes are all modified to cope with the extra performance, and easily out-handle the less than perfect original.

Inside, there is full leather, rather than areas of period vinyl, the seats have been remade to be more comfortable than before - and the dashboard is completely reveneered.

There is no need to forgo any thoroughly modern creature comforts, with CD systems, electric sun roofs, central locking, electric windows and air-conditioning on the options list.

It is green, too, running on unleaded petrol and with a catalytic converter.

"It is easier to sell a modified car than a standard one, and the way we build them it is easy to remove all the up-rates and return to the car to original if desired," says Mr Hood.

The company also have several mid-Sixties examples in stock, and it is hard to tell the difference between them and a modified model. When I visited there was even an S Type, essentially a Mark 2 with with a larger boot, which had been sympathetically upgraded in the interests of everyday use.

"We made the market for those cars when the Queen's eye surgeon came to us and asked for his S Type to be modified," said Mr Hood with delight.

At the classic car dealers John Brown, in Hertfordshire, there was an original 1968 Jaguar 3.4 S Type. Finished in white, it had power-steering and an overdrive gearbox, but apart from a radio and wing mirrors, that was all got in 1968.

Most important, it came with a bulging history file and cost a realistic pounds 8,950.

When it comes to Rovers, there are fewer specialists, but none more dedicated than JP Restorations in Lancashire. I spoke to John Wood, one of the owners.

"The demand for the Rover P6 is phenomenal," he said. "We don't in fact sell cars, but restore them for customers who are prepared to pay up to pounds 10,000 for that work. Then they use them every day.

"What they want are characterful and reliable vehicles, and the Rover fits the bill."

Unlike the Jaguar market, Rovers are returned to original condition and do not have Nineties comfort upgrades.

Thumbing through classic car advertisements, you see that one of these Rovers can easily be acquired in tidy condition for less than pounds 2,000.

So however the new Jaguar and Rover models are received at the Birmingham show, the original (and some might argue the best) examples of respectable Sixties saloons are still doing very well for themselves, thank you very much.

J D Classics 01245 400060;

John Brown 01763 852200;

JP Restorations 01706 854017;

Bespokes 0181 421 8686

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