Buying a pre-war classic can be tricky

Most of us who got into classics got into them because we had find memories of the cars we drove in out youth, or maybe a little later if we never really grew up! But as readers of The Classic Motoring Review well know, our enthusiasms inhabit a very broad church and sooner or later most of us get excited by marques and models well beyond our historical comfort zones.This has certainly been the case in recent years because opposite me live a family who specialise in restoring and racing all manner of pre-war exoticar ranging from pugnacious Bentley Eights to an utra–rare 1912 Züst, all of which I found fascinating from an engineering perspective if nothing else, and indeed our little town seems to’ve gradually become a mecca for vintage cars and their owners. So perhaps it was little surprise when another neighbour, TCMR’s esteemed Sub-Editor, John Lilley and his wife Emma decided to buy an Austin 7 Chummy which they intend to campaign in hill-climbs, and after much friendly local coercion I’ve started thinking seriously about joining them.

But not, I think, in a Chummy because though spirited and sturdy little things though they are, and with excellent spares and club support, at 6’ 2” I had real trouble fitting into and driving John and Emma’s even for ten minutes. Which is even more of a shame because as far as vintage machines go, they are just about affordable. Yes, you can still buy a decent Chummy for around £10–12,000, but when I started scouting around for something a little larger, prices also got larger!

At a recent VSCC Prescott hillclimb I was rather impressed by the Riley Motor Club’s display of cars and re-manufactured parts and so started looking at prices of Riley 9s and 12/4s which are eligible for such events, but even a half-decent one goes for more than twice the price of the equivalent Chummy. And then just last week my neighbours were visited by their friend Richard Rolt, a well-respected engineer in his delightfully patinated Alvis 12/50 drophead coupe, and after I rushed downstairs from my office to admire it, he generously took me for a ride (see photo).

Original subscribers to the magazine may recall my piece in Issue #1 about being picked up in an Alvis TC21 when hitchhiking as a teenager, an experience which sparked my initial interest in older motorcars, and a brief, engagingly rapid spin in Richard’s earlier and admittedly much modified machine reminded me how exciting such great British cars could be. But assuming you could find one for sale, a good 12/50 goes for upwards of £30,000 nowadays so I’m afraid it’s back to the metaphorical drawing board for me. But I’d be interested to hear from readers what other, practical, entry-level pre-war options there might be available for men (and women) of modest means?

Mark Williams – Editor