Today, I saw an Austin Maestro and I got excited. Why? Well when was the last time you saw an interesting car on the road?
At this point the petrol head in you will be nutting the desk, and you’ll be screaming “INTERESTING????!!!” at the screen. I can understand why, and until today I would have agreed entirely with you. So let me explain, but first a brief history lesson…
In 2009, the UK Labour Government – at the hands of Gordon Brown – decided it would boost the motor industry. The idea, we all agreed with. The approach, however has done irreparable damage to the world’s motoring heritage. Classic (or ‘old’ if you read the marketing of the time) car owners were encouraged to trade in their old high-maintenance machines for a new car deposit. Taken at their word, some of the promotions back then appeared to suggest you could all but push an old rust bucket onto the forecourt to qualify.
But, as we now know, a significant number of cars entered in the scheme were not rust buckets, and were quite happily driven to the crusher under their own four-star steam. In fact, if you’ve got the stomach for it, you can see exactly which treasures were lost by clicking here (Make sure you’re sitting down – with a stiff drink for comfort).
In moments of such tragedy, it’s natural to find comfort in making sense of things in any way you can. The way I made sense of it goes back to my childhood fear of the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You’ll probably remember he lured the children into a cage by offering them new toys. Well the children grew up, bought classic cars and got lured by Gordon Brown, who is quite clearly the child catcher.
Dick Van Dyke is too old to care, and the Tory reinstatement of the rolling tax exemption for classic cars is a flawed consolation. After all, you need classic cars in order for them to qualify for free tax, and we have a lot less of them now, than we did five years ago.
So maybe now you can try and understand why I got excited when a faded blue Austin Maestro, in all its rusty E reg glory trundled into the petrol station while I was filling up my 1984 Porsche 924. This is how distracted I got; having been carefully nursing the decimal point to zero to avoid the dreaded “and a penny” I pulled the nozzle out and dribbled some go-go juice on my trainer. Take that as you will.
As a young boy serving my petrolhead apprenticeship, I would gaze out of the window of my mother’s road-rally Saab 96 on the way to school in awe of the variety and character of the cars on the road. The sight, sound and smell of motoring in the late 1980s was without doubt richer in every way than your average school run these days. I actually wonder how I will give my two young boys a proper upbringing in a world where the Honda Jazz is most people’s definition of a funky car, and Alfa Romeo ‘borrows’ technology from GM.
So while the Austin Maestro has never been a car you’d associate with words like ‘passion’ and ‘character’, there can be no doubt that it has more of both than the majority of cars you’ll see on an average drive around town. Even if you have to dig deep and attribute the ‘passion’ to the British Leyland Christmas parties, and the ‘character’ to the strength of will needed to have kept one running this long.
I can only blame Gordon Brown for so much of this horrific situation however. For the rest, we as classic car owners must take responsibility. So I appeal to you – regardless of what the weather’s doing in the morning, regardless of how far through the winter waxoyling you’ve got, regardless of whether you’ve got a Ferrari 250 GTO or a Ford Sierra LX tucked away, set the alarm for 10 minutes earlier tomorrow and get the classic car out of the garage.
And by the way – if you do, Tweet me a photo of your ‘interesting’ car on the road – @paulwoodford84 – I’ll retweet you, grateful for the service you have done for motorists everywhere.
P.S. Have you ever wondered what a ‘Thatcherite super saloon’ is? The answer’s here.