Deeming anything to be ‘classic’ before it’s worth is proven can be risky business. Tastes change, so do economic conditions, environmental and personal health concerns.
Classic vehicles built 30-100 years ago are an obvious target for those who want a vehicle for impractical purposes. However, if the models that attract you were built after 1990 then your choices and ways to maintain such vehicles have become increasingly restricted.
Vehicles from the 1970s and earlier are in general better served by spares suppliers than modern models, so considering those first is sensible. Virtually any US-made car from the 1950s-70s will have network of parts suppliers which list thousands of components.
Older British products beginning with affordable models like the Morris Minor or Ford Cortina and running through to Jaguars of various kinds, Rolls-Royce or Aston-Martin can be maintained using old-stock and reproduction parts. Some, including the MGB and original-shape Mini can be completely re-created using brand new body-shells, but is that really ‘restoration’?
Of the vehicles that in their millions appeared on global roads during the 1980s and ‘90s, a large proportion have not survived. Some that didn’t sell in big numbers to begin with may not have survived at all.
Expanded use of electronic management systems and gadgets since the 1980s make vehicles from that era susceptible to failures and difficult to repair when they do. Often it will not even be a major component that causes the problem.
The issue very often is with one of the anonymous sensors which supply vital information on temperature, the fuel or braking systems. Without this item, a perfectly serviceable engine may refuse to start at all or will run at only a fraction of its capability. The fabled ‘limp home’ mode.
These parts aren’t made any more and the manufacturer will long ago have run out of stock. Searching for the item second-hand and hoping the one you find still works can be the only option.
Cars doomed to suffer most from Electronic Failure Syndrome were often very expensive when new. BMW famously claimed that the 750iL V12 it released in 1988 had more computer power than was available in the original 1969 Lunar Lander. Today, as those systems age and shut down, there will be no boffin in a back office at NASA making replacements.
So, what should someone with enthusiasm for later-model vehicles do? Restrict themselves to bland, commonplace cars with plenty of parts still available and live with the regret? Or buy something they have always desired then set about scouring the world for stocks of parts to keep it running into the future?
Brands to consider first are the ones that maintain supplies of spares for their older models or those which enjoy strong after-market parts support. Porsche, BMW, Jaguar and various of the North American brands fall under these headings; either remanufacturing parts (including some body panels) to keep obsolete models running or holding rather than dumping their obsolete spares stock.
Checking with a dealer or parts specialist before deciding which model to buy is a good move. Interior plastics, door and window hardware, air-conditioning components and electronics can all be hard to source.
Considering our tiny market, unique designs and relatively low numbers of surviving models, Australian suppliers have provided excellent parts support for locally-made vehicles, even those dating back to the 1950s and ‘60s. That said, cars of that age remain more likely to survive than newish models with their vulnerable electronics or plastics that literally crumble to dust.
Even models such as the Leyland P76 and hatchback Holden Torana which spent only a couple of years in production enjoy strong Club support and the benefits of group buying which encourage suppliers to remanufacture parts that could otherwise become extinct.
Models that commemorate the end of local manufacturing are certainly worth preserving. Selling prices are still affected by depreciation and a crowded market offers some tempting buys. However, don’t be tempted to then drive your special-edition HSV or FPV too far because every kilometre you clock up wipes a little off retained value.
Stocks of parts including body panels, trim and electronics must be retained by manufacturers for a minimum 10 years after a vehicle ceases production and made available via franchise dealers. If you have spare cash and the storage space, a stock of significant spares can be a worthwhile investment.
Safety is another issue that influences the selection process and makes later-model cars a more common-sense choice for families. Since the mid-1990s, local ANCAP crash testing has helped purchasers decide between models with marginal levels of safety and those that offer more.
Looking at Australian models right back to the 1970s we find usable vehicles with reasonable levels of passenger protection. Front seat belts, dash-padding and improved door locks were mandatory from 1967, with rear belts appearing 10 years later.
Many cars built in Australia from the late-1960s led the world by having front disc brakes as standard or at least optional. Handling was one of the last areas to improve and even then, it only happened from 1977 when Holden got the ball rolling with its ‘Radial Tuned Suspension’ package.
Japan was for many years dismissed as unworthy of ‘classic’ status but since the 1990s many Japanese models have become desirable and valuable. Some models are well known and it’s not hard to understand the appeal of a Nissan GTR ‘Godzilla’ coupe or twin-turbo Toyota Supra. However, what motivates a younger driver to covet the bulky Toyota Chaser sedan requires a younger view of car culture.
Buying a relatively bland and quite recent family model can be more practical than taking a punt on something exotic from the 1990s. The ‘wow factor’ may be muted but a BF Falcon Turbo or supercharged TRD Camry sedan will certainly deliver plenty of excitement and astonished onlookers when the throttle pedal is mashed.
© Cliff Chambers 2020