Modern classics facing a bleak future

Emissions legislation is suddenly a mounting threat to both classics and youngtimers. Words Mark McArthur-Christie. Photographs Paul Harmer/Alamy.

There’s an old saying in politics: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. And if you own a modern classic car built between 1979 and 2005, over the next few years you’re about to get properly carved up. In the UK and across the rest of Europe, low-emission zones, urban car bans, permits and access stickers are popping up faster than speedbumps.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has just brought in his new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) covering the area of the congestion charge. Thanks to a gap of 26 years – a sort of automotive no-man’s land – for modern classics too young to fit the historic tax class but too old to comply with Euro 4 legislation, drive into it in any car built between 1979 and 2005 and the Mayor will relieve you of £12.50 every day.

If you don’t live in or visit London, there are restrictions planned for Aberdeen, Bath, Birmingham, Brighton, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Norwich, Nottingham and Oxford, with more to follow. Across the Channel, the list includes a slew of towns in Europe. In fact schemes are being introduced so quickly that the ULEZ bible – – can’t keep up.

The nub of the problem is that politicians don’t see any difference between a modern classic and a banger. So in London your pristine Mk2 Golf GTi gets hit, as does a Mercedes-Benz 500E W124, any proper Audi Quattro, any E30 or E36 BMW including the M3, the Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth W201, Porsche 928, Aston Martin Virage, Honda NSX, BMW 635CSi E24, Renault Clio Williams – you get the idea. Ironically, plenty of cars older than the 2005 Euro 4 cut-off are actually perfectly compliant.

But that’s down to the owner to prove on an individual basis – Transport for London (TfL) isn’t granting block exemptions even when owners can show a certificate of conformity for an entire make, model or series of cars.

Looking at the stats, one wonders whether the mayor has chosen his targets for political expediency rather than pollution. Petrol cars of all types account for 6% of London’s NOx air pollution, way behind domestic gas heating at 12%, diesel cars at 12%, TfL buses at 10% and non-road mobile machinery (eg, cement mixers) at 7%. Older motorcycles create less than 1% of pollution and are a prime congestion solution, but will pay 100% of the tax.


Perhaps taxing transport – particularly the vehicles of people outside London who need them to get into the capital – is an easier sell than going after your local electorate’s central heating boilers.

It won’t stop here. In October 2021, the Mayor is ratcheting the ULEZ out to cover anywhere inside the North and South Circular roads covering boroughs as far out as Bexley, Hillingdon, Bromley, Croydon, Harrow, Kingston and Richmond – largely residential areas where many people own and run modern classics. The consultation period for that piece of legislation shut in February 2018, well before the first ULEZ had even been imposed.

Even older, pre-79 classics are in trouble in some areas. Oxford City Council is proposing a zero-emission zone, and wants to force classic car owners to apply for permits to enter the city. Clearly, the implications for people who earn their livelihood from classic cars – restorers, dealers and mechanics – are huge. TfL, though, admits that it hasn’t considered the impact on the classic car industry and support services. A spokesman said: ‘We’ve done an equality impact study, but I don’t think we’ll have gone to that level or niche areas like moden classic cars. At the moment it’s all about delivering ULEZ and expanding it in 2021.’

It’s too early to see a direct knock-on to modern classic values, but there’s already evidence that some buyers are backing away from youngtimers. Jonathan Dawson of Lincolnshire’s Horsepower Hangar said: ‘We’ve already lost a sale on our Porsche 928 GTS thanks to the ULEZ. It’s messing up the market.’ And if there’s no market – or a much-reduced market – for modern classics, more will end up in the crusher, leaving far fewer to make it into the rolling 40-year classic exemption. After all, who’s going to want to buy a car that they can’t drive anywhere?

 Modern classics facing a bleak future
Modern classics facing a bleak futureLeft and below Over 25 years’ worth of cars fall foul of the fast-expanding low-emissions zones and include many vehicles now considered to be benchmark classics: Quattros, 308s, M3s and many more.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.