Written by James Murray-Jones
Of all the things to follow a family holiday to Spain, I didn’t expect to find myself buying a classic car for my teenage son. But indirectly, that’s exactly what happened earlier this summer.
The chemistry and lead-up to the purchase involved a number of catalysts, all perfectly aligned.
We’d taken a fairly standard villa for two weeks near Malaga – sun, pool, nearby beach, all the right ingredients.
Only on this occasion the reading material in the apartment was somewhat different. Alongside the usual trashy novels and faded celebrity autobiographies, we discovered a shelf groaning under the weight of Classic Car magazines.
Many a parent will know the situation, persuading teenage kids to read more is a constant battle. Holiday books purchased at the airport invariably return home pristine and unread.
But if, like my eldest son Harry, there’s a passion for a subject like cars, reading can take on a whole new dimension.
Catalyst number 1: Classic & Sportscar magazine, devoured in volumes, cover to cover. Classified adverts analysed to death, tips and advice noted and saved for posterity.
By the time the holiday had ended, Harry had hatched a plan. On a budget of £2.5k he aimed to invest in a mid-80s to early 90s sportscar, to sell at a later date, hopefully at a profit.
Catalyst number 2: casual wages amassed over the past three to four years.
Harry had been lucky. By a strange fluke of demographics he had cornered the market in our particular village in Sussex. Devoid of similarly aged competition, he had swept up a growing pile of cash, through baby-sitting and working in a local café.
Catalyst 3: coercion of his younger brother Johnny.
Having set his sights on a Japanese roadster, he’d narrowed his options to a Mazda MX5 or Toyota MR2. Only problem was, a half decent car would require a good £500 more than his budget.
As Johnny was also pretty handy on the baby-sitting front, the shortfall was plugged and a percentage split of ownership agreed.
Catalyst 4: the test drive.
Clearly, if you’re selling a classic car, you’re like to be somewhat wary if an 18-year old lad pitches up on the doorstep and requests a spin in your motor. So, as a supportive father and fellow petrolhead, I volunteered to do the test driving.
Front of mind in the whole process was profit. The car had to be an investment, so insurance during the test drive and driveaway had to be affordable; not eating away at the margin.
I was also very much aware that Harry was bursting with excitement; my biggest challenge wouldn’t be negotiating with the seller, it would be persuading Harry to walk away, if the car fell short of expectation.
Final catalyst: temporary insurance.
On arrival at the car, it was immediately apparent it had been much-loved. The logbooks and servicing records had been diligently saved in a flip-folder stretching back to the original sales receipt in 1989.
Bodywork was sound – a bit of rust bubbling on a single wheel arch, but nothing too worrisome.
All that remained was the test drive. In a couple of minutes, I’d used Tempcover to sign up for 3-hours coverage; enough for a test drive and the journey home to Sussex.
Driving an aged car is always a bit of a culture shock. Compared to modern vehicles, brakes are spongier – you have to think ahead about stopping distance – steering is laboured and hard work. But devoid of niceties, everything feels more real and connected.
The lowdown driving position in the MR2 also adds a further frisson. Almost like a go-cart, you feel you’re earning your position on the road; it’s your skill that helps you work that corner as you hit the apex and accelerate out.
Of course, apex-corner taking was hardly an option test driving in London. That said, following a decent run around the backstreets and the ever busy South Circular, a deal was done and the car purchased.
With insurance secured for around £24, I drove the MR2 back down the A3, Harry following separately behind, a fixed grin on his face.
Back home, the MR2 has not only been a lesson in risk taking and speculative entrepreneurship, it has also provided an introduction to mechanics.
The engineering in an aged car is far more accessible than a modern vehicle – with the help of a Haynes manual it’s easy to spot components and get to grips with the oil and fluid changes.
When he comes to sell in a year or so, who knows whether he will turn a profit, but the experience will no doubt provide a lesson on many fronts.
Meantime, Harry continues to ponder what to buy next and how to increase his fleet. We can all have pipedreams, I guess.