The Fall Of Classic London

by Karen Neill

Motorcycle Projects

As a pure petrolhead, I have over the years developed a sentimental attachment to my cars and motorcycles, a major part of which is using them to get from A to B in London and its surroundings.

My one true love is Harry, my 1995 Rover Mini Cooper in British Racing Green. Everyone who knows me knows my attachment to this car, they know its name and know it is as much a part of my character as the clothes I wear.

I have owned my Mini (Harry) for more years than I care to remember and we have always been inseparable. Praise is always given with a little pat to the steering wheel when we make it up a steeper-than-usual hill or at the end of a short motorway journey. Harry has a soul. Bits rattle when I accelerate, his heater is not the most effective in the winter and central locking and air conditioning come with using a key and opening a window. Harry doesn’t have ABS or traction control but this winter, whilst everyone else was slipping and sliding all over the road causing general chaos, Harry just puttered in his controlled and calm way up Muswell Hill (past the stranded police car) and didn’t blink a headlight through the snow and ice.

Karen And-Harry on the Woolwich Ferry

The best thing about owning a classic car such as a Mini in London is the smiles it brings to people’s faces as we pass by. Driving through Camden Town or Covent Garden the waves and smiles come in their dozens, and when parked he is always snapped for a tourist’s photo album of the iconic London car seen in the flesh on the streets of its home. I can’t really go anywhere in Harry without someone stopping next to me and complimenting him or telling me that they/their mum/dad/friend had a mini or that it was their first car and how much they loved it. Other Mini drivers wave and flash and toot at one another when we pass each other by in our pride and joy and celebrate that we as strangers are joined in knowing for sure that we own the best and most iconic car ever made and we drive them through the streets of London, our town, with pride.

A few years ago, Harry had a turning point. His future was uncertain. His head gasket had blown and this combined with his rusty chassis and slightly tired paintwork faced me with a huge decision. Should I repair him or let him go, sell him, and enter the world of modern disposable cars?

My partner, who has a love-hate relationship with the Mini (cute and cool but no good for long trips and supermarket visits – the car not the partner!) made the decision for me when she broke down in tears at the thought of Harry being sold. That was it, a decision was made and the bank account was raided, and Harry was off to be reborn. A few months later, £5000 lighter, he took to the mean streets of London again, a little car with a lot of attitude reborn. Fully rebuilt engine, chassis, and new paint job & a lot of other parts along the way Harry rose like a Phoenix from the scrapyard never for us to be parted again. Until now…

Harry Respray

London has become victim to another tax. The ULEZ charge (ultra-low emission zone). In Central London, £11.50 per day fee already applies to vehicles travelling within its congestion charge zone which currently covers 21 sq kilometers of central London (that’s 13.04 miles to most of us) and operates from 7 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday. That means most of us who like to jaunt around town in our collectible antiques to do our journeys in the evening or over the weekend. It’s a good compromise, one most Londoners wish they didn’t have to make but we take it on the chin as a tax that kind of almost needs to be there.

What no one saw coming was the complete decimation of cars and motorcycles of a certain age. The London Mayor has decided that most vehicles older than 2007 are to be subject to a second tax of £12.50 per day, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. So, to drive your car or motorcycle into the central London area on a Monday at 9 am you will be charged £24.00, to drive it in on a Monday evening at 7 pm you will be charged £12.50. This came as a shock to most motorists including myself, however as a resident of Haringey which is quite a way out from the congestion charge / central London Zone I believed that I simply was waving goodbye to Piccadilly and saying farewell to Leicester Square in my little green Mini. I would still be happy to putter around the rest of London without any cause for concern. I was wrong.

It seems that central London isn’t enough for the ULEZ zone to run. In 2021 the ULEZ zone will be expanded to the North & South circular, so basically anyone who lives in inner London is subject to this charge. This means that every time Harry is moved I will face a charge of £12.50. I live 7.5 miles (12.07 Km) from the centre of London where the congestion charge and ULEZ charges are supposed to be.

Harry – like all cars over 3 years old – has his yearly MOT and always passes the emissions part of the MOT with flying colours. Therefore, according to MOT rules my car is safe and within the rules of the law. All of a sudden, because my car is older than 2007, I and many more vehicle owners are told to pay or get rid of their cars & motorcycles.

TFL says I can “retrofit” my car, which based on the research I have done is almost impossible for a Mini as no one seems to be offering the technology to do it. Even if it was possible it would cost thousands, followed by an extra test on top of my MOT every year to make sure it remains ULEZ compliant. The fact is simple, I can not afford to pay £12.50 per day (87.50 per week, £4,550 per year) to use my car. The mini costs almost pennies to run, they are fuel efficient and the road tax is not too costly and of course, the cost of insurance is great.

Now, lets get to the nitty-gritty of the insanity of the ULEZ scheme. A car or motorcycle over 40 years old is exempt. My little classic of 23 years old is not. My car is fuel-injected and well-maintained, yet a 40-year-old car is bound to pollute more than my car. Added to this a 2-stroke motorcycle that was made in 2009 may be exempt.

We all want clean air, but the double standards of this scheme are scandalous. Many people have argued that the ban is a good thing and that cars and motorcycles are the devil. This, to me, is only something someone with no knowledge or foresight can say. London’s transport system cannot cope at the moment so how on earth will it cope with the extra bikers that cannot longer afford their motorcycles? The car drivers dropping people to hospitals and stations? TFL will then be able to hold Londoners to ransom for the fares it charges and the quality of service it provides. Its buses can pollute away, its tubes can carry on using fossil fuels to power it and black cabs can carry on pouring out fumes for another 25 years.

Harry Shiny

The fact is this, classic cars on the roads of London will be missing from 2021. The mini will no longer be seen on the King’s Road, kids will no longer wave at me when I drive past and the smile a classic car brings will be forever lost in a city that needs all the smiles it can get.

Harry will sadly be put up for sale in 2020 before the charge comes into force. His monetary value in London will of course crash because no one will be able to afford to drive him but the emotional value to me is and will be devastating. I already can’t afford to own my own home in London and now, come 2021 I will be unable to afford to drive the car that I planned to keep for the rest of my life. Because a man that I voted for has said so. Yes, a Mini can be owned for life but unfortunately not my life.

My last words on this sad situation are that for me, London is a place that is no longer hospitable. I was born here and am a Londoner through and through but for me rent is impossible to pay, the streets are dangerous to walk and freedom costs more now than it ever has. The freedom to follow the law and still live your life doesn’t exist in this town anymore. The stranglehold of bureaucracy and landlords has ripped the soul from this ancient city and its working-class natives like myself and our old cars are not welcome here anymore.

RIP Harry

Credit to gmotophotos

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Member of Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI)
Member of Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI)
Member of National Motorcycle Dealers Association (NMDA)
Haringey Council Contractor