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James Ruppert: how to buy a classic car with an MOT exemption

Autocar logo Autocar 10/07/2018 James Ruppert

I am on first-name terms with the people at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, who reminded me that there have been changes to the MOT test. Which was nice of them.

These came into effect on 20 May. As you may have noticed, there are new, tighter limits for smoke from diesel vehicles and clearer fail categories which stipulate that offending cars should not be driven until a dangerous defect is repaired.

I am fairly interested in the specifics. Apparently, they will be paying particular attention to the reversing lights on vehicles first used from September 2009. The documents are meant to be clearer – explaining the defect categories and all that – but, from what I can see, they are still very dull.

The really big news is that vehicles that are more than 40 years old and have not been substantially changed will be exempt from the MOT test.

A grand old Humber Sceptre like this is a tempting £3k © Autocar A grand old Humber Sceptre like this is a tempting £3k

My 1964 Mini Cooper is now exempt from the formality of this yearly inconvenience, yet I chose to subject the little fella to the inspector’s prod. If the majority of old-car owners had been asked about an exemption, I think they would have said: “Nah, stick with the current system.” Safety should never be an option – it ought to be compulsory. So I’m sticking with the old system. The garage owner is too. He’s got loads of interesting bits of kit but pointed at his V8 Ford Pop, straight out of 1977 via the 1954 original. He reckons the plod will pull him over and rightly say it needs an MOT for being modded.

I doubt that many people will go and buy 40 year old cars so they can save £50 a year. In my experience, they need thousands of pounds worth of rebuild work anyway. I won’t go on about the stupidity of all this when we can take a brief look at classics that can do a job – and, no, it won’t include a Series Land Rover.

I tripped across a 1973 Jensen-Healey (below). These usually broke down because of the Lotus engine, then rusted away. I like to think that this one is sorted. It has a current MOT and is just £9450 (or make an offer). If you are after more doors, you could buy a Humber Sceptre (above) – one of those badge-engineered 1971 examples with a year’s MOT and no discernible rust – for £3000. You don’t see many of these – posher than a Ford Cortina 1600E with a 1725cc engine and Rostyle wheels. Something for the old folks like me, then.

So there you have it. Buy an old car because it is different and you like it, not because you get a free pass on the MOT.

1973 Jensen-Healey: this thing of beauty is yours for under £10k © Autocar 1973 Jensen-Healey: this thing of beauty is yours for under £10k

Tales from Ruppert’s garage: 

Mini Cooper - mileage, 102,171: On the MOT theme of this week’s column, here is the Mini Cooper, which has passed all of its post-rebuild MOTs since 2013 with barely any trouble at all.

Wish I could say I do a load of preparation, but really I don’t. I look at the lights, because those are the easy ones, and I know it isn’t seriously rusty, which is what used to condemn most Minis to a shake of an MOT inspector’s head.

I will, however, do a minor service later in the year – oil, filters and grease some nipples – just for the hell of it.

Reader’s ride: 

Lexus IS300 SportCross: John Crawte has been brave and seems to have bought extremely well: “I found the Lexus on an auction site as ‘spares or repair’. It had no MOT, had suffered light frontal damage but the bumper had been replaced.

“I paid £525. It just needed a Xenon headlight (£80) and went through its MOT with only advisories on the rear tyres. Mileage is 160,000, which is nothing for a big, smooth straight six that is fully loaded with air-con, cruise, heated leather seats and sat-nav (all working). Can’t imagine parting with it for some time.”

What we almost bought this week: 

Porsche 944 Turbo: What’s not to like about a fairly cheap Porsche? It’s not as if the 944 (below) is a poor relation, in engineering terms, to the 911.

It has a near-perfect weight distribution with the engine in the front and transaxle in the rear, and the turbo engine is able to exploit the excellent handling. You even have a big boot and very comfortable front seats.

What’s not to like about a fairly cheap Porsche? © Autocar What’s not to like about a fairly cheap Porsche?

James Ruppert

Readers’ questions: 

Q. My elderly neighbour owns a 1989 Honda Prelude and, knowing I’m into cars, he asked me whether it will be worth something one day. I said it would, but what do you think? Derek Knowles, via email

A. It certainly will, but not for a while yet. Although lots of 1980s cars are going up in value at the moment, the Prelude isn’t one of them. However, if his car has a manual transmission and four-wheel steering, it is rare and will be the most likely to increase in value. 

Q. The roof on our Mk4 Volkswagen Golf has recently started to leak at the seal above the windscreen. Do I need to replace the whole roof or is there an easier option? Peter Foxley, Cardiff

A. You shouldn’t have to replace the whole roof. First, try one of the ‘quick fixes’ out there. There are various greases, lubricants and foams that claim to help fix perished convertible roof seals, though I can’t verify their effectiveness. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have to replace the seals, which is a pain of a job but the parts should still be available through Volkswagen. 

Read more

Volkswagen Golf review 

Porsche 911 Turbo review 

Volkswagen Passat review

Or how about a Vauxhall Cresta?

Or how about a Vauxhall Cresta?
© Autocar
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