Saturday, 5 December 2009

Modern Classics

Retrospectively published by AROnline on 6/1/2010

Bristol's 411 Series VI - a modernised classic.

There seems to have been a craze in recent years for upgrading and modernising classic cars. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of cars which could be revamped either by the factory or an outside company: all Bristols, the Jensen Interceptor, and a good few Jaguars (XJ S3, XJ-S, MK2 and XK150). That said, I suppose KWE would upgrade any of the 'Series' XJs, and that JD Classics would turn their hand to any 'MK2 family' saloon or any XK. I also seem to recall, although I'm not 100% certain, that Aston Martin offer a similar modernisation service to that of Bristol.

All in, there must be fifteen or twenty types of classic car which are available with all mod-cons in 2008. I'm torn as to whether or not this is a good thing. The personal appeal of an 'Arthur Daley-spec' mustard yellow Daimler Sovereign 4.2, yet with a Tracker, high intensity Xenon headlamps, and a modern radio is huge. The idea of a Bristol 412 with aircon, uprated brakes, and electric door mirrors appeals still more. But is it right to take something that's already acclaimed and change it?

It could be seen as cheating on the part of the owner; if you can't cope with a classic car's foibles or put up with it's lack of modernities, buy a Vectra and have done with it. Air con and digital radio do not belong in a Mark Two Jag. In fact, you could go further and say that when it's finished it ceases to be a MK2 any more.

However, to have that mindset is, I think, to miss the point of the conversion. It's not, and is not intended to be, a showpiece. Neither is it intended to be exactly as the original is in feel or experience. No, the appeal of a car like the V-Eight Jensen or Knowles Wilkins XJ-S is that you get the style of an old car but none of the drawbacks. It's rebuilt, modernised, and ready for all that daily driving and a high mileage can throw at it. What you are purchasing when you buy a JD Classics XK150 is a brand new car that looks like - and by and large should feel like - a classic car. It would be folly to say they're the same as the originals, but in a sense that's why they appeal. This sort of modification should give you the same sort of experience as you expect from, say, a Bristol 411, but with all the conveniences you'd get in your Mondeo. This makes it a genuinely usable classic car.

I only have one criticism of the idea, and it's this: all the cars that seem to be catered for by the modernisation market are niche cars; cars that for reasons of economy or space just wouldn't be practical for anyone on a budget. Add to this that their cost, although considerably cheaper than the modern equivalents, is by no means easy on the pocket. As a Yorkshireman, this lack of sensibility has led me to spot an opening in the market. So, which firm will be first with the modernised Austin Allegro?

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