Free Choice Makes for an Expensive Hobby

by Sam Skelton
24 February 2017 3 min read
Free Choice Makes for an Expensive Hobby
A unique prototype – and it’s now gone. Skelton’… in his sanity.

Every so often in the classic car scene you hear of someone who has maybe 5 or 6 cars. You might even express mild envy at the idea of having a different car for every day of the week – you might wish you could do the same. And then you realise it’s a stupid and impractical idea, and go back to enjoying your one pride and joy.

I have 12.

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Well, ten and 2 halves. I co-own a Rover 820 Sterling and the Cashback 416iS. I also have a pair of P6s (One a donor), a Triumph Stag, 2 Montegos, a Honda Concerto, a Daihatsu Applause, a Citroen XM, a Jaguar Sovereign and a Rover 75.

It’s beautiful. I can get into anything I like and just use it.  I’m unfettered by a lack of choice; I have cars which will suit every mood and occasion – all are mine, and nobody can stop me. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Except that owning so many leaves you short of cash for actually doing anything about them when they go wrong. This is why I have a Stag which needs a steering rack, a Montego that needs full restoration, a Sterling with head gasket failure and a number of cars SORNed until summer.

When summer arrives, I may start using the P6 daily. Except that it will need new brakes and an MoT, which will have lapsed by then. I need to renew the MoT on the Stag too, except I can’t until I’ve done the rack. The Honda will soon be out of test, but because I’m putting money into the Jaguar it looks like revvy Jap fun will have to wait until later. In any case, it needs a new set of leads and I need to trace a water leak. Dammit.

It appears that I have just four cars I know I can rely on – two of which need minor repairs, and one that is in the bodyshop awaiting accident repairs. I’ve spread myself too thin – it’s an easy trap for a petrolhead to fall into, and take my experience as a warning shot before you do the same too.

Perhaps I could use Project Cashback but it lives seven miles away, and because the Sterling is sixty miles away from its donor car repairs will be hard. As for the diesel Montego, that isn’t going to get done any time soon. And that’s a shame, because it’s an interesting old bus. It is one of four Montego 2.0 automatics converted to diesel power by Perkins for Rover Group, to evaluate the potential for a diesel automatic as part of the production run. Mine is the only one left. I’ve owned it for 18 months, of which 2 weeks were spent on the road before being retired with various issues. Realistically it needs a considerable amount of rewiring to replace the “improvised” wiring of Perkins’s prototyping department that has deteriorated beyond repair. It may also need a starter motor or alternator judging by the minor fire last time I started it. All of this is achievable, but the fact is that with too many other minor projects on the go, I’ll never get round to it myself.

The longer I let it sit where it is though, the longer it will take to restore. The worse a condition it will be in when its restoration begins and the more will need doing. I’ve taken the reluctant decision that it is to go. This poses a difficult question though – what do you do when you have something unique but in need of serious restoration work? How do you ensure it will be done, not offered to the vultures and cannibalised to conserve the more common iterations? How, in short, can you guarantee the survival of something unique but basically worthless? It’s never easy to find the right home for a car – especially when it’s a piece of history.

Fortunately, I’ve found someone to take it on; an enthusiast who has been chasing one of the prototypes since the mid-1990s and who promises to restore it to its former glory. I’ve done my part in saving it, even though I couldn’t do it myself. And I’ll be moving a few more on to equally deserving homes in the next few months.

Meanwhile – don’t do what I did; keep your fleet sensible.

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