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What the Ultra Low Emissions Zone means for London’s classic car owners

by Nik Berg
12 May 2021 7 min read
What the Ultra Low Emissions Zone means for London’s classic car owners
Photo: Ilinca Roman, Unsplash

This summer will be the last chance for many Londoners to enjoy their classic and modern classic cars and bikes without having to pay for the privilege.

From October 25 2021 the capital’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone is being extended to cover the entire area between the A406 North Circular and A205 South Circular roads. Driving a vehicle in this zone that doesn’t meet the emissions requirements will result in a £12.50 daily charge. Stretch the legs just once a week of a classic car that fails to meet ULEZ standards, and the yearly cost is a significant £650 – in many cases more than the cost of annual insurance.

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Aside from raising funds for Transport for London (TfL) the aim is to cut toxic emissions from London’s streets. TfL says that since the ULEZ zone in central London was introduced in 2019 nitrous oxide emissions have been cut by 44 per cent, while over 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide has been saved. A report commissioned by City Hall predicts that the ULEZ expansion could see almost 300,000 fewer people developing chronic diseases, such as asthma and type-2 diabetes, than otherwise expected by 2050.

It’s hard to argue against the goals of the ULEZ expansion, but the blanket approach is causing car enthusiasts concern. Up to 60,000 vehicles are estimated to be affected and a good number of those will be cherished classics that don’t participate in the daily grind of commuting, but may be priced out of London nonetheless. Driving a non-compliant car just once a week would rack up an annual bill of £650 – more than many drivers’ insurance and road tax combined. Use it five days a week and that rises to £3250.

Luca Lucchesi tells Hagerty he has been enjoying his 1989 Bentley Turbo R on the streets of south London for almost three years. But now, even though he lives half a mile outside of the expanded ULEZ zone he thinks his beloved Bentley will have to go. “I use it on a weekly basis and it just won’t make sense to pay £12.50 a time to drive it,” he says. “I have another car, a Range Rover, which I could use instead but I think I will change the Bentley for something older that’s exempt. I’m lucky that I can afford to do this, but a lot of people won’t be able to. It’s also sad as I think this will be like when the scrappage scheme was introduced and a lot of historic cars were scrapped because owners were given an incentive.”

Luca Lucchesi and his Bentley will be impacted by the ULEZ
Luca Lucchesi loves his Bentley Turbo R but says he’s resigned to the fact ULEZ means it has to go… Photo: Luca Lucchesi

Michael Griffin is another Londoner facing having to sell his cherished car – a gold Ford Focus of the sort that was highlighted in Hagerty’s 2021 Bull Market list as an emerging, covetable classic – that he has meticulously maintained for the last 15 years. “It’s small, it’s economical. It’s easy to park. It doesn’t attract any attention. It’s a classic in its own little way,” he tells Hagerty.  “It’s nothing special, but it’s a classic to me. Many people like me are in a real predicament because it doesn’t matter how well you service your car, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of pounds you might have spent on it. No matter how poor you are, or if you’re disabled, the green agenda is all that matters [to the Government].”

Griffin won’t be the only driver with such views. Last December, a study by Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) highlighted how little the classic car scene contributed to UK CO2 emissions, compared with the overall UK transport fleet. Classic cars are only driven an average of 1200 miles a year, producing 563kg of CO2 emissions on average – half the emissions from using a computer or a mobile or taking a week’s holiday in the Mediterranean, according to the CEBR. With confusion and anger increasing in the run up to the new rules we take a look at everything London drivers need to know.

What vehicles does the 2021 ULEZ expansion affect?

ULEZ central zone sign
From 25 October, the ULEZ will expand to cover the area between the A406 North Circular and A205 South Circular roads. Photo: Nissan

If your car or bike is a “historic vehicle” aged 40 years or older on 25 October then you won’t have to pay the new charges, just as you don’t have to pay road tax or get an annual MOT. Anything younger and you’re going to have to cough up. However, that will only be the case if you remember to apply for a vehicle tax exemption once the car or bike turns 40.

Petrol cars have to meet the Euro 4 emission standard which was introduced in 2005, diesels have to meet Euro 6 which came in 2015 and for motorcycles it’s Euro 3 which arrived in 2007. It’s not quite as straightforward as just looking at the year of registration as some earlier models  do actually meet the regulations, so classic car and bike owners should use the checking tool on the TfL website to enter the vehicle registration number and get the good, or bad, news.

Are there any workarounds?

London’s streets are going to get quite dull for car spotters. There’ll be very few 80s and 90s machines driving regularly, and some cars from the noughties will be hit. Spotting a Morris Ital will become as big a moment as spying a 250 GTO (which will continue to be allowed to drive around the city with no ULEZ charge). It may be theoretically possible to get your Alfa Romeo Busso V6 or BMW S14 fettled and catalysed to meet the emissions rules, but the considerable costs would be hugely prohibitive and the engine would probably never run as it should. Motorcyclists and scooter riders may have more luck as they can opt to have their machines tested to see if they pass the emissions standards.

Where is the expanded ULEZ area and how will it be enforced?

Map of the October 2021 expanded ULEZ area in London

The area grows significantly compared with the existing ULEZ footprint that came into force in April, 2019. Monitoring of the ULEZ, stretching between the A406 North Circular and A205 South Circular roads (which vehicles won’t be charged for driving on, initially at least), will be automated by a network of 1,400 cameras across the capital. You will have to pay the £12.50 charge if you enter the zone within 24 hours or face a £160 fine, reduced to £80 if it’s paid within 14 days.

It is just classic car owners in London that will be impacted?

No. Birmingham will introduce its own Clean Air Zone in June 2021 covering all roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, with an £8 daily charge. Leeds, Nottingham Derby and Southampton are also planning to follow.

What will be the effect on London car culture?

What will be the ULEZ effect on London car culture?
Will more classics sit idle in central London? Photo: Burcin Ergunt, Unsplash

Ever since the Congestion Charge for central London was extended to include weekends London’s car meets have already begun to move out of the capital and that’s only going to happen more.

Waterloo Classics used to hold a very informal meet once a month at Lower Marsh, just behind Waterloo station, but after hosting one last meet in the summer of 2020 founder Darren Sullivan Vince tells Hagerty he has shifted the club’s focus to drives out of the city.

“I moved our start point for drives to Battersea Park but now I’ll probably end up starting events in Dulwich,” he says. “I would say that at least 30 to 40 per cent of our cars will be caught in the ULEZ zone now. I know some people have decided to change their fleets, getting rid of the cars that don’t comply and replacing them with ones that do comply. I have friends who had a Jaguar XJ6 and a couple of Range Rovers and they ended up getting a Porsche 924 which is exempt. So people are actively changing their cars but if you’ve got one car and that’s your pet car and you love it, and it’s not exempt, then you’re stuck.”

So central London looks set to become the preserve of 40-year-plus classics and those belonging to more wealthy enthusiasts who can bear the cost of taking it for a spin. For example the 96 Club is continuing its Belgravia monthly breakfast gatherings, but given the value of the cars that attend it’s unlikely that its members will balk at paying an extra £12.50 to display their cars, something passers by and spectators will be thankful for.

Petrolhead hubs such as the Ace Café and Duke of London are sited outside of the extended ULEZ area. The London Concours has already moved to its Hampton Court venue, and that’s particularly handy as this year there’s a new emphasis on cars under 30 years old to attract a younger audience.

It’s not all bad news

Talking of the next generation Jude Currie from Surrey is on a mission to save cars from being scrapped because of the ULEZ extension. The 19-year-old car nut has taken to touring South London and leaving notes offering to buy cars that will soon fall foul of the rules.

“I’m basically after anything that’s slightly quirky or rare,” Currie tells Hagerty. “In terms of how many models are left it might be in double or single figures, but perhaps something that an ordinary person wouldn’t even take a second look at,” he explains.

Jude Currie is saving unexceptional classic cars_Hagerty
Jude Currie, right, is all smiles as he saves another unexceptional classic car, a Hyundai Elantra. Photo: Jude Currie

“At the end of last year in Greenwich, I saved a 1995 Hyundai Elantra. It was one of seven left on the roads. And I managed to save it for scrap value because it had just failed an MOT and the owner didn’t see the point of getting the work done to pass because he had to sell it this year anyway, because of ULEZ.

“A large majority of people I have left notes for have had their cars for 15 years or more. They’ve either bought them brand new, or when they’re just a few years old, and they have grown really attached to them. To be fair, quite a few of the people they can afford new cars, but they don’t want new cars, because they’re comfortable with what they’ve got. It’s really unfair on motorists in London with old petrol cars, because they don’t pollute as much as I think the government or certain organisations believe they do.”

Jude has six cars at the moment and plans to rescue as many more as he can before October, keeping some for himself and selling others to like-minded enthusiasts outside of London, and giving them a new lease of life.

“People are just glad that they don’t have to scrap their cars. A lot of them don’t want to get rid of them but are left without an option. So I think they’re quite chuffed that their car can live on another day outside the ULEZ zone.”

5 surprising modern-classic cars that beat the ULEZ

Alfa Romeo Brera V6
Bentley Continental GT W12
Ferrari FF V12
Jaguar XJR R V8
Mazda RX-8

5 inexpensive classic cars that fail the ULEZ

Citroen 2CV (post-1981)
Mini (post-1981)
Porsche 924 (post-1981)
Mazda MX-5 (pre-2005)
Peugeot 205 GTi

What’s your view of the impact of the expansion of London’s ULEZ on owners of classic vehicles? Have your say in the comments, below.

Read more

Everything you need to know about using E10 fuel with your classic car
Click and collect: Your complete guide to buying a car at an online auction
Something old, something new. How scrappage harmed the classic car community

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Comments

  • Alan says:

    I drive an HGV in London regularly. Over the past 2 or so years, especially in the west end, there has been a massive increase in the number of high end 40+ year old cars. It’s a combination of classic retro being trendy and mot/tax/ulez exemption…..

  • Alan Smith says:

    You mention that if a BMW s13 is fitted with a catalytic converter it doesn’t have to pay the charge. My 1992 Nissan 200sx s13 is fitted with a 3 way catalytic converter and will have too.Why is that please?

    • Antony Ingram says:

      Hello Alan. Broadly speaking your Nissan falls foul of ULEZ regulations because it doesn’t meet Euro 4 emissions standards which came into effect in 2005.

      The line you’re quoting was speaking very much theoretically – that with sufficient money and effort it may be possible to bring an older car up to spec, but in reality that’s unlikely.

  • James Owen says:

    I note that the TFL website does not correctly classify cars. I have two classics that are declared as Historic, pay no tax nor need MoT, and another more recent classic that needs both and which I expect to fall foul of ULEZ. Putting the regs. into TFL website tells me that I must pay in all 3 cases.

  • Tim says:

    Whilst you are correct that the Ace Cafe is “outside” the ULEZ, for people travelling anti-clockwise, you have to exit the North Circular and effectively enter the ULEZ in order to cross back over the North Circular to get to the Ace Cafe. So are you then liable for this awful draconian charge just for 20 yards of travel inside the Zone? TFL have failed to answer this question to me. Surprise Surprise!

  • Mark Edwards says:

    In my opinion, this more about raising revenue than people’s health. I own a 2003 Smart Car which I’m certain will become a future classic going by the following on the likes of Facebook. It has 27k on the clock and meticulously maintained. It was designed for the city, is compact therefore easy to park, takes up less road space etc yet will have to pay the ULEZ. The official CO2 figure is 118g/km, so why is it because a more modern car listed as Euro 4 or above and can produce substantially more emissions doesn’t have to pay.
    If the politicians were serious about health, they would have set the charge on emissions levels, not age. Even those who have the resources to afford the charge might have been enticed to purchase a smaller fun car for their city journeys.
    This is what happens when people who can be influenced by the wealthy voter and have very little technical knowledge make such decisions.

  • Andy says:

    Needless to say, I think this is ridiculous posturing and virtue signalling. Point well-made about the relative damage of low-mileage use of classics vs other lifestyle choices.
    The 40 year exemption appears to be not as simple as you’d think. I checked my ‘historic vehicles’ and TfL check-site says they need to pay. It looks as if you have to register your vehicle exemption with TfL separately from DVLA.

  • Brian Hilton says:

    I’ve just used the checker and entered my the registration number of my 55 year old Lancia Fulvia 2c Berlina.
    It is tax exempt and has historic status but the checker tells me I’m liable to both charges?
    Although I live outside London, thank heavens! I’m an invited guest of the 96 club, although I don’t fit the average owners profile I went a few weeks ago, It first time for 15 months, however after what I consider a nightmare journey from the M1 down the Edgeware road, mostly at 20mph or considerably less to Belgravia, and the return, journey through the ridiculous road layout between Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch.
    I’ve decided I shan’t bring my car into London anytime soon, if ever.
    It’s clear your Mad Mayor’s intention is to drive motorist off the road altogether, and I’m sure eventually he’ll find a way of banning even historic vehicles altogether.

  • David Butterworth says:

    Nothing to do with saving lives, just another money scam by TfL. The report says 44% of nitrous oxide has been cut since 2019, does this figure include what’s been saved by the virus lockdown, and very few flights over and around London. Most petrol and diesel vehicles will be off the roads by 2050 because of electric and Hybrid vehicles so less and less of polluting vehicles, bit like a natural death. And of course there is that classic word they’ve used which gets them off the hook whenever they are not sure of figures ‘Could’, bit like the old saying ‘Lessons will be learned’ but never are.

  • Roger R says:

    Using classic cars on a daily basis that failed to meet the emission requirements was always going to become difficult as the green agenda marches on in the cities. I do not live in London or any city and I have two classics. They get taxed for six months in the summer and I get to use them on an average of three times a month during that time, if I’m lucky, which include classic car meets.
    Due to weather conditions and other commitments it is about all that I can fit in. So based on the figures above it would cost me £225.00 a year. they are insured for 1500 miles a year which I have never reached.

  • Edward D Hosford says:

    Don’t Trust London Transport check site all 3 of my classic cars 1927 Cowley 1953 MGTD 1971 MGBGT all fail to qualify and are expected to pay ,although all DVLA registered as Historic ,so beware if camera recognition is using same system expect a fine in the post !!
    emailed London transport and received the following ~~
    “””All vehicles registered before 1 January 1973 and vehicles with a tax class of ‘Historic vehicle’ are exempt from the
    Ultra Low Emission Zone. They do not need to be registered with us.
    If you’re unsure of your vehicle’s taxation class, refer to your vehicle registration document.
    If your vehicle falls into one of these categories and is registered outside the UK, you are also exempt but you will need
    to register with us.
    You will still need to pay the Congestion Charge if you drive in the zone, or you will receive a Penalty Charge Notice..””

    So you see you will still have to pay the daily congestion charge midnight to midnight daily at whatever rate is current. but not the emissions charge..

  • David Butterworth says:

    Well my comments mustn’t have been appropriate, nothing wrong said imo. Ok will have to accept it.

  • NAZIM M says:

    Perhaps a fairer approach would be to “grandfather” the ownership for classics not meeting the age requirement. That is, if you already own a classic before 25th October, 2021 then you keep it and use it without the new regulation taking effect on that particular car. However, if you buy a classic after the date then the ULEZ rule would apply. Reasoning is that many people have owned and cherished their classic for many years and they sparingly drive it — for pleasure use, say — and the Govt./society does not gain much by clamping down on such owners/users. Not to mention, many cannot afford to throw away their classic and afford to buy a newer car that would undoubtedly be more complex and costly to maintain.

  • Alec bayford says:

    So it’s about improving healthy air?
    Let me get this straight.
    We no longer burn coal, use lead in petrol or suffer the smog that was so prevalent in London
    Back in the 1950’s and yet today’s air is allegedly worst.
    Rubbish!
    This about gentrifying London and forcing those less off to accept their place.
    When normal everyday people realise they are being persecuted and can’t even drive their cars to the local shops I think there will be civil unrest in London.
    This is a deliberate attempt to remove people’s freedom of choice.

  • Terry Ingles says:

    This is ludicrous! My car is registered as a historic vehicle – 1960 MGA 1600, yet shows as liable for payment! Why do I have to prove the registration status twice over to satisfy TFL – and presumably other cities, when DVLA is satisfied as to its status?

  • Roger_G says:

    I have checked my 1955 “historic” classified Citroën. It is correctly identified as black Citroën but shows as being liable for charges.
    The TfL website is very unclear. On the exemptions page it lists historic vehicles as being exempt.
    “All vehicles that have a historic vehicle tax class will be exempt from the ULEZ. This tax class excludes any vehicle used commercially (for example, coffee vans or street food vans).”

    At the bottom of the exemptions it states, “If your vehicle meets any of the above criteria and is registered in the UK, it is automatically exempt and you don’t need to register with us.”

    It is not clear whether this refers to “Other Exempt Vehicles” only or to all the categories above.

    I then tried to register my vehicle to make sure that I don’t get caught but, when the vehicle check was performed, it returned, “You don’t have to register this vehicle” and included the vehicle number and description.

    I have printed this out for future reference when I receive a fine. 🙁

  • donald cameron says:

    It is not only ULEZ. In The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea there is a Resident Parking Permit that now applies progressive charges based on CO2 emissions. My permit for a 2006 Jaguar costs £280/year and it is increasing by 50% pa. The permit is free for an EV.

    I objected to the Council on the grounds that parked cars do not pollute. Residents move about by public transport and mainly use their cars to leave London. And the Borough is a through route to other parts of London and pollution is mainly caused by HGVs, buses, taxis, vans and delivery motorcycles. My estimate is that pollution from the 30k resident vehicles is negligible. The Council says that it has no way of knowing how much use there is by resident vehicles. This is rubbish – anyone can check from the MOT.gov data base. My car does ca 3k miles pa, and only a couple of hundred in the Borough. The “parking tax” raises £12 million per year for the Town Hall. I appealed to the Local Government Ombudsman who said there are no grounds for objection.

    Our motoring lobby needs to get its skates on over this whole appalling WOKE rip off. EVs will clean up our cities but that will merely shift pollution to the poor countries in Africa mining the dirty rare earths for batteries. And the massive investment to convert the vehicle industry and install electric charging infrastructure could have been used instead for schools, hospitals, roads and the elderly. Its a most incredible judgement that society has made. Especially considering that pollution levels from ICE have been halving every seven? years…..

  • john says:

    why do londoners vote for this idiot; rebel stop putting up with this sh*t

  • Andrew Hastings says:

    Are Blue Badge holders exempt from ULEZ
    ?

  • Jim Valentine says:

    Try my predicament for size, I have a 12 tonne 1992 Berlin Fire Engine that I use to transport my classic cars and sleep in. To meet the then standards for the LEZ I fitted a particle trap to meet Euro IV for particulates. Since it no longer meets the standards I have taken the particle trap off as there’s no incentive to keep it and it runs better without it. This unintended consequence of the legislation is that it is now back at Euro I levels of emissions. Currently if I bring it in to my house and stop overnight as I used to, it would cost me £100 per 24 hours for LEZ, £100 per 24 hours for ULEZ (I’m in the enlarged zone) and soon £15 congestion charge. One visit at £430.

    Only 12 years to wait for it to be considered Historic though.

  • Nick says:

    People who live in london live longer than anywhere else in the country. They are not dying of pollution. Last time i went there a few years ago i couldn’t smell any fumes.

  • Mr Patrice Johnson says:

    So Sadiq Khan reckons as he won the mayor election and the voters gave him the power to extend the ULEZ with charges….RUBBISH
    GIve us Londoners a REFERENDUM then Khan will see how many have voted for this local TAX.
    Also Mr Khan,please tell me how on earth are you going to clean the air with all this tax that you accumulated from us motorists!

  • KEVIN MOLONEY says:

    Article starts by mentioning the link between air quality and type 2 diabetes. Anyone from the science/medical community able to explain this link?

  • Dave Thomas says:

    Classic cars can run on H2. Retro fit conversions will become more and more available. My company , PinkH2 will be retailing H2 for £2.30 per kg in 2023.
    H2 at that price is half the cost of diesel or petrol

  • Frank Darby says:

    Correct if I’m wrong I lhought historic vehicles were exempt from ulez and congestion charges, why can’t TLF talk to the DVLA and sort something out .

  • Richard Crowe says:

    Quite honestly, if you can afford to drive a classic car for pleasure, you should be prepared to pay your environmental dues. This ony concerns ‘modern’ classics from 1981, and at only £12.50 it is small price to pay to cruise your classic down Park Lane!

  • Danny Gill says:

    Hi,

    I’m just one of 1000s of people who own a modern classic (1989) I cut the the the chase with my question
    If I was to fit a engine/cat etc from a car that is ulaz compliant into my modern classic car will that be ok, if its ok in a newer car it will produce the same low emissions in the old car do I can’t see any difference, I know this will involve a vehicle inspection that’s no problem at all.

    Many thanks
    Danny

  • Ben Hughes says:

    I have been in contact with VOSA, TFL and DVLA.

    DVLA charge 70p for each piece of data on a vehicle. TFL want to create their own motorists database via payments page. Data collection through verification to save costs. That is why classics are not coining up. They are all registered as non compliant through verification they will be registered as exempt. You do this through the payments page. The question is whether you do this once or every time you use it. TFL are not being clear on this. Their database is still being developed.

    TFL say that you can retrofit NOx SCR systems to any vehicle and then have it tested for compliance but only through their registered providers. Currently they are not offering such retrofit SCR systems to private cars. There are aftermarket SCR systems available and you can get VOSA to test but TfL will not accept for compliance. This needs to change and should be the point to lobby TFL to save modern classics.

    It is nothing to do with health or environment but fund raising. Manufacturing a new car is equivalent to 100k or ten years modest use of an existing car. Their are also relight to repair ethics and keeping and preserving older equipment has been shown better for environment than obsolescence and economy of scale manufacturing.

    TFL are being very obtuse about their communication – their website information is out of date.

    Londoners could have voted Khan last May but did not. Other candidates offered to scrap the scheme. Less than half of Londoners bothered to vote at all.

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