We’ve all seen the statistics in the newspapers: Lack of affordable housing, more people living alone than ever before, and Millennials and Gen Z increasingly priced out of the property market thanks to poor pay and being stuck in an endless, deposit-killing rental loop.
That’s a problem on its own and may require a fundamental re-think of how we approach housing in the coming decades, but when people are struggling simply to meet their housing needs, there’s little room for expensive hobbies – and that could affect the classic car industry as significantly as low-emissions zones, E10 fuel or the skills shortage.
When I heard an engine start one evening in 2010, with a familiar timbre to the exhaust, I realised with a sickening hollowness in the pit of my stomach that my Mazda MX-5 was being stolen from the road outside my flat. In the time it took me to run from the living room at the back of the house to the window overlooking the road, it was gone, discovered by the police early the next morning looking distinctly sorry for itself.
A few of you reading this will share my pain, and understand why, since this incident eleven years ago, I have refused to live anywhere that I cannot securely store a car – particularly an older one with modest-to-non-existent levels of anti-theft protection.
The result is always paying just a little more to rent a flat than I might otherwise, and being able to pick from a much smaller pool of potential places to live since so few have adequate and secure parking. And I have a creeping sense of dread that the difficulty young people face in simply finding a place to live will have a knock-on effect for the classic car industry too.
Finding an affordable home can be tricky enough these days thanks to escalating rent and stagnant wages. Fewer still have a garage or adequate off-road parking, particularly in newer builds where developers cram houses ever closer together, saving money on garages or communal parking areas by claiming you can get everywhere via (usually inadequate) public transport. And if you already have a vital daily driver taking up what little space you do get? That won’t leave much room, literally or metaphorically, for a classic.
Now to be clear, I realise I’m making no great revelation that affordable accommodation doesn’t come with much space, whether inside the home or outside on the drive. There will always be a compromise between the cost of living and the cost you can dedicate to a hobby, and this has presumably been the case since cars had hooves and ate straw.
If you’re like me, daft enough to have somehow amassed a pair of “fun” cars in addition to a daily driver but with access to only one garaged parking spot, then you’ve got to take things like storage costs on the chin, and hope you’re in a position to afford it. There’s always going to be a degree of budgeting and indeed common sense involved. We aren’t all landed gentry with an annex full of Astons and Ferraris.
It does make me wonder whether there’s an untapped market for affordable shared units aimed at automotive enthusiasts, places that groups of friends or those desperate to escape flatmates and parents could use to set aside space and tools for a project, as well as a place to securely store a vehicle in lieu of doing so wherever they might be living.
But it really would have to be affordable – a friend of mine in their early 20s is only able to share a rental unit with a couple of other people because they’re saving money by living with their parents. If you’re already stretching for rent, bills and food, then even another £50 a month might prove tricky to scrape together.
I’m currently paying £20 a week to store one of my cars, which is pretty reasonable, but that’s literally just for a dry, secure, no-frills parking spot, and it’s twenty miles away – not exactly somewhere I can tinker on a car, let alone restore or modify one. There’s a risk, too, that if affordable workshop spaces did pop up en masse, they would immediately be seized by those with much more money to burn, negating any potential benefit for more cash-strapped enthusiasts.
Without such spaces though, elevated rental costs, inadequate affordable housing and increasingly car-unfriendly accommodation options are looking like a perfect storm when it comes to accepting younger enthusiasts into the classic car hobby.
Think it doesn’t matter? Then ask yourself who you’re expecting to buy your classic when you come to sell. Or where specialists, or parts and tool manufacturers will find customers when the existing generations hang up their driving gloves.
Up-and-coming enthusiasts are going to have to make a choice that their parents were far less constrained by: a roof over their heads, or a classic car? That decision is unlikely to fall in favour of a weekend hobby vehicle – and that’s going to affect each and every one of us.
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