London is heading for a massive shake up of its car fleet, with the impending Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expansion set to make a host of 1980s and 1990s classics unviable to run in much of the Capital.
The ULEZ currently covers the same Central London area subject to the Congestion Charge, but from October 25 will expand to cover a larger zone bounded by the North and South Circular roads. It will continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 standard for diesel or Euro 4 for petrol (roughly pre-2016 and pre-2006 respectively) facing a £12.50 daily charge. Historic vehicles over 40 years old are exempt, but that still leaves a lot of cars we’d consider as classics or modern classics entering their final chapter of service in the Capital.
Indeed, we’ve recently noticed an increasing number of classified ads citing the ULEZ expansion as the reason for sale, in many cases after long term ownership. For example, Camberwell resident Paul Neale and his partner Angela recently sold their rare last-of-line 1996 Volvo 480 Celebration due to the ULEZ, having owned the car for 19 years.
“I think there’s a lot of people hanging on as long as they can because they’ve got cars they don’t want to get rid of, and we definitely fell into that bracket,” Paul told Classic Car Buyer. “It’s all a part of London gradually becoming a duller place. My gripe is less with the government bringing in the ULEZ – I understand the need for that – my issue is where do I go from here in terms of what I could develop the same bond with, that is ULEZ compliant? It’s really hard, especially if you apply a budget to that.”
The saving grace is that Volvo’s future looks secure, as it’s been purchased by an enthusiast as a first car for his son, who particularly wanted a 480 as a project. However, the worry is that similar cars will be scrapped rather put up for sale, especially with the current pandemic restrictions.
One enthusiast who’s keen to see ULEZ-affected classics survive is 18-year-old Jude Currie from nearby Cobham. “Contrary to what many think, London is not some sort of hypermodern city with brand new cars and vans filling up the narrow streets,” he explained. “A large contingent of the place is still remarkably old fashioned. This is particularly noticeable when looking at the vehicle choice of many Londoners. The city is home to sole-surviving examples of certain ’80s and ’90s obscurities, which are at risk of getting scrapped come October.
“Because of this, I have made it my mission to try and save some of these cars from an unnecessary demise. A polite message written in a note left under the wiper will usually warrant a call back from the car’s owner.”
Jude’s recent conversation with a lady in West London regarding her 1988 Toyota Starlet mirrored a familiar situation for many Londoners. “She doesn’t want to get rid of her beloved runabout; however, she cannot justify spending £12 every time she takes the car out,” Jude continued. “She doesn’t go far in it, but regardless, the car doesn’t meet the ULEZ requirements. If I had not got in contact, she said it is likely the car would have reluctantly gone for scrap – a travesty for a model with just six 1988 examples left on the road.
Jude has first refusal on the Starlet come October, having already saved a Rover 216 and a 1995 example of the near-extinct Hyundai Lantra – the latter acquired from near Greenwich last autumn. “It had failed an MoT and its elderly owner didn’t see the point in getting the work done for it to be hit with ULEZ charges, so was going to scrap the car and give up driving. He was very capable behind the wheel but wasn’t comfortable in owning another model of car, so while he was still glad the car wasn’t scrapped and lived on with an enthusiast, he’s now restricted in getting out and about.”
ULEZ expansion: silver lining?
As Jude’s examples demonstrate, the silver lining is that the London’s loss could be a gain for those living elsewhere. “We’ve already had a surge in enquiries from sellers wishing to find new owners for their cars from long term ownership with low ownership and mileage that are otherwise not exempt from ULEZ rules,” explained Chris Pollitt, Head of Editorial at classified website, Car & Classic. “Homologation specials like the Mercedes-Benz E500, Audi RS2 Avant, Subaru WRX STI could be looking for new homes outside of the ULEZ zone, likewise some later Porsche 964s and Land Rover Defenders.”
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom for city-dwellers. “We are hearing from our private and trade customers that they will still pay and use their vehicles on special occasions and events, or store them outside the zone,” added Chris. “There are also some exceptions to the rules – early Ferrari 360s, pre-facelift Bentley Continental GTs and certain 2005 Porsche 911s are also allowed into the ULEZ zone without having to pay. The same goes for the likes of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage from 2005 as well as a smattering of naturally aspirated mid-noughties Mercedes-Benz AMGs. So all is not lost for the youngtimers.”
For those cars that are deemed unviable, our hope is that they can survive elsewhere, and perhaps re-enter the capital once they’re old enough to be exempt. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable that a good proportion of the old motors that make up the fabric of London’s streets will now be hidden away elsewhere or gone altogether thanks to this ULEZ expansion. While attempts to reduce emissions undoubtedly carry merit, that’s a real shame for enthusiasts.