Old cars need a whole lotta love. And old hire cars need even more. Classic hire cars don’t necessarily get abused but they work very hard, typically doing annual mileages similar to modern cars, but squeezed into an eight month season.
This creates something of a dilemma for classic car hire companies because maintaining classic cars is an expensive business. Despite the relatively high cost of hiring an old car, running a classic hire business isn’t a routine to easy riches. Most of the money goes back into improving the cars – or in some cases, just keeping them going. And if you’re just limping them along, then in reality they’re deteriorating.
The red E Type coupe pictured here demonstrates this dilemma quite succinctly. I bought this car in 2009 from another classic car hire company. I got a good deal because, to be blunt, the car was knackered. It was being hired out despite head gasket failure (customers were furnished with a flagion of water) and a collapsing rear end. It hadn’t had an oil change for three years…The interior was ok but tired and the car was fitted with the wrong size wheels, which rubbed on the arches in corners.
Back then I didn’t have a workshop so I paid a Jaguar specialist over £5,000 to sort out the rear end and fix the engine and I fitted correct specification historic tyres (which cost a fortune). That done the car went on hire. It still had bubbles in the doors and rear arches and, while it survived each hire, it needed remedial work to endless niggling problems each time it returned. But it was popular, very very popular.
So over the winter of 2010 I took on a qualified mechanic and set about improving the car. This car, with its regular four-figure bills, was one of the main reasons I set up my own workshop. Put simply, maintenance bills are the biggest killer for any classic car hire company. If you run one you have to bite the bullet and spend or you try to cut costs and survive. The company that ran the red E Type before I bought it tried the latter course. It wouldn’t be my choice – for many reasons, not least customer satisfaction – but I can see how it happens.
An in-house workshop is a big liability and significant set up cost but it makes maintaining our fleet practical and viable. We can respond faster. We can do a much better job (because we know each individual car thoroughly) and we can do it all much cheaper. The red E Type was the first to benefit. Over the winter we replaced the clutch (and engine-out job that costs about £2k externally) and set to work improving the bodywork. For the 2011 season the car was considerably more reliable and looked a lot better.
During 2012 and 2013 the car ran reliably for 20,000 miles, despite needing another clutch replacement (it’s very easy to ride the clutch while driving an E Type…). With the car looking and running ok we concentrated our efforts on improving other cars on the fleet. But by the winter of 2013/14 NAV580H was ready for a makeover. With the mechanicals sorted (and yet another new clutch…) we decided to concentrate on the aesthetics. So the car went to our local trim shop for an interior makeover – seat refurbishment, new carpets, new trims. Then we stripped the body and sent it to a paint shop for a full respray. Although the car’s sills had been done a few years previously and the bonnet was solid, much of the rest of the car was quite poor. There was rot in both rear arches, the passenger door was scrap due to to rust and the driver’s door needed plated, among other areas throughout the body. It had also picked up various dings and dents thanks to errant car parking. All of this was sorted and the car resprayed in its original red.
The car is now being put back together and will be back on the fleet very soon. We won’t be taking any new photos for the website because the ones we have – of the car as it was – already look good. Which demonstrates the dilemma – customers buy based on what they see online. For that reason, even when it was an unreliable wreck in the years before I bought it, this car still hired out a lot. So all the money and effort we’ve put into making it look better won’t get any more hires, because nobody comes to see it before they choose it. But I know the car meets and hopefully exceeds customer expectations. I feel proud to hire it out.
All told I’ve spent about £12,000 on this car since I bought it. I didn’t pay much for it, which does demonstrate that even buying a ropey E Type should not be the frightening experience that some car pundits would have you believe. It is possible to buy a running E Type and apply running repairs in a logical manner. Get it mechanically sorted first then fix the bodywork. Then gradually improve to taste.
We have a fleet of Series 1 to 3 E Types in convertible and coupe styles available to hire in Yorkshire, a Devon and Cotswolds. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http:www.greatescapecars.co.uk.