London classic car club makes driving dreams a reality
It is a crisp winter night and fairy lights line the trees on a fashionable Chelsea boulevard as the great and good of London saunter down the street, with mulled wine momentarily masking the frosty temperatures in the air. In the reflection in the window of a bespoke boutique I see the sleek silhouette of a Jaguar E-Type, one of the most desirable cars ever made. Then I pinch myself as I recognise the face behind the wheel: it is me, grinning from ear to ear.
The smell of the lush leather seats, the sight of the bulging bonnet stretching before me, the rasp of the V12 bringing a lump to my throat as I lightly press the accelerator. I check my wallet, but there is no winning lottery ticket, nor a tortoiseshell business card with my name inscribed under that of a bank. This assault of the automotive senses comes courtesy of the Classic Car Club, an organisation that offers members access to motoring immortality.
As I pull up to the curb and ruefully relinquish the keys, it seems like the dream is over. But, in fact, it's only just begun: the night drive, one of a number of events organised by the club throughout the year, would make for a thrilling, memorable and unusual treat in its own right if you own your own classic car, but this isn't your normal classic car club. Here, members get to sample from a range of cars owned by the club, and this night there are five different cars available, so I go from the Jag to the sumptuous confines of a classic Rolls-Royce, entombed by burr walnut and sumptuous leather, and continue on around the city.
Though having lived in London almost all my life, it somehow looks even more beautiful behind the stylised steering wheel of a Mercedes Pagoda convertible. And what better way to see the urban jungle, I muse, than behind the wheel of a Volvo Amazon. Five hours after leaving the club's headquarters, we return to reality.
The club was formed in 1995 by a few enthusiasts who saw that, for many, the dream of driving a classic could often be soured by the nightmare of maintaining one. The club was there for those drivers who would love to feel the air streaming through their hair but were less keen on lying under the axle with oil dripping in it. The concept was a simple one: offer all the benefits of a classic with none of the drawbacks. Slowly but surely, they amassed a fleet of cars, ranging from a baby Fiat 500 to a baronial Rolls-Royce Corniche, which were all made available for members to use. They could disappear for a day in a Daimler or have an alfresco afternoon in an Alfa Spider.
With the high cost of owning a classic car, membership became a more pragmatic option for many, especially in London where vehicles can so easily collect dents and scratches and where few drivers can afford or have space to garage their pride and joy. Unsurprisingly, the club soon swelled its ranks and, in recent years, membership has been restricted to ensure an enticing ratio of members to cars. Today, the organisation boasts 200 members and a short waiting list, and has opened new branches in cities as distant and diverse as New York and Vilnuis.
Proudly looking out over his fleet from the club's members' room, director Nigel Case explains that the success of the club is down to the fact that the founders shared the same frustrated passions as its members: "We were tired of buying cars and spending a lot of money to do them up, only to be smitten by another sexy little number six months later and going through the whole process again.
"Everyone wants to drive, not get their hands dirty. We offer a safety net for people who love the idea of driving a beautiful classic but don't have the knowledge or inclination to keep one on the road themselves. We have 16 years of experience and a wide network of parts suppliers and specialist workshops, so we do all the hard graft so the members don't have to."
New member Steve Brabner, 60, from Buckinghamshire, had bought an annual membership to celebrate his wife's 60th birthday and is toasting with a glass of champagne while leaning on the door of a 1959 Jaguar XK150. He explains why it was a present with a difference.
"All these cars are so interesting to drive and we are sure to be the envy of our friends. Though you can rent older cars, there isn't anywhere else when you can choose from a range of 50 within a few days' notice. They also organise a range of events through the year so you very much have the feeling of belonging to a club," Brabner says.
"Having owned a classic motorbike, I know how unreliable they can be. You can spend more time fixing it than driving it. So the opportunity to drive a car but not worry about maintaining it is fantastic. There is a fixed cost with no unwelcome surprises and that brings peace of mind as well as a smile to the face."
The club is operated on a points system. Each member gets an allocation of points that can be used to either drive the car for a day or weekend, or take part in one of the organised events. Each car is given a points classification, ranging from exotic cars like the E-Type to one of the fleet's newer models, such as a Mini Cooper or BMW Z4. This is then combined with the points for when the car is used, with a heavier weighting for weekend and summer use. This gives members the flexibility to enjoy several weekends in a car of a lifetime or more frequent trips in other models in the fleet or, as is more commonly the case, a combination of the two. Mileage is unlimited and members can drive them abroad and even use cars from anywhere in the international network. And what is more, the cars can even be delivered to their front door.
As well as classics, the club has a number of performance cars, such as a TVR Chimaera and BMW M3, motorcycles and utility vehicles such as a Land Rover Discovery. This means that, as well as being a once-in-a-lifetime treat, members can also use the club as a viable alternative to car ownership. Full membership costs £3,995 (Dh23,000) with several cheaper categories with a reduced points allocation. The club also allows members to name an additional driver, so friends or spouses won't be consumed with jealousy.
With such an envious collection of classic cars in its ranks, the club has also branched out into the fields of corporate entertainment and Hollywood cameos. But for all the glitz and glamour, it is the broad grins of its members that provide the most satisfaction.
Published: February 3, 2012 04:00 AM