I took a 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class in part-exchange last week that came with a selection of old tax discs still in the windscreen, courtesy of a chap who had owned it since 2008.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I miss the old days of having a paper disc to show for the privilege of handing over a wedge of cash to the government.
A tax disc may not have been much, but at least it was something.
Moreover, though, I miss the days of cars remaining taxed if the duty was paid, partly because a bit of rent in the windscreen was a selling point, and mainly because it meant free vehicle tax for the motor trade.
The car I would drive home from work or at the weekend was whatever scruffy part-exchange we had in stock that still had a valid tax disc in the windscreen, and the really grim ones we’d just use as our own transport until the MOT or tax ran out.
Back then, you never saw a car trader knocking around in a decent motor – it was just one banger to the next to keep overheads down.
That was, of course, unless you fancied something really special.
I’m a Jaguar man myself, and I’ve had a few of the company’s big saloons through my hands over the best part of four decades in the motor trade, a few of which have stuck around for several months.
Of course, being a motor trader, I never wanted to pay for vehicle tax, nor did any of my peers. And that’s where Legless Pete came in…
His nickname was one of two parts.
The first was as a result of an unfortunate incident in the Falklands that led to the poor chap having no left leg and a stump on the right.
The second was down to his lifestyle, as Pete spent his armed forces disability allowance (and most of his time) stationed at a copper table in a warm corner of The King’s Head, getting progressively more sozzled from lunchtime until one of the regulars wheeled him back home at closing time.
He was quite a tragic character, all told, as beneath an exterior hardened in the armed forces, there was a gentle kindness to him that few possess.
Pete passed on a couple of years ago, and it’s his wry smile and infectious humour that I always think of each Remembrance Day.
But I digress. Pete was a popular chap within the local motor trade, partly because by spending most of his time in the pub, he would occasionally stumble across the odd bargain.
After all, back then a lot of cars were bought and sold in the pub, and if you didn’t ask too many questions, there were some bosting deals to be done.
But more than that, he was our source of free vehicle excise duty.
This was because despite being permanently over the limit and bereft of one and a half appendages, Pete had managed to retain his driving licence.
He never used it, largely because he was usually three sheets to the wind, but by virtue of being mobility impaired he was also entitled to disabled vehicle tax, which was free.
I can recall at least four Jaguar XJs and a Vauxhall Senator that I kept for my own use that were, according to DVLA records, the property of Legless Pete.
All I had to do was fill in the V5 in his name, fund six pints of Banks’s Bitter with a couple of whisky chasers, and on his way to The King’s Head he’d (literally as well as figuratively) swerve by the post office between afternoon refreshments and reward me (and several of my peers) with a free tax disc.
If anyone had looked at his DVLA records, they’d have assumed he was a collector of 1990s luxury saloons and Range Rovers, all paid for on a services disability pension.
Admittedly, that wasn’t exactly an ethical practice, but in the eyes of the law the car belonged to Pete, and one of the conditions of us using his services was that we’d occasionally give him a lift when he needed one, which was an allowable reason (just) for the car having free road tax – at least back in the days when such things weren’t digitally policed.
It was also the least we could do for a chap who’d given so much to his country.
These days it’s simply not possible, but there are a number of motor traders in the West Midlands who remember Legless Pete with affection, and I frequently raise a glass in his honour.
Thank you for your service, Pete…
This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 189 – along with news, views, reviews, features and much more! Read and download it for FREE here!