Wheeler Dealer Mike Brewer on why he’ll take a classic used car over modern every time

Time 1 year ago

Wheeler Dealer star Mike Brewer – and the host of the Car Dealer Used Car Awards – has sold cars around the world for his TV shows, but his love for classic cars knows no bounds.

Here he writes for Car Dealer Magazine on why he loves classic and used cars. Make sure your car dealership has been nominated for a Used Car Award by clicking here.

THE ONE WORD that stands out for me when I think about the world of classic cars is passion – no doubt about it.


Wherever you look in the classic car world, people are absolutely crazy about them – it’s almost an obsession!

That passion is shared by owners of classic cars, admirers of classic cars and drivers of classic cars – and it goes right back to the people who designed and manufactured them in the first place.

The thing is, these days we live in a world where cars are generated by computers and put together by accountants.

OK, that might be simplifying things a bit, but when we look back at our past – and I’m going right back to the birth of the motor car here – I would say that cars were made by people who really cared.

Their passion was expressed in the steel that they bent and the seats that they sculpted. 

It almost used to pour out of the designers and on to their drawing boards.

I know this to be true because several car designer friends of mine these days often plan a car that they want – and one they know the market would love – but a lot of that initial passion is forced out. It’s taken away by engineers who say it’s not possible, or by accountants who tell them that they can’t afford it. 

Those rules didn’t apply back in the day. It’s why modern-day manufacturers look back at the past in order to drive the future. 

As an example, take a look at the latest Land Rover Defender.

It’s a car that is absolutely looking back at its past to create a way forward. And it’s the same for every carmaker, be that Mini, Fiat, Ford, Chevrolet or even Jaguar – I could go on for hours!

I think there are a couple of reasons for that. Since the world went mad following the 2008 financial crash, the world of classic cars has become important to many investors – more so than new cars.

A new car, as we know, hits a depreciation bubble when it rolls off the forecourt. A classic, in contrast, could actually appreciate when sold. 

Never has that been more evident than since 2008, with classic values increasing by 10 to 15 per cent each year. 

They’re now works of art and sell like oil paintings at auctions across the world. That has slowly filtered down into the grass roots of the classic car world, and that’s the area I’m interested in – the world of Peugeot 205 GTis, Volkswagen Golf GTIs and Datsun 240Zs, for example.

Classic cars are still making great gains because of their modern counterparts, too.

For example, the latest Ford Mustang GT looks so similar to its 1960s grandfather because people these days regard the older car as a cool vehicle, whereas in the past they may have thought of it as just another old car.

Ford is happy to celebrate its heritage with its new model, so why wouldn’t the audience?

The reason I love classic cars so much is because I know of nothing else. My world is entirely focused on classic cars – I was born into it and I’ve worked on classic cars since I was a 10-year-old boy. 

Part of the reason I’m so passionate about them is because they are the ultimate in recycling. 

We live in a world where everything is disposable, but every time I go and see a classic car and put it back on the road, I’m recycling. We often overlook that.

People may feel righteous when they buy themselves a hybrid, and say ‘I’m saving the planet’, but crucially, I think the classic car world is doing far more good by recycling cars and keeping them on the roads for generations to come. 

Let’s not forget the world of classic cars has generated billions for economies worldwide. The reason is that when a car is new, its drain on society is clear.

Emissions come out of the exhaust pipe and it causes damage to the roads – among other things – so immediately it’s a burden on the state who, correctly, tax that car. But when does a car stop becoming a burden on the state and instead become a burden on the owner?

I think that switch happens the moment a car is perceived to be a classic. Let me explain. The owner of a classic car needs to fork out to keep it on the road. It’ll be at an age where it needs to be restored, repainted and have new steel put in it. 

I love Escort Cosworths – and even gave one a third wing on Wheeler Dealers

I do believe that classic cars don’t get the accolades they should. They generate loads of money for the economy by keeping tradespeople employed and businesses thriving. 

Let’s not forget – a car doesn’t have to be decades old to be regarded as a classic. 

But essentially a car becomes a classic either when people gather in a car park and stare at it or, as I’ve said, when it becomes a burden on the owner. It’s a classic when it starts to really mean something to the owner – enough for them to care about maintaining, fixing and restoring it. 

I think we’re actually in the future of the classic car world right now. This is the future. Let’s be honest, in the classic car world that we’re in today we’re considering cars right up to the early-2000s.

But there aren’t too many cars which have come through after that which I’d deem as future classics.

Never will there be a bunch of people standing in a car park staring at a Chrysler PT Cruiser and saying, ‘Now that’s a classic.’ It’s just never going to happen.

My enthusiasm for classic cars is absolutely ingrained in me. There is something about a classic car that can emote the soul and trigger the senses.

The other day I jumped into a big, heavy SUV and drove across part of the US. It was numb, dull and boring – even though I was listening to a surround-sound stereo.

There is no feeling like sitting in a 1959 MG A with the little 1.5-litre engine singing away as you drape your arm over the side of the car and engage with the world around you. You can feel the car underneath you, and it’s just joyous. 

I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t buy a classic. Insurance is good, ownership is easy and restoration is simple because there are so many different companies out there to help you. 

You’ve even got places like the Bicester Heritage Centre to aid classic car owners with their vehicles. I think ownership is easier now than it’s ever been, in fact.

Parts supply is much better these days because the internet makes buying and selling simpler, and they’re being manufactured and remanufactured to ensure that cars stay on the road. 

A Volkswagen Beetle is a great first classic used car

I want to get more young people into classic cars.

I get asked, ‘What is the best starter classic?’ quite a lot when I’m out and about. I’d always recommend something that is going to be really easy to work on – Triumph Spitfires or Heralds are cars which can still be bought relatively cheaply and are simple in terms of engineering.

Going for something like that if you’re just starting out in classics makes the whole process easier, and cars like those are well supported by clubs.

The Volkswagen Beetle is another one of my go-to ‘first’ classics, simply because they’re so easy to work on. You’ve also got parts in abundance. 

One thing I’d say to anyone buying an older car for the first time is that you’re getting just that – an old car. There are a few things to remember when getting behind the wheel.

You need to be a bit more cautious. Be wary that the brakes aren’t going to be as good as a modern car’s and the steering won’t be as precise. 

You need to allow yourself a bit more time to drive more sedately. The tyres – if you’re running cross-ply tyres – aren’t going to allow you to corner as well as in a modern car.

If you drive a classic, you have to really drive. 

Modern cars are much easier to drive, with features such as power steering, electric seats and electric mirrors making it more of a doddle to just get in and go. If you drive an older, classic car, it gets you back in touch with real driving. 

It won’t take long for you to find out how it behaves, how it corners and how it brakes. 

It completely resets you, and gives you a better understanding of what cars are. 

I can use my daughter Chloe as an example. She works in the new car industry, is 24 and buys and sells new cars every day.

She’s used to driving a brand-new motor – but she’s been out for drives in some of my classic cars and she can’t wait to get back behind the wheel each and every time. She says some of them are difficult to drive but that the experience is phenomenal. She likes that engaging drive which is far better than a modern car. 

New cars are just numb.

I still don’t get how Volkswagen went from a Mk 1 Golf GTI right the way up to the Mk 6 and designed out the thing that made the car special in the first place. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, because I just don’t understand how it happened. How do you design all that away? Then they got to the Mk 7 Golf and realised that what people actually wanted was a small, fast-engined, lightweight car. 

The Porsche 911 is just too big these days

Porsches now are big, too. I’ve always said that a Porsche is a car you can wash both sides of while standing on one side – but they’ve grown incredibly. The new 992 is massive! It’s gorgeous, but it’s really wide. 

Again, they’re dialling away the thing that makes Porsches special, and as soon as they announce that they’re going to do a lightweight manual version it sells out within seconds! People want that old-school feel which manufacturers seem to be trying to remove. 

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Maybe they should remember that?

For more Mike Brewer columns click here

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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