Why buy when you can hire?

Buying a classic car can be the fulfillment of a dream, the chance to at last drive and own a car that you may have lusted after for many years. For many classic car enthusiasts there is no alternative to owning a classic. But for others the reality of owning and running a classic is not quite the dream they expected. Classic cars are inherently unreliable and expensive to maintain. They also tend to cover very few miles every year; we all lead busy lives and sometimes the run of perfect summer's days to enjoy a classic don't quite materialise as often as we'd like. If you're considering buying a classic or already own one and worry about how much use it gets and the cost involved, there may be another way to live your dream. There are now an increasing number of classic car hire companiesaround the world and in the UK particularly that offer a wide range of classic and vintage sports cars for self drive rental. These companies provide high quality classic rental cars on a daily, weekly or weekend basis. There are hundreds of cars available to hire from companies that provide very good coverage across the UK. The choice of cars includes MGs, Triumphs, Jaguars, Jensens, Alfa Romeos - in fact everything from Morris Minors to Aston Martins. Some cars are available to hire from small businesse with three or four cars, other cars are available from much larger fleets. For example, companies like Great Escape Classic Car Hire have large fleets of over 50 cars available to hire from multiple locations. Hiring rather than buying a classic car means that someone else has the hassle of servicing and maintaining the car. They also have the responsibility for storing the car, insuring it and taxing it. The typical cost to maintain a classic car over 12 months is around £250/month, equivalent to at least £3,000 per year. Although hire costs vary by car - from as little as £100 - you will undoubtedly find that even if you hire a classic car for as many days as you need during the year, the price will be significantly less than the storage, maintenance and purchase cost of a classic car. The investment of £3,000 - which excludes the cost of financing the car purchase - would buy, for example, 15 days in a Jensen Interceptor or 20 days in a MGB. Many owners of such cars do not use their cars that often. Based on typical annual mileages of 1,500-2,000 miles a classic car is used around 10-15 days per year. Hiring a classic car from any one of the many classic car hire companies in the UK can be like having your own virtual garage - on demand whenever you want it. If you like lots of different cars and don't want to be stuck with one, then hiring is a great alternative to buying - you have a massive choice of cars from the 1950s to 1990s available at the click of a mouse. Hiring a classic car also enables you and your partner to explore different parts of the country - without the hassle and uncertainty of having to drive all the way there in a classic car. You can simply choose the location you want to explore, find a local classic car hire provider and collect the keys. And if something goes wrong, you are unlikely to end up with a long journey on the back of a low loader and a ruined break - the classic car hire company will usually repair the car or provide an immediate replacement so that you can continue your journey. Classic cars are an ideal hobby or add an extra dimension to a weekend away. But if you don't fancy the uncertainty and financial risk involved in buying a classic car, hiring may be a safe and low cost alternative.

What to consider when hiring a classic car

Hiring a classic car is an increasingly popular way to add an extra dimension to a vacation or holiday, as a birthday celebration or as low risk alternative to buying a classic car. Many companies now offer a classic car hire service, particularly in the UK, but it is important to take care when selecting your choice of car and supplier as the industry is not widely regulated. The lack of regulation means that prices and what you get for your money plus the condition of the cars on hire can vary considerably from one supplier to another. To ensure you get an enjoyable experience that is value for money it is worth considering some simple questions to ask when you are looking at website and when you are speaking to the classic car hire company that you want to deal with. Very few classic car hire companies are listed on feedback websites such as Trip Advisor so when you are looking around at classic cars to hire it can be difficult to assess how good the supplier is. Often, however, this can be done by looking at their website and asking some simple questions. 1. Does the website project a professional image and suggest a business that is serious about hiring classic cars? 2. Can you find out anything about the company, such as who runs it and how long it has been in business? 3. Where is the company based? Does this suit what you plan to do? 4. What does the company say about the maintenance and servicing of its cars? Classic cars should be subject to a regular maintenance regime to keep them in tip top condition 5. Is the company part of the Historic and Classic-car Hirers Guild, which regulates classic car hire companies?
These are simple questions to ask before selecting a shortlist of classic car hire companies to approach. When you have shortlisted the companies either using their websites or by phone you should consider their hire package, their prices and their typical hire periods.
The hire packages available from classic car rental companies vary considerably, although the prices often do not reflect this. Some classic car hire companies offer a full 24 hours hire for every day you book, others restrict a day to AM to PM hire (typically 9am to 8pm). Some companies offer unlimited mileage while others limit the mileage and charge a mileage fee for all miles over the limit. Great Escape, for example, offers full 24 hours hire and unlimited mileage. Make sure you also check the insurance cover - this should be fully comprehensive with an excess. Most classic car hire companies do not offer a collision damage waiver option, unlike conventional car rental firms. The hire package should also include full breakdown cover - this is worth checking as some classic car hire companies do not offer a full UK breakdown service and hide this information in their small print. This can be very inconvenient when you do suffer a breakdown, which is not unheard of with a classic car.
Once you are satisfied with the hire package on offer then you need to consider the price. The price of the car you want to hire should reflect the level of hire package on offer - when comparing prices, make sure you are comparing identical hire packages in terms of hours behind the wheel and mileage charges. If you want to hire the car for more than one day then some classic car hire companies - but not all - discount additional days. Check carefully that you are getting the best price - some companies automatically discount their 2nd and 3rd days while others only discount the 4th or successive days. When considering the price also look at the weekend and weekday rates. Some classic car hire companies 'discount' their weekday prices - in reality this may actually mean the weekend price is inflated, rather than the weekday price being discounted. For example, we operate a standard price for weekends and weekdays and we discount 2nd and successive days. When you have assessed these areas - which in reality is not complicated and does not take long - then you may want to line up a few questions to put to the companies by phone or email. 1. What condition are the cars in and how are they maintained? 2. What pre-hire checks are undertaken for each car? 3. When is the pick up and return time - is this flexible? 4. What does the insurance cover? What is the excess? 5. Where is the car located exactly? 6. What are ther age limits on the driver? 7. What are the licence conditions for the driver? 8. What is the cancellation policy?
If you are buying a voucher as a gift, check whether the company offers vouchers and ask how they work. Most companies offer vouchers valid for 12 months. If you are buying a voucher, can you specify the start date (we offer this facility based on customer feedback) and can it be extended if it is not used in the standard period?
Classic car hire is a hugely enjoyable experience that increasing numbers of people are taking up. With some careful research and well judged questions you can maximise your experience - and get the best value possible.

Hire a classic Alfa Romeo Spider in Yorkshire

Great Escape Classic Car Hire has added a classic Alfa Romeo Spider convertible to its self drive sports car rental fleet based in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Easy and rewarding to drive, the silver Alfa Spider is the perfect weekend getaway car.
The new Alfa Romeo Spider for hire in Yorkshire is a stylish two seater convertible with good size boot, five speed gearbox and power steering. The car's appearance is based on the iconic Alfa Romeo Duetto of the 1960s, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. It is available to hire by the day, week or weekend from Harrogate. Prices start at £165 for 24 hrs and include full 24 hours use for every day booked, unlimited mileage, insurance for 1 driver and full UK AA breakdown cover. Until Christmas 2010 you can receive 10% off these prices by booking online.
Great Escape Classic Car Hire operates a fleet of 50 classic cars for self drive rental in the UK from locations in Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, East Midlands, Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Dorset. The new Alfa joins Great Escape's existing fleet of three Alfa Romeo Spiders for hire in Suffolk, Worcestershire and East Midlands.
To find out more about the new Alfa Romeo Spider for hire in Yorkshire click here or call 01527 893733
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What to consider when buying a classic car

Buying a classic car is, for many, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Whether buying a prize example of their first car 30 years on or reliving childhood holidays in a fine example of dad's old saloon, classic car ownership is about enjoyment and relaxation. But the sheer enthusiasm with which many people enter into the purchase can sometimes blind them to the harsh realities of owning and running a classic car.
I have bought and sold many cars in my years running the UK's largest classic car hire company. In that time I have learnt the hard way how to buy classic cars well. I bought my first classic car in 1993, a rare Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti in black. It was my dream car, having cycled past an identical example every day while at school. I did my research, buying copies of all available Buyers' Guides and I knew exactly what to look for and what to avoid. Unfortunately, what none of these guides told me was the cardinal rule - buy with your head not your heart. I particularly wanted a black Alfasud and when I clapped eyes on the car this was the over-riding thought in my head. It blinded me to the reality of the car's obvious flaws, including suspect electrics and typically Alfa-esque rust holes. Floating on a wave of dream fulfillment I convinced myself that these were idle matters and coughed up the asking price to a probably flabbergasted owner.
When you go to buy a classic car bear in mind two simple rules. Firstly, it is not the only example of its kind in the world. Regardless of how closely its specification matches your desires, there will be another one out there. Secondly, picture the asking price as money in your hand - this will help you to appreciate the value of the purchase. Very often cars are bought and then paid for later, which gives plenty of time for circumspection! I strongly recommend that anyone buying a classic car takes along a friend who can be relied upon to be objective - they can reign you back when your enthusiasm takes ov er.
When I bought the Alfasud I managed to bring it back to a respectable standard, but it cost me to do so. That taught me another rule of car buying - objectively assess the cost of repairing the car before you buy it. Know the market value of any car you plan to buy - what is it worth in average condition and what is it worth in excellent condition? Objectively assess the value of repairing the car's faults by researching the cost of trim, bodywork, mechanical work and so on. Do not under-estimate the cost of apparently minor work - scuffs and scrapes on the paintwork can cost hundreds of pounds to put right. If a seller says something is an 'easy fix' you have to wonder why they haven't done it themselves.
When you go to view a classic car do your research first. Check the buying guides. Visit web forums and ask questions that are not immediately answered by your research - generally forum contributors are very happy to help. Talk to the experts - marque experts who repair cars on a daily basis are often very happy to offer advice because you may become a customer. Talk to people who own similar cars - a good place to start is with classic car hire companies who run classic cars over several thousand miles every year. I often get asked by would-be owners about the cars I run and I am always very happy to offer advice based on living with classic cars day in and day out. Before you view the car ring the owner first and run through a checklist of questions - this will save you a wasted journey.
Besides the actual car itself, there are two other areas to pay particular attention to when you view a car. Firstly, the owner - the old adage about buying a used car from a man like this obviously applies. If the owner is genuine, the chances are that the car is too. And of course, the reverse is true too. Secondly, have a look at the paperwork thoroughly - check that the contents back up the description of the car in the advertisement and from the owner. The paperwork should be well presented rather than a jumble of paperwork that is difficult to decipher - if the owner can't be bothered to organise this detail, what else has he skimped on?
Your test should include full inspection inside and out and underneath, ideally using a ramp (local garages are often happy to arrange this - the seller should be able to sort this out).
On the test drive you should start the car from cold - insist before arrival that the seller allows you to do this - and you should drive at least 5-10 miles at the wheel. Check for unusual noises on start up - particularly knocking - and monitor the dials throughout the test. Check that the oil pressure and water temperature perform as expected. Check the brakes - do an emergency stop. Rev the engine through the gears and test rapid gear changing. Drive the car quickly around a corner to test the suspension and steering. Test all of the switches, particularly the heating - failed heaters can be a costly and very inconvenient expense.
if you like the car you're looking at, buy yourself some thinking time. Don't be railroaded into a quick decision by the vendor. Often the seller will genuinely have a lot of interest in the car - if so, depending on how you feel you should ask for either overnight or at least a few hours to think about it. if you are serious you could offer a small deposit as a demonstration of good faith. It is better to lose £100 than several thousand through a rushed decision. I would recommend viewing the car at least twice in daylight.
This is inevitably not an exhaustive assessment of what to consider when buying a classic car but if you follow these simple rules you will stand a much better chance of buying the right car for you. Buy with your head not your heart and buy with a closed wallet. Then classic car ownership will be a hugely rewarding experience rather than a financial millstone.

What happened to our motor industry?

Earlier this week here at Great Escape Classic Car Hire we spent a day at Studley Castle in Warwickshire to attend the AGM of the Historic & Classic-car Hirers Guild (HCHG). Afficionados of the British motor industry will know that Studley Castle was British Leyland's conference and management training centre from the 1960s to 2005. This got us thinking about our illustrious indigenous car industry, particularly as I'm currently reading Back from the Brink, Michael Edwardes' riveting story of his time at British Leyland.
This book should be proscribed reading for anyone in the motor industry. I got chatting by email to a friend of mine who has also read this excellent book. He produced the following succinct and - I think - very accurate assessment of what Edwardes did right and, perhaps only hindsight can we say this, wrong. Here is it, thanks Anthony Griffiths.
Edwards wins you over with his backs-to-the-wall portrayal of devotion to an impossible job. It got me questioning my leftwing beliefs, especially over the Red Robbo saga, particularly as any right-wing South African suspicions I may have harboured were allayed by his increasing dislike of Thatcher.
And to a certain extent, his strategy was correct. Confront unions, update working practices and decentralise management. Revitalise sales to stabilise BL, and convince government to finance future investment (more brinkmanship!). Protect the 'meat & drink' of the company, and sell off or close down the rest. Thus Austin Morris is saved, Jaguar and Land-Rover sold, and MG and Triumph (Acclaim excepted) wound down. His strategy works very well up to the early '90s, by which time Rover's revised Metro, 200/400, 600 and revised 800 are set to serve the company well for the forseeable.
However, what Edwards failed to predict (and perhaps could never have predicted), was that to survive beyond the next Millennium, BL would have to be big and global (eg. Ford) or small and specialist (eg. Morgan). With the Austin and Morris names irrecoverably damaged, the whole range was rebranded Rover. But rather than enhance the former Austin-Morris range, this tactic diluted Rover. Then BL was caught in the middle: a brand too weak to expand, yet too common to be specialist. It was a British firm with insufficient overseas presence to court one of the big players, yet with a history of volume production not seen as a traditional cottage industry.
With the benefit of hindsight, Edwards was right to preserve Jaguar and Land Rover, should have kept the stronger brands of MG and Triumph, but ditched Austin and Morris. I think the company might have survived as a selection of small-scale traditional British firms. Alex Moulton's 2000 bid to take over and rebrand Rover as The MG Car Company (which I hated at the time but now see as commercially sound) tends to support this.
But thirty years ago, although Austin and Morris reputations were dead in the water, their factories were still considered key to national prosperity. Thus many jobs and vulnerable Midlands Parliamentary seats lay in the balance. To close the factories was unthinkable. The company was therefore propped up, and the inevitable decline delayed as long as possible.
The rest is history. Honda was called upon for help, which it did, but cannily creamed off the royalties. Sick of bailing out BL, the Tory Government gratefully passed Rover to British Aerospace. Rather than investing in new models, British Aerospace cannily sold at profit to BMW. BMW underestimated the investment required (abandoning the 600 due to royalties now payable to Honda), and took the company into ill-advised retrofest. With the 'English Patient' doomed, Pheonix were tasked with providing life-support, but in the end supported their own lives and the company died.
Unfortunately, the most successful aspect of this saga, is that the UK managed to kill its enormous car industry without blame being attributable to any one individual!

The British Leyland saga is fascinating and sad. Here in Worcestershire we're surrounded by plenty of businesses either run by ex-BL employees or former suppliers to 'the Austin'. We are consistently impressed by the knowledge and sheer commitment of individuals - whatever history may suggest, this wasn't a company manned by a majority of disinterested employees. We've added several British Leyland cars to our fleet including two Jaguar XJ6 cars for hire and the UK's largest fleet of MGBs.

Make your great escape in the East Midlands

Great Escape Classic Car Hire has opened its sixth UK site in the East Midlands to serve customers who want to getaway to Derbyshire, the Peak District and the Lincolnshire Fens. The new site, between the A1 and M1 near north east of Nottingham, will be hiring cars from February 2011 but customers can buy gift vouchers covering the new fleet now.
The new Great Escape fleet in the East Midlands initially includes a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit and Alfa Romeo Spider. The full fleet will be announced during November 2010 and will include classic convertibles, saloons and coupes from the 1960s to 1990s.
The new site operates to Great Escape's established hiring procedures, which ensure high standards of vehicle safety and presentation. It also conforms to the company's commitment to transparent hire pricing so that every hire includes 24 hours use for every day booked, unlimited mileage, insurance for 1 driver and full AA breakdown cover. So the price you see is the full price you pay with no hidden extras.
"The East Midlands is a great area for starting a classic car break," explains Graham Eason of Great Escape. "From our base near the A1 and M1 you can be in the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District in less than 45 minutes or head towards the Lincolnshire Fens and the beautiful North Norfolk coast. With our unlimited mileage packages there are no restrictions on what you do so you can enjoy the car to the full.
The new East Midlands branch will also support Great Escape's weekend break and driving experiences packages, sold through its sister company The Getaway Driver. The Getaway Driver enables customers to buy a complete weekend package with hotels, car and driving routes individually tailored to their requirements and budget.
For more information on the new East Midlands fleet click here or call 01527 893733.

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We've got another Alfa - what to look for when buying one

There's just something about Alfa Romeos. When I founded Great Escape an Alfa Romeo Spider was one of the original two cars on the fleet - it's still on the fleet and despite covering over 50,000 kms in four years it has never broken down and needed very little maintenance work. That's quite different from the usual Alfa reputation for rust and dodgy electrics. Maybe it's because this particular Alfa was assembled by Pininfarina...

So it made sense to add a second Alfa Spider when we expanded into Suffolk - that one is a 1989 Series 3, a carburettor version with the arguably sweeter 1600cc twin cam engine. Many Alfisti poo-poo the Series 3 Alfa because of its 'aerodynamic' restyling but these are really great cars - inexpensive, reliable and, in the right colour like our Medio Blue example, I think they look great. Particularly riding on nice Cromodora alloys.

Our latest addition is another Series 4 Alfa Romeo Spider in metallic burgundy. It's identical to our original Alfa Romeo Spider but is a slightly earlier Series 4 and features the allegedly superior Bell and Colvill right hand drive conversion. What makes the Series 4 so great is the creature comforts - power steering and electric windows.

The Series 4 Alfa Romeo Spider is the easiest of the 1966 to 1993 105 Series Alfa Romeo Spiders to live with because of these relatively modern features. It is also fully galvanised, which means the rust that ravages the early Duetto, Kamm Tail and Series 3 cars tends to be held at bay for longer. That doesn't mean that these cars don't rust - the spare wheel well, rear arches, headlamp surrounds, windscreen scuttle and front valance all rot out. The interiors are also notoriously weak wearing and replacement parts, although quite easily obtained, tend to be expensive and only available new or refurbished. Mechanically the Alfa Romeo Spider is very reliable, being fitted with fuel injection and engine management systems. The twin cam engine is legendary and long lasting so parts are easily available and generally it is a hard wearing engine. However, it does not particularly sustain high mileages, particularly if a very strict servicing regime has not been maintained using high quality oils (Alfa recommends Selenia). The usually sweet five speed gearbox has generally weak synchromesh, particularly on second - this is often caused by swift changes from cold before the fluid in the box has had time to warm up properly. Engine and gearbox rebuilds are not particularly expensive but can render a generally cheap classic car scrap.

Our original 1992 Series 4 Alfa Romeo has completed 50,000 kms in 5 years without major incident. The car has never broken down on hire and has only suffered minor and routine maintenance issues including clutch and starter motor. Mainly this is due to regular servicing and careful cleaning before and after every hire - we jet wash underneath and around every wheelarch before the car is parked up and we Carcoon it over winter. When we purchased the car we also invested in wax injection to prevent rust - this cost just £100 (by the company that wax injects all Morgans) and has definitely helped the car remain rust free.

Prices for Alfa Romeo Spiders are a mixed bag. The classic car market has finally recognised the original 'boat tail' Alfa Romeo Duetto as a bonafide classic and prices have risen considerably in the last three years - it is difficult to buy one for less than £10,000 today. Series 2 Kamm Tail Spiders are the next most desirable but prices still float around the £7-8,000 mark for a reasonable car - there are a lot about and condition is everything. And often very hard to judge on these cars because the shell contains so many hidden rust spots. The Series 3 car is the least loved, mainly due to its spoilers (derived from Alfa's 'aerodynamica' styling project in the 1980s). Although they share the rust problems of the mechanically and bodily identical Series 2 Kamm Tail cars (in fact a retro-conversion is available in Germany for them), they are generally much better built and significantly cheaper. As a low cost way into Alfa Spider ownership (prices start at around £3,000 for a reasonable car), the Series 3 is recommended if the looks don't matter to you (and they have mellowed with age - we quite like them at Great Escape) - it is as fun to drive and the 1600cc, often overlooked, is sweet and peppy.

If your budget won't stretch to the Duetto we think the Series 4 is the best of the rest. It is useable as a daily driver in the way that neither the Series 2 or 3 are due to rust and lack of power steering and, we think, it looks great. The Pininfarina makeover may have introduced plastic bumpers but it is a remarkable piece of styling that managed to turn a 30 year old design into something classic but contemporary.

The Alfa Romeo Spider really is the perfect getaway car. So now we have three - one in the East Midlands, one in Suffolk and one in the Cotswolds. For advice on buying a Spider call Graham on 01527 893733 or if you want to discuss hiring the car, just let us know as well.