Money pit or money maker?

One thing is for sure, if you own a classic Jaguar you’re not in it for the money. Joy comes at a price. Like all classic motors, keeping a Jaguar reliable and in good condition takes cash, sometimes lots of it. This can lead to all sorts of complications – tension, marital strive, scuffles with bank managers, or even worse.
There are many different ways to solve the problem. Lock it away in a darkened garage and forget about it. Sell it. Give it away. On a more practical note, some owners have thought about hiring their classic cars out. There is a buoyant market for self drive classic car hire in the UK, which can provide a useful income to justify owning a classic pride and joy. It also carries much less risk than many owners imagine. For enthusiasts looking for a sound investment, buying a classic car for hire can provide better returns (and more enjoyment) than a savings account.
The trouble is, to set yourself up to hire classic cars is an expensive business – you need a website, specialist insurance, card processing equipment and there are various legal requirements. Typically the break even point is six good hire cars, which requires a typical investment in vehicles of £80,000. It is all too easy to watch profitable car hire revenue dribble back into the overheads of running a small business. And as many people have found, running a classic car hire business may be a dream job but it requires a very broad range of skills, in particular marketing capability.
I started Great Escape Classic Car Hire in 2006 motivated by most of these factors. I began with an Alfa Romeo Spider and a Jensen Interceptor but quickly realised I had a problem. I had the skills to get the phone ringing, but not the capital to build the business with extra cars in order to make it sustainable. That’s when I received two phone calls that transformed the business. Two classic car owners approached me to hire their cars for them. Both had cars but a lack of space and a dilemma – their partners were keen for them to sell, but they couldn’t bear to part with them.
The success of this early foray into leasing in cars from owners – both owners are still involved with the business – led to me developing a range of packages for classic car owners seeking to hire out their cars. Today Great Escape is the UK’s largest classic car hire company with a fleet of nearly 60 classic cars for hire. Over half of those cars are hired on behalf of owners. This includes the largest range of classic Jaguars for hire in the world.
Our experience working with classic car owners for nearly six years has given us an insight into what works best for both parties. So we now offer owners two different ways to hire out their cars. Our Owners Package is aimed at enthusiasts who want to hire their car from one of our existing sites. This arrangement suits owners who lack storage, have bought a car purely as an investment or want an entirely hands-off approach to the hire process.
For owners who want to be more involved, we have developed an Operators Package. This arrangement effectively sets the owner up as a new Great Escape Classic Car Hire location, offering cars from their own home or a local storage unit. Operators are separate businesses linked to Great Escape like a franchise, but without the costs and cumbersome formalities of a franchise arrangement. Operators also have the opportunity to grow their hire fleet through cars that Great Escape sources from other owners who join us under an Owners Package arrangement. This option is popular with owners who are looking for a small retirement income or an additional income stream. If you enjoy meeting customers, then it is also a very rewarding experience.
The returns an owner can expect vary depending on which route they choose. Under the Owners Package we offer two remuneration options, which are dependent on the level of risk the owner wants to take. Our most popular package is a percentage payment, with the owner paying for the maintenance of the car. Alternatively, we can pay a fixed leasing fee with Great Escape then picking up all costs incurred during the hire and maintenance of the car. The Operators Package is more straightforward, with the owner being remunerated for the hire of the car and their work to prepare, handover and maintain the car.
The returns you can expect from hiring a classic car inevitably vary greatly. We know which cars work and don’t work on hire, and the ones that cost a lot to keep reliable and roadworthy. The different returns between a good hire car and an average one are considerable – a good hirer will return two or three times the rate of a savings account and will generally appreciate. When you are thinking about which car to hire it is important to decide whether you want to secure a good return on your investment or simply cover the cost of owning and enjoying a beloved classic. This decision affects your choice of car for hire and will enable you to properly assess the benefits you receive.
Great Escape Classic Car Hire does give you a head start with ensuring a good return. We have become the UK’s largest classic car hire company through successful marketing. Our website, http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk/ attracts over 20,000 unique visitors every month and is ranked at the top of page one on Google for all key search terms. Consequently, we consistently achieve hire rates per car that are well above the norm for classic car hire companies. Our relationships with event and experience companies, our advertising and our various unique initiatives to boost rental days means that when you put your car with Great Escape you are giving it a very good chance of success.
We have an established set of procedures and systems for managing hires through our network of locations. We use the car hire industry’s leading booking system to process all hires, whether online or by phone. This means that we effectively manage all hires for you and keep life simple, whether you are working with as an Owner or Operator.
Jaguars are consistently amongst the most popular – and profitable – cars for hire. Inevitably E Types and Mk2s top the list, but the XJS and XK8s – particularly the XKR – are growing in popularity. Other Browns Lane models such as the Daimler V8 250 and XJ6 are showing signs of becoming future classic hire cars.
When thinking about hiring out your classic car there are a number of issues to consider. From our perspective, the car must be presentable, reliable (which means it is receiving regular use) and largely standard. Ideally we are seeking cars in popular colours such as red, green, blue, white or silver.
As an owner you need to be mindful of the risks. The risk of loss or damage inevitably increases when you hire your car to someone else. However, in five years of hiring out cars for thousands of hire days I have only suffered one serious accident, which was resolved through our insurer. Our checks and controls ensure that we can always trace every hirer and we do not hire to boy racers. The relatively high price of classic car hire, plus a hefty insurance excess, tends to mean that customers are actually more careful than many owners are with their own cars. Inevitably, wear and tear commensurate with increased usage is unavoidable – stone chips and some car park damage are the most likely problems.
We have continuously refined our packages for classic car owners to ensure that they work in everyone’s best interests. And as a classic car owner myself I am acutely aware of the responsibility we have when we hire your car, whether you work with us as an owner or operator.
If you would like to avoid marital strife and find out more about hiring your classic car with Great Escape, including a personalised analysis of the costs and income, call or email me for an informal chat on 01527 893733 or graham@greatescapecars.co.uk.

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