Licence to ill

The past 30 years of my life, I now realise, have been building up to this moment. The chance, that is, to adopt the Beastie Boys' seminal 1986 album as a headline. 
I have no idea what getting ill or indeed being licenced to do so actually means, but it feels like an oddly appropriate way to describe the DVLA's decision to scrap the paper counterpart licence. 
From June 8th the paper part of the driving licence will no longer be legally valid. The only part you'll need is the card. This, like the plans for a rolling MOT  exemption on cars over 40 years old, is part of the Government's initiative to cut red tape. 
If you have an old paper licence - with no card - you don't have to do anything. If you have the later two-part version then the DVLA wants you to throw away the paper part after June 8th, in a sort of bureaucratic bra-burning statement of freedom. 
My experience running Great Escape's classic car hire business suggests that quite a lot of people don't realise that they actually have a paper licence counterpart. They often lose it or throw it away. So getting shot of this apparently redundant piece of bureaucracy in the interests of saving tax revenues is surely to be applauded. 
In the sense that the current system is silly, then yes. We only have card licences     in order to harmonise with the rest of the EU. As it doesn't cater for our points system and the Government didn't coincide its introduction with an investment in technology to enable police, hire companies et al to read any data from it, it's pretty limited in what it actually does and says. Possibly pointless, except maybe as a 10 yearly reminder that you're getting older. 
For the police and car hire companies, the only part of the licence that really matters is the paper bit: this shows what points and disqualifications the driver has accumulated. 

The card and paper system clearly has its flaws. But, like the MOT exemption, is ditching the paper part really a good idea? The alternative provided by the DVLA is an online and phone check system: you can print a pdf of your licence history or generate a code, valid for 72 hrs, that hire companies can use. How they do that nobody is quite clear.
If you are hiring a car abroad and if you do remember to do this before you leave then you better be hiring the car within 3 days of departing. If not, you'll have to generate another code. Online. 
The problem doesn't stop there. If you hire out cars, as we do, you'll need to access the dvla site, enter the code and check the details. How this works hasn't been explained yet. This is easier to explain than it is to do. The hirer has to spend time generating the code and we, within 3 days, need to spend time checking it. Chances are we won't manage to do this within three days, so we'll have to ask the customer to generate another one. Which is annoying for them. In the event of an accident my insurer will want proof that we did the check, which means printing the details out. Which isn't greener and isn't less 'red tape' than storing a licence scan. 
Like the MOT exemption it feels to me as if the Government has identified a genuine problem, but then opted for a solution wherein all goals fall flat before that of cost reduction and revenue. The rest of the world manages to operate an effective, simple, paperless licence and checking system that harnesses technology to solve the licence penalty and checks conundrum. Why we can't do the same is beyond my limited intelligence. 
Abolishing the paper licence ignores the role this document plays in hiring a car worldwide. It creates bureaucracy and red tape for small businesses such as mine. 
We are upgrading our systems to cater for this change: I anticipate it will cost me around £500/month in equipment and staff time to operate under the new system. That's money and time to simply stand still and not spent doing more useful things. 
I welcome improvement. I'm glad somebody looked at the paper and card licence conundrum. I'm not impressed by the Heath Robinson solution they came up with.
To find out more visit the DVLA website or call me on 01527 893733.


What's in a name?

As a job I used to come up with stupid names for things. Mainly plastic windows and conservatories but also ephemeral things like 'business concepts.' My best idea was for a new window locking device for a company called Profile 22. It was called Catch 22. Well, it would have been if anyone involved in the process had shared my sense of humour. It was fun, in the same way that pondering your own insignificance upon this mighty star can be described as fun.
So, given all that, it's perhaps odd that it's taken me ages, actually years, to come up with a name for our driving days. Our '5 cars, 1 great day' packages. They're very popular, which makes calling them something even more obvious a problem. To date we've called the driving days, because they are, or rallies, which sounds to me at least a bit like I should be stood at the front shouting loudly in German. I steered clear of Driving Tours because it sounds like we run 1930s-themed picnic trips for vintage car enthusiasts. Neither driving days or rallies  name really differentiate the day from our other activities, particularly our Track Days (which are also, strictly speaking, driving days). And they don't exactly nail the enthusiasm we put into them and the fun that our customers tell us they get out of them.  
And then the curse of 2am struck one night. I had a vision, a message, an epiphany. Well, maybe. Actually I came up with the most obvious name for our driving days/rallies imaginable. One that, had I been a spin-making marketeer of any significance, should have hit me like a lightning bolt years ago.
Road Trips. That's what they are so that's what they're called. 

A road trip is evocative. It's exactly what we do and it's exactly what many of us dream of doing but never actually get time to do. Road Trips require great cars (tick), great roads (tick), good company (err, hopefully tick) and a drive that has no purpose except the drive itself (tick). Road trips are movies, they're escape, they're freedom. They're fun. This is exactly what we try to achieve - and, I hope, judging by the reviews, it's something we honestly achieve. 
Every Great Escape road trip follows the same basic format: you drive five cars over a 100+ mile route incorporating some of our favourite roads across Wales, Worcestershire, Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean. Breakfast, refreshments and lunch are provided. Come along on your own or bring your partner too. We run road trips every couple of weeks during the spring, summer and autumn. Each one follows a different route with different cars, so whatever your interest in cars and countryside there is hopefully a trip for you. The price is £249 for a driver and £99 for a passenger, with just two people per car. There are no hidden costs: fuel, insurance and food are all included. 
To find out more about our Road Trips visit or call 01527 893733


We've gone classic friendly

I spend my life around classic cars. Sometimes being friendly to them is frankly the last thing on my mind. Burning them often is.
So joining a scheme called Classic Friendly may seem like an odd thing to do. Except, of course, the yang to my fire-obsessed ying is that I love old cars, no matter how recalcitrant and irritating they can be. Classic Friendly, which aims to promote and advocate high standards in classic car maintenance, therefore makes a lot of sense. Particularly if, like me, you think the plans to exempt more old cars from the annual MOT test are silly. 

The MOT Exemption 

I've written recently about the MOT exemption. My argument isn't that the MOT makes cars safe or that it is an ideal system for old cars. It doesn't and isn't. Regular maintenance and improvement does that. 
My view is that good or bad the MOT provides an independent annual check, a Stop & Think Moment, that every car and every owner needs. It's comprehensive, rigorous, independent and black and white. It contains tests that cannot be done in a home garage or workshop. 
Removing the test removes the Stop & Think Moment, the hurdle between fixing and not fixing. 
I understand the Federation's view that an exemption is the most pragmatic solution. That it stops old cars being removed from the road. My problem is that an exemption is only the start of the solution. Unless something or someone comes along with a package of education and assessment that enables all owners to understand the condition of their cars then exemption can only mean a deterioration in vehicle standards. Exemption has made a minimum standard of roadworthiness optional for anyone willing to take the risk. It should be mandatory.  

Maintaining Old Cars 

It is unsustainable to argue that old car owners can be trusted to maintain their cars well. Classic car fans love their cars and are generally responsible. That is not the issue. My own experience hiring cars for TV and film work is that even beloved cars can be dangerously unroadworthy. 
Neither the Federation or the Government has come up with any proposals ot plans to educate owners and give them the knowledge and skills to assess their cars. 
Which brings me back to Classic Friendly. Fuzz Townsend, who runs the scheme with his partner Lee Reynolds, is at pains to explain that Classic Friendly is not a test or a replacement for the MOT. But what it is is an attempt to create a comprehensive, independent procedure for assessing the condition of old cars. It's a pre-MOT if you like. We've joined the scheme because we want a standard procedure for checking cars, that's specifically developed for old cars. Classic Friendly standardises assessments across all members, so that wherever you go within the network you get the same, transparent level of checks. In the absence of anything like it, that has to be good for the industry. 
You might argue that this idea should have come from one of the classic car sector's representative bodies. Since it hasn't I think we should be relieved that someone has taken the initiative. 


We still put our cars through a MOT, because Classic Friendly doesn't replace it. But as the MOT evolves away from old cars it gives us a set of checks specific to old cars. It gives our customers evidence that their car has been comprehensively checked and assessed, which provides a useful way to check up on the garage. 
We provide a free Classic Friendly assessment for all cars that go through our workshop. Between now and the end of May we're offering the same test for any owner, irrespective of whether you decide to go ahead with work. To find out more visit or call 01527 893733


Putting the Rrrroar in Jaguar

For someone who has owned quite a lot of Jaguars, I'm not really a Jag man. In fact, when I set up Great Escape Cars one of my goals was not to hire out Jaguars - because everyone else did.
All of which makes owning various models from the 60s to 90s seem as odd to me as it may to you. It's a strange state of affairs because as an Alfa and Saab fan, Jaguars are sort of at the other end of the spectrum. Where the Italians and Swedes make cars for being different in, Jaguar makes cars for being successful and conventional in. Or so the acres of wood, leather and tradition suggest. 

Except not really. As I've discovered on my Jaguar owning odyssey, things are not quite what they seem. I've discovered what everyone else appears to have known already: Jaguar is possibly the best classic car marque in the world. Like ever. Because whether you like Jags or loathe them, it's hard to dispute the fact that no other car maker has created as many iconic models as Browns Lane. E Type, XK, XJ, Mk2, all 24 carrat classics. 
My immersion in Jaguars has exploded my pipe and slippers, boardrooms and cigars expectations. Sure, the saloons of the 70s and 80s were firm executive favourites, but like off-duty CEOs, some of them have a very wild side. 
I've now owned two Jaguar XJRs and they are resoundingly and comprehensively bonkers. They may look sobre-suited and conventional but beneath the endlessly rehashed Jaguar shape they're sporting a prize-fighter's physique.  This, of course, won't surprise anyone who grew up with Jaguars in the 1960s, back when they were svelte, stylish and cutting edge. Jaguar, with the Mk2, made the BMW M5 before BMW had even counted to M on its stubby little fingers. 
I didn't grow up with those Jags. I grew up with the British Leyland heritage schtick, which was a clever marketing response to a lack of new products. 
When Jaguar did eventually get around to launching some new products, well, newish, the heritage vibe had worked so well that its customers only wanted more of the same. Hence the XJ40, X300, X308 and X350 all look like reheated XJs and the XKs of the 90s and 00s look a bit like E Types. If you squint. 
The recycling history as heritage design trip went down well with Jaguar's traditional customer base and Americans, particularly the ones who imagine our fair isle as all Tudor timber and windswept heathland vistas. It went down less well with, well, pretty much everyone else. Including me. And, one has to assume, most of Jaguar's design department, which by 1994 largely consisted of a Xerox machine. That may explain Jaguar's left field exploits like the XJ220 and XJR, which were apparently conjured up on the sly. These, plus the XJS-replacing Jaguar that actually became the DB7, showed that the embers of that 60s spirit still burnt somewhere within Browns Lane. 
I'm quite glad about that because recycling old designs eventually leads to a cul de sac called Bankruptcy. Jaguar gave us the lardy Lincoln-based S-Type, the Mondeo-based X-Type, the XJS-based XK and the excellent but throwback-designed aluminium XJ. The old skool Jag enthusiasts love these because they look, apparently, like proper Jaguars. They've got, ahem, wood. They've got big lazy engines. 
At the risk of upsetting many, many people, I don't think these Jaguars that seemingly look like Jaguars are actually proper Jaguars. Jaguar's heyday was in the 60s when looking forward was where it was at. Jaguars were fast, stylish, modern. They were aerodynamic and cutting edge.  They were for the rackish gentleman on a dastardly errand involving loot or loose women. 
Jaguar's immersion in heritage had nothing to do with all that.  Only the R versions of these retro-infused designs really get to the nub of what Jaguar was and should be. My XJRs may have taken a very literal approach to what a Jag should look kike, but they certainly went like Jags of old. My first, a X300 XJR - if you're confused by the nomenclature, my apologies, I am mostly too - had a supercharged straight six 4 litre with 320 bhp. In a straight line it was ferocious. In corners it was frightening. It tramlined everywhere more than Manchester's finest. It had five fuse boxes scattered around the car and quite a lot of things didn't work on a regular basis, but not always the same things. 
I can't say that it was a good car. Rejigging the original 1960s XJ architecture meant the front seats were cramped and dashboard narrow and close. In 17 inch rims and with sports suspension it lost all vestage of the original XJ's superlative ride. Handling? No, there was none of that. But it was memorable: nothing accelerated like it, including an unlucky Porsche 911 challenger near Cirencester. 
So getting another XJR wasn't top of my list. We've had a XKR on the fleet for a while, which I like for its turn of speed, less so for its golf n gin image. 
But our classic hire fleet isn't about my petty whims and bias. The popularity of the XKR meant a XJR saloon made sense. Like most of the rest of the male car-loving population I use ebay to watch cars I have no intention of buying and then, quite often, discover I've bought. So it was with a rather unhappy and unloved 1998 XJR X308 I spotted in Oldbury. Which, apparently judging by the number for sale, is where old XJRs go to die. 
I went to see it and obviously bought it. With a dodgy vendor, 160,000 miles, a gearbox fault and a serious rust problem it wasn't exactly an ideal buy. But it was cheap. We sorted the rust and faults in the workshop, MOT'd it and resprayed it and now, quite frankly, it looks flippin' amazing. 
And it goes like it looks. My old straight six XJR may have been fundamentally flawed but this V8 is superb. It's what a classic Jag should be: good looking, fast, spacious, luxurious and good to drive. It actuallu feels special, like a proper Jag. Sure, it's essentially another 60s XJ reboot with a narrow front cabin, annoyingly placed handbrake and a propensity to fall apart, but somehow all of these things are less bad and less irritating than with the earlier car. 
I quite like the way the XJR looks, although I'm still not mad on the retro heritage thing. That aside, this feels like a Jag. It feels like the stepping stone to the current crop of Jaguars that, I feel, are the true heirs to the 60s Jag throne. Jaguars should be effortless fast, big and comfortable and our new XJR is all those things. 
You can sample a bit of supercharged saloon madness for £260 for a weekend. Call 01527 893733 or visit for more details.