Talking Motors: Chasing classic cars can be very dangerous

MG Midgets, like the one my dad used to own
MG Midgets, like the one my dad used to own

A pastime of mine since cars become important has been to check-up on the status of old ones online.

Details are limited, but with a registration number you can find out the basic details of a car online, such as if it’s still taxed and MOT-ed, hence you can get a good idea whether or not someone is still enjoying (or enduring) a car once special to you.

It’s a bit of a dangerous way to occupy time, in a different way to looking at cars for sale

It’s a bit of a dangerous way to occupy time though, in a different way to spending evenings looking at cars for sale online, (I know, I don’t know how I keep up with such a crazy lifestyle either).

My grandad’s old Escort that a man bought to restore in the late ‘90s is on a SORN, a sign it’s not – or at least shouldn’t be – on the road but maybe still alive, resting in a garage somewhere.

The Montego that ferried me to rugby matches in far flung Sunday-morning destinations such as Saddleworth when I was a kid – untaxed, unMOT-ed, presumed dead.

My dad’s old MG Midget. Well, we thought it was alive.

Since the first time I checked on the DVLA website, when I saw the car was both taxed and MOT-ed, I’ve checked back on a yearly basis to make sure it’s still there, that whoever owns it now is keeping it on the road and hopefully looking after it. Then that changed this year.

While still taxed, the car hasn’t had its MOT for a while now, prompting me to engage in a state of fear.

It’s unlikely the car has fallen into a state of irretrievable disrepair, if that were the case it would be reasonable to assume the owner wouldn’t have taxed it for 12 months right before the MOT was due, which makes theory number two more plausible.

It might be for sale. This is dodgy ground for me. It’s a little bit like knowing your bank balance is going to cause panic but checking anyway, it’s something you should never, ever do.

I’ve started my search.

But this will lead to anguish whichever way it turns out. If I find the car for sale, I will want to buy it there and then. I don’t have the money. Do I get into debt or go through the heartache of selling a car (I hate selling cars) to raise the money?

Will it be in a sorry state, or perhaps worse, will it be in such good condition it no longer resembles to rough-round-the-edges but solid car my dad owned?

Then there’s the other outcome – and it’s unthinkable. It would make me feel the same way my dad felt when he punched in the details for his first MGB and found someone had changed the colour (sacrilege).

It might have bitten the dust. And it would be hard to find out for sure – you need a very good reason to get a car keeper’s details from the DVLA, like wanting to issue a parking fine – wanting to enquire on a car’s health isn’t good enough reason.

So where to we go from here?

I’ll probably continue my search for a while, and do the occasional check-up to see if the Midget has since had its MOT, and until then, wrestle with the thought of whether I want to find it or not.

Love for King James started with turn of the page

In the sports section of this website you’ll find a feature about the anniversary of James Hunt’s 1976 Formula One world title win.

It’s an area of specific interest, not quite a Mastermind subject, but enough for me to collect magazine articles and the odd model car (okay, it’s a borderline obsession).

And it’s a bit strange to have a hero, I would go that far, who I never saw race a car,

There are sporting heroes who I’ve pinned my hopes to for a variety of reasons, mainly rugby league players, and the odd driver, from when I was growing-up (it’s here I had to confess I mainly saw Ayrton Senna as a rival to Nigel Mansell and didn’t appreciate his driving ability until I was older).

So why James? Why avidly read the books, watch the YouTube videos and search out the magazine articles?

It started with a book.

My dad read a lot – a freakish amount, in fact, which never ceased to amaze me. You could lend him a book before you’d got round to reading it because you’d have it back by the time the weekend was up.

Him lending me books was never a special occasion, I regularly left my parents’ house with a passenger footwell loaded-up with months’ worth of reading material, and when he handed over Gerald Donaldson’s biography of the 1976 Formula One champion, it went on the pile with the others.

Then I turned the page.

Something about the story of one of my dad’s heroes grabbed my interest. My dad grew-up idolising the gentlemen of Formula One – Graham Hill, Jim Clark – but Hunt’s story was for the ‘70s. He, for entirely different reasons, held a place on as high a pedestal as Hill and Clark to my dad.

And it’s easy to see why. Granted, ‘Shunt’ didn’t endear himself to everyone, and it’s hard to make a case for him being a gentleman.

But the barefoot, smoking playboy was something else – and from the romance of his days at Hesketh to winning the championship with McLaren, there was always a headline.

The 40th anniversary of James’ sole title win falls this coming Monday, and there will be lots of remembering from fans who were there, and that will breed discussion and debate as to where his place on the top table of drivers is.

And it’s a shame we don’t know what the James Hunt of today would make of it.

The pace of his life caught up with him in 1993 – he died of a heart attack at the age of 45 when, unfairly, he had cleaned-up his lifestyle.