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Is London the canary in the coal mine for American collector car owners?

Hagerty UK reports on the expensive impact of expanding Ultra Low Emissions Zones

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Wasn’t it great back in the day when we could look to California to see the hot rod and custom car trends as they started making their way across the country? 

While we need to keep an eye on the West Coast because of its push for electric vehicles, we also are wise to turn our attention all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to Europe and England, scene of the front line in the fight against petroleum-powered vehicles.

As part of its regular coverage of challenges faced by owners of vintage vehicles, Hagerty UK has issued a report on the expansion of the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone and the issues it will create for owners of classic vehicles who still “wish to drive in and around the capital.”

Beginning October 25, the ultra-low emission zone will be extended to cover the entire area between the A406 North Circular and A205 South Circular roads. Driving a vehicle that doesn’t meet certain emission regulations within the zone means a daily charge of £12.50 ($17.50).

Hagerty London map

Hagerty estimates the change will impact as many as 60,000 vehicles, some of them “cherished classics that don’t participate in daily commuting, but may be priced out of London, nonetheless.”

“Driving a non-compliant car just once a week would rack up an annual bill of £650 ($911) – more than many drivers’ insurance and road tax combined,” Hagerty UK adds.

“Aside from raising funds for Transport for London, the aim is to cut toxic emissions from London’s air. TfL says that since the ULEZ zone in central London was introduced in 2017, nitrous oxide emissions have been cut by 44 per cent, while over 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide have been saved. 

“A report commissioned by City Hall predicts that the ULEZ expansion could see almost 300,000 fewer people developing chronic diseases, such as asthma and type-2 diabetes, than otherwise expected by 2050.”

The ULEZ is watched by 1,400 cameras. If daily fines are not paid within 24 hours, there’s an additional fine of £160 fine ($225).

While Hagerty UK notes that vintage vehicles at least 40 years old won’t face the new requirements, everything newer is included. 

“Undoubtedly there will be less cars from the ‘80s, ‘90s and early noughties in London as a result of these changes, and while it may be theoretically possible for cars to be adapted and catalyzed to meet the rules, the costs to do so would be prohibitively expensive,” Hagerty UK notes.

Already, Hagerty points out, car events formerly held in London have begun to seek other venues. 

For example, Waterloo Classics formerly held gatherings behind Waterloo station. 

I moved our start point for drives to Battersea Park but now I’ll probably end up starting events in Dulwich,” said event founder Darren Sullivan Vince. “I would say that at least 30 to 40 per cent of our cars will be caught in the ULEZ zone now and I know some people have decided to change their fleets, getting rid of the cars that don’t comply.”

Luca Lucchesi tells Hagerty he has been enjoying his 1989 Bentley Turbo R on the streets of south London for almost three years. But now, even though he lives half a mile outside of the expanded ULEZ zone, he thinks his beloved Bentley will have to go. 

“I use it on a weekly basis and it just won’t make sense to pay £12.50 a time to drive it,” he said. “I have another car, a Range Rover, which I could use instead, but I think I will change the Bentley for something older that’s exempt. 

“I’m lucky that I can afford to do this, but a lot of people won’t be able to. It’s also sad as I think this will be like when the scrappage scheme was introduced, and a lot of historic cars were scrapped because owners were given an incentive.”

emissions zones, Is London the canary in the coal mine for American collector car owners?, ClassicCars.com Journal

Jude Currie from Surrey is on a mission to save cars from being scrapped because of the ULEZ extension,” Hagerty UK discovered. “The 19-year-old car enthusiast has taken to touring South London and leaving notes offering to buy cars that will soon fall foul of the rules.”

“I’m basically after anything that’s slightly quirky or rare,” Currie said. “In terms of how many models are left it might be in double or single figures, but perhaps something that an ordinary person wouldn’t even take a second look at.

“At the end of last year in Greenwich, I saved a 1995 Hyundai Elantra. It was one of seven left on the roads. And I managed to save it for scrap value because it just failed an MOT and the owner didn’t see the point of getting the work done to pass because he had to sell it this year anyway, because of ULEZ.”

Hagerty notes it’s not just London where things are happening: “Birmingham will introduce its own Clean Air Zone in June 2021 covering all roads with the A4540 Middleway Ring Road with an £8 daily charge. Leeds, Nottingham Derby and Southampton are also planning to follow.”

Many owners of cherished vehicles that travel insignificant distances each year will feel hard done by if they’re caught in the ULEZ expansion,” said Hagerty’s James Mills. 

“People have emotional connections to cars and bikes, may have invested blood, sweat and tears – not to mention a significant sum of money – to maintain and preserve them for future generations yet they face a huge bill to drive the pride and joy just once a week. Or they face the wrench of having to sell the vehicle.

“Given the small volumes of cherished vehicles involved, which individually generate less CO2 annually that a mobile phone or personal computer, the ULEZ rules will strike some as seeming heavy-handed.”

While such zones haven’t reached across “the Pond” yet, that doesn’t mean the trend won’t be reach our shores as well.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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