Classic car restorer sector trends

Row of multiple classic cars lined up

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the classic car restoration sector

Classic cars are popular in the UK and for many years there has been fairly steady demand for restoration and repair services. The market enjoyed a boom during the early 1990s when classic car values (especially sports cars) rose dramatically. This led to an increase in demand for full restoration services, as it became financially worthwhile to rebuild badly deteriorated vehicles. Prices subsequently fell back to more realistic levels, although the early and mid 2000s did see the values of some models rise strongly.

The 2010s have seen strong demand for high-end classics, and demand for restoration services remains quite strong with a reasonably steady call for general repairs, servicing and modification of classic vehicles. The economic downturn which began in 2008 and persisted into the early 2010s didn't help the industry as a whole, but it is a niche market and there tends always to be some demand from enthusiasts. (In fact, the very poor performance by some more traditional investments during the early and mid 2010s actually boosted demand from investors for some high-end classic cars.)

The economy picked up in the second half of 2013 and the recovery continued throughout 2014 and into the first half of 2015. It slowed again, however, in the second half of 2015 and into 2016. The vote in June 2016 to leave the EU added a degree of economic uncertainty and this, together with the fall in the value of the pound and rising inflation, slowed growth during 2017 and into 2018. During 2016 buyers of classic cars were much more cautious and the classic car market steadied after the big increases in value from 2012 to 2015. Buyers remained cautious during 2017 and prices remained steady, without the rapid inflation in prices seen in earlier years. The forecast for 2018 is that prices will continue to remain stable, helped by continuing low interest rates, which are good for non income yielding assets like classic cars. The signs are that owners have continued and will continue to spend on restoration work for their classic cars.

A lot of classic vehicles were imported to the UK from drier climates during the 1990s to meet demand. Many British sports cars such as E-type Jaguars and Austin Healey 3000s that were originally exported were brought back to the UK. The number of cars being imported has now decreased, but they can still be a good source of work. Although usually rust free, these cars often require some mechanical work and sometimes conversion to right-hand drive.

Another factor to affect the classic car industry has been the introduction of road tax exemption, initially for vehicles built before 1974 and then a rolling exemption for vehicles aged at least 40 years. Classic car enthusiasts have generally spent money on sports cars, luxury cars or unusual models. Road tax exemption has encouraged the preservation of some cheaper family cars from the 1960s and early 1970s, which might otherwise have been scrapped. Few people will spend lots of money to fully restore one of these cars, but they can be a source of general repair work and servicing for classic workshops.

In 2012 the MOT test was scrapped for vehicles manufactured or registered before 1960. Some repairers saw a small decline in business, but it remained a legal requirement for pre-1960 vehicles to be safe and roadworthy if they used on public roads. From 20 May 2018 most vehicles over 40 years old (on a rolling basis) are exempt from MOT testing, but, as with the previous exemption for pre-1960 vehicles, they must be in safe roadworthy condition if they are to be used on public roads. Cars that have been substantially changed must continue to be tested annually. Although not universally popular, the decision to grant the exemption from MOT testing may at least make classic car ownership and use more accessible for some and help to keep a greater number of classics in use.

The 2010s saw the restoration sector feature in the mainstream media, through the Channel 4 and Channel 5 television shows For the Love of Cars, Classic Car Rescue and Car SOS.

Environmental controls on paint

Traditional cellulose paints with a high volatile organic compound (VOC) content are potentially damaging to health and the environment, and have become more and more tightly regulated in recent years. This initially led to concern in the classic car industry that restorers and repairers would lose access to the types of paint needed to achieve an appropriate finish on historic vehicles. However, the government subsequently issued guidance to local authorities to allow small quantities of cellulose paint to be sold for use in restoring classic and vintage vehicles and this exemption remains in place today.

Keeping up to date with developments

Classic car magazines, such as Practical Classics, are a good source of information about all aspects of the classic car industry. As well as giving a wealth of information about the cars themselves, the magazines can help you to keep up to date with new legislation, developments in restoration techniques and products, trade shows and classic car values. There are also several classic car websites that provide useful background information.

Trade associations can also help you to keep up to date with what is happening in the restoration and repair sector as well as offering other benefits including advice, information and training. Although there is no trade association specifically for classic car restorers, the National Body Repair Association (NBRA) represents the vehicle body repair industry and operates a quality assurance scheme for members. The Association was formed under the umbrella of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI), bringing together the National Association of Bodyshops and the repairer members of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association. Most members work on modern cars, but some classic car restorers have joined the Association. Visit the NBRA website for more information.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade or specialist show. There are many different local and regional shows and events for classic car enthusiasts, as well as large national and international shows such as the NEC Classic Motor Show held in Birmingham each year and Techno Classica in Essen, Germany. The Auto Body Professionals Club (ABP Club) puts on various trade events for the body repair industry throughout the year - visit their website to find out more. You will be able to meet parts manufacturers, suppliers and importers. Information about some forthcoming trade shows can be found on the Exhibitions UK website.

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