I caught up with Nigel Case, owner of the Classic Car Club, the successful members’ club based in London. Having been a member for many years, the club was my first proper introduction to classic motoring, and it’s where I really caught the classic car bug. We talk about his passion for classic cars, what drives his love affair with Volvos, and what the future could hold for classic cars.
Nigel Case: I’ve always been into old things really, not necessarily just cars. When I was at school my girlfriend’s sister used to run a stall down at London’s Greenwich Market selling vintage clothes, so we used to go and have a look around for things like Harris Tweed. Back then you used to be able to buy really good quality stuff at jumble sale prices, you can’t do that anymore. I wouldn’t say I was into retro things, but just the older stuff, and so I just fell in to it really.
NC: My first car was a Hillman Hunter, which was my dad’s car and I had it for a while; we put a racing engine in to it, and [clears throat] that blew up, as it wasn’t built very well. After that I went straight out and put £100 down / £100 a month on a brand new Lada, which even at that time was an old Fiat design. When I was 18, I bought my friend’s dads car, a Rover P5 coupe, with a lovely straight six engine with manual box and overdrive. In retrospect I would really like it back. That was my first real classic, being a 1966. It was twenty years old, which now I guess you wouldn’t consider ‘classic’ as you could run a twenty year old BMW as your daily driver and not think twice about it. Back then cars seemed become classic quicker, as they used to just fall to pieces.
After that I had an Audi GT Coupé, and just lots of other cars. I used to buy them, enjoy them, and them pass them along.
KS: So what are you driving these days, I see a lot of old Volvos parked up, John in the team has told me that you’ve got a bit of a bug for them?
NC: Yeah, exactly, I’ve got all the cars and motorbikes around me but I choose an old Volvo estate, which I think could be my favourite car of all time; I love it. It’s a 145, which is ultra rare, I’ve got the Amazon estate too which is plentiful by comparison, you will not find 145’s around, it took me five years to find this one – I try to avoid these conversations as i just become an ultra nerd!
KS: That’s what we’re here for!
NC: Well whilst we’re among friends, it’s the one with the strip speedo, same designer as the Volvo Amazon. It’s a very very simple and pure design, quite mid-century modern design aesthetic, Deitar Rams / Braun style, but it’s also the first Volvo with the now iconic logo on the front, and the first Volvo with that estate shape that then went on into the 240 design. So that design, lasted almost twenty five to thirty years; essentially it was the same body shape all the way through. I think that makes it quite an iconic, important car, it’s amazing that people don’t see it, I cant understand how people don’t see it. I picked it up at auction and it didn’t even meet its reserve at £4,500, I went in expecting to have to pay close to £10,000 and ended up offering the reserve price and getting a lovely car.
NC:I don’t know, it might be one of those cars where it never happens. It was such a high production run after that; there are virtually none left. It’s a workhorse and people used and abused them. So I’ve got the Amazon estate, the 145, and I’ve just bought a 245 from the next generation; a low mileage one that I’m not driving. I’m not really sure how I got into it, I think it started with the P1800, I’ve had a few of them over the years and enjoyed them all and it went on from there really.
KS: So what’s the 145 like to drive?
NC: It’s fantastic, really really nice, I mean it’s not a fast car. It has a manual gearbox with overdrive and also a really thin steering wheel with a thin horn ring on, all round visibility is great, the interior is like something out of a Ferrari, really amazing design inside. Sometimes just simple things put a smile on your face, you are bumbling along and you don’t know why.
KS: I know the feeling, I picked up an old Fiat 500L, ‘71, and that’s after being in the club and enjoying the red one you had. It’s a simple car, just for going around town in, but I’m pretty much guaranteed to feel special, put a smile on my face every time I sit in it. Even though it’s a struggle to take off from the traffic lights, but it’s great.
NC: That’s part of it isn’t it, the more difficult things are, the more you buy in to them. I think that is part of the appeal with classic cars, in that it’s not all easy and handed to you, you’re not cosseted from the outside world, they smell a bit and they rattle and they leak a bit. They all have their own quirks and they start only if you catch it at the right time and the choke is at the right level – you’re the one that knows how to do it, but no one else could do it sort-of-thing. That element, you feel ownership, more than financial ownership, it’s a psychological ownership because it does take so much hard work and effort.
NC: You know I can’t really, as you know there are so many different types of cars aren’t there, it’s difficult to draw a hard comparison between them. We’ve had all sorts, we had a Muira at one point and I remember driving that around, the engine noise right behind your head was incredible, but after a while that would become hard work! An E-Type, series 1 flat floor; that’s a fabulous car for 10% of the time, 90% of the time it’s hard work really, but that 10% makes it so worthwhile. I like things like the Karmann Ghia, I’m not in to powerful cars, I quite like it when you have to ring the neck out of it a bit to get it going, like old Aflas. I’d probably want a GT Junior or a GTV at some point.
KS: What about a car you would love to drive/own? Hard again I know, as you are spoilt for choice!
NC: Well I’m looking to buy a Citroen CX, and early one, the Prestige. I’ve got the SM, and my wife has a DS which are really interesting cars. I like the quirky and unusual. I used to love the Corvette we had, the 350. The sound and pickup was incredible. I really like the design of it too along with the drive, a proper hardcore car, a late model with wrap-around rear screen would be a great car [Update – Since I met Nigel, he’s bought himself a Corvette C3 after falling in love with the fleets C2 he mentioned]. But at the same time, I would really like a Renault 4; I quite like the utility stuff. I guess as I have motorbikes I don’t go for the performance side of cars, which is quite funny really because of the cars we have in the club.
NC: It’s a pretty broad spectrum of people. It’s changed a lot over the years, there are a lot more creative people now who are members. Architects, designers. Our branch in New York attracts a different member base with the supercars, but with the cars we have, we tend to attract people with more of an analogue lifestyle. They want to drive a car that is more demanding, some of the things we talked about earlier. Although they are all very different, they are held together by that common thread, so we all get on really well. When you think about it, the value is great, on our classic package, an E-Type is £180 a day including VAT, unlimited mileage and insurance… that’s a £100k car, you can’t rent a £100k modern car for that, it’s tremendous value but people do still um and ah and think it’s expensive.
KS: I appreciate that more so now from my perspective. That’s the beauty of this place. It started my addiction with classic cars and you used to take care of all the maintenance. Now when I get the bills I understand it more!
KS: Do you still run the drives for members? I used to love those, stopping off for coffee and chatting about the cars before swapping into something different.
NC: We don’t do the night drives anymore because of the increase in traffic and people getting lost, but the day drives are still running strong. The day drives are much better, we are straight out to Epping in the countryside really quickly, on an eighty mile round trip, and it’s a lot less stressful; we’ve honed that route and format now. We do similar things for corporate ones, down in Surrey and other places, with McLaren in the past, which was fun. Trips down to Goodwood etc, I just like meeting people really and getting involved in the events.
NC: It’s a good thing, really, this is talking from the perspective of someone who loves old cars. You’ve got kids with asthma, and cars whizzing around close by, the older diesels and their fumes. The problem is that the successive mayors and governments, they all have different approaches and ideas, and what we really need is a bit of continuity.
KS: And what about electrifying classic cars?
NC: Well in America I guess retro-modding is a big thing. We have a 2002 over in the club in New York that has a M3 engine in it which is outrageous really. But with a car I think when you start tampering with it too much, it loses its essence. Electrifying a car changes so much of it: a) you wouldn’t be able to hear anything and b) the weight distribution would be so different. I take my hat off to them, it would be interesting to drive one, but to do that to a classic does not appeal to me.
KS: What about your life before the club?
NC: I was a photographer by trade after college. I used to shoot a lot of still photography, way before the days of digital photography. It was a really interesting discipline, quite a slow process which I really enjoyed; photographing things like food. I assisted a lot photographers, a heavy metal one which was really interesting, following a band on tour. And then through the photography I met the guys who originally set up the club, photographing them for FHM. After that I became friends and used to hang out with them more and more. When they finally got the keys for the original premises in Kings Cross, I became the first member in return for photographing the fleet, and then they both moved on and did other things after which I took over and the rest is history.
KULRAJ SINGH SALH
This article was written and published by Kulraj Singh Salh.
Kulraj is Trade Classics COO and is passionate about classic cars and finding new ways to use emerging and innovate digital technology to connect buyers and sellers.
You can read more about Kulraj and his interests on our About Us page.