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By Tom Endean

Classic Owners are Better Drivers

Land Rover SIIADespite wanting a motorbike at 15, I ended up buying something a little different: a Land Rover – a 1963 diesel Series IIa (top). My obsession with old cars then meant I didn’t get a bike until I was 28. It was nothing special and was measured in gerbil power rather than horses, but it was fun nevertheless - until it was stolen.

From the whole experience, one thing struck me: being a motorbike rider made me a better (or at least, a more aware) driver. Many people inherited the right to ride a motorcycle with their car licence, but for a number of years this hasn’t been the case and something I agree was a good development. The fact is, even the basic training required to ride a motorcycle reopens your eyes to some basics. And I don’t mean theoretical stopping distances for a Ford Anglia. I mean the everyday basic checks and awareness, which is now second nature, or at least you think it is.

However, after spending a number of years in the safe reinforced cocoon of a car, you are brutally aware of your vulnerability on a bike – although, not so much that you think it’s a bad idea. This awareness makes you into an amateur mind reader as you ride down the road watching every other driver and every pedestrian, trying to anticipate their every move. This relaxes over time, but remains with you much more than when in a car. The whole process makes you more aware as a driver when you take this new found power back onto four wheels.

To me, every car owner should at some time experience this. Even if they have no intention of getting hooked on bikes, the foundation it provides would lower the number of silly crashes from people simply not looking what’s happening around them.

This brings me on to classics. Although to a lesser degree than bikes, classic car drivers are also more aware of the road and the driving conditions than those plodding around in their Euro-boxes. There are fewer aids, cushions, gadgets, lights and beeps protecting us from the outside world. We have to learn to work without power assisted brakes or ABS. We have to learn that we can no longer use the steering wheel with one finger, whilst eating a sandwich with the other hand. We learn that we can’t use various electronic devises whilst driving, chiefly because it's too noisy and shaky to do so. Classic car drivers have to actually drive!

This, in my mind, makes classic car drivers better drivers. I suspect that in many cases this is also emphasised further by the fact the cars have been lovingly cared for and are more important to them than their first born child. When you have a car that you would lose a limb to save, it means you are not going to take as many chances.

You are also aware in some smaller classics, the mini for example, that there are no airbags and very little in the way of stuff between you and other cars. Whenever in my spitfire, I am always very conscious that the guy in the lorry next to me could sneeze, go slightly off course and crush me without noticing. This again, like the bike, makes you much more aware of other drivers’ actions.

As such the government and insurance companies should almost be paying us to drive our classics – we are essentially making the world safer!

This does leave one additional thought: If riding bikes make us better and driving classic makes us better, we should all bow down to anyone we see on a classic motorbike. You’re saving us all – we thank you.


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