During the lockdown, finding criminals who seem intent on carrying out illegal activities using stolen cars or motorcycles seems to be 10 times easier; as one officer suggested, local villains now ‘stick out like a sore thumb’.
Future historians will no doubt look back at this period and note a considerable drop in street crime, including vehicle theft, alongside an equally huge rise in fraud and cybercrime. Last year ended a five-year, continuous rise in overall car crime in the UK culminating in "only" 106,000 cars and 27,000 motorcycles reported stolen.
Also bucking the trend was classic car crime. Only 19 "period" cars have been reported stolen so far this year (January to March), fewer than last year’s figure of 39, a drop of more than 50%.
In 2019 about 30 Fords were among the 294 classics reported stolen in the UK. Neil Armstrong, the owner of Facebook website ‘Old Skool Fords’, has accumulated 422 stolen classic Fords on his database in five years. He suggests 113 were recovered by readers of his site alone, a recovery rate of nearly 27%.
The favourite classics stolen in 2019 were Jaguars, MGBs, Minis, Fords, Fiat 500s, a couple of VW Type 2 campers, a Reliant Scimitar and a Triumph Stag; this year’s haul includes a Rover, an MG Midget, a couple of Minis and another VW camper.
Two of the eight Fords also reported stolen this year have been recovered which, together with four other cars returned to their owners, indicates a new and improved recovery rate of about 25%.
The reasons for the current reduction in classic theft will no doubt be attributed to a combination of an improved owner awareness, an enhanced use of both vehicle and home security, an increase in tracking devices (still the police's best friend in aiding recovery) and, of course, the coronavirus restrictions.
The police have been assisted in no small way by classic enthusiast websites which continue to report suspicions, often guiding police to a vehicle recovery and even an arrest.
A bigger concern to the classic car movement, however, appears to be what is happening elsewhere in the EU as several countries appear to have a classic theft problem of their own. Germany, for instance, which loses around 75,000 cars of all ages every year, posted a 36% increase in classic car crime in 2019. The most stolen models were the Fiat 500, followed by the Alfa Romeo Spider, special edition E46 BMW M3, Porsche 993 Carrera 2, Mercedes SL W113 ‘Pagoda’, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Ferrari Daytona.
Incessant demand for "modern classics" meant that cars such as the Porsche Boxster 986 and the Porsche 997-series of 911 joined the Mazda MX-5 Mk1 from 1989-1994 and ‘any type of Land Rover Defender’ as a target.
Jean-Pierre Gevert, managing director of German classic car specialist insurer OCC in Lübeck, suggested a quarter of all classics stolen in Germany were taken in Dusseldorf, the Rhineland, Hamburg and Berlin from underground garages and lockable barred boxes.
Authorities in France and Italy, which posted 198,000 and 201,000 overall vehicle thefts respectively. Examples of some of France’s finest such as the Citroen DS, Renault Alpine and 5 Turbo and other rare Peugeot and Simca models have found their way to North Africa, Ghana, Gabon, Jamaica and the Middle East, always a popular place for the dissemination of specialist cars to those with the money to buy them.
Both countries suffer from varying niche crime classifications, as we do in the UK, often omitting many valuable cars taken during burglaries and robberies and still not recording all of them as stolen on their vehicle databases. According to the Italian Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), many of their multinational criminal groups that specialise in classic cars are transporting them to Eastern European countries where they are cloned, traded or stripped for their rare (and expensive) parts.
Poland appears to be a chosen central point for organised car gangs to set up their businesses and transport hubs. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, recently detected 439 stolen cars, some of which were classed as valuable period cars, parts from another 230 stripped cars and 169 engines, plus fake documents, from a gang with connections to Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and the UK. These were serious criminals who were also arrested for people and drug smuggling, and found in possession of huge quantities of various illegal drugs, 11.9 million cigarettes and 38 firearms.
The irony of the temporary fall in theft is that at some point the coronavirus epidemic will come to an end and the number of ‘classics’ stolen will no doubt rise once more. By that time, however, we should be at the end of our Brexit transition period with refreshed security procedures in place and more police on the street - and we will hopefully be on a high that we beat the virus.
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