Mystery of how UK's classic car fleet increased by 50 per cent in the past five years

There's no denying the popularity of historic vehicles, but how do you account for such a vast increase in a relatively short period?

Jaguar E-Type Series 1
We all love a Jaguar E-Type, but according to the latest FBHVC survey Fords are the most numerous classics in the UK Credit: Andrew Crowley

They’re not being made any more but, strangely, the number of classic cars in Britain is growing; up by almost 50 per cent in the last five years according to the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs’ (FBHVC) latest survey results. So where have they all come from?  

The survey, conducted every five years, shows that the country’s classic car fleet has grown by 48 per cent from 1,039,950 in 2015 to 1,538,927 this year. That means that classics make up 3.4 per cent of the 43 million vehicles on UK roads.

Cars make up half of the total, with 774,649 examples. Ford is the most numerous, followed by Land Rover, MG, Austin and VW, Triumph and Morris. Motorcycles make up another 27 per cent, with light and heavy commercials contributing another 13 per cent and agricultural machinery 10 per cent.

Yet the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) figures suggest that there are only 138,800 licenced pre-1970 classic cars on its books, so why such an enormous discrepancy?

The longevity of Eighties cars such as this Ford Sierra RS Cosworth might account for the rising total

The answer is the definition of “classic”, which these days covers anything more than 30 years old. In the five years since the last FBHVC survey, a huge number of late-Eighties, mass-produced cars have joined the fleet, many of which might have somewhat-disputed “classic” status.

Wayne Scott, spokesman for the FBHVC, also notes that the figures might not be particularly accurate. “People have a tendency not to tell the DVLA when they’ve scrapped a car,” he says, “so a lot of the Sorn [Statutory Off-Road Notification] cars might not exist any more. And for imported vehicles, the DVLA tends to register it as when it was imported rather than when it was built.”

What is undeniable, however, is just how popular classic vehicles are, whatever their stripe. The survey shows that 21 million people see historic vehicles as an important part of the country’s heritage, which is something our politicians might do well to heed.

No matter how they're defined, classics, from veteran to early Nineties models, are adored by public and owners alike

Not that these cars are doing very much, even on this year’s inflated total. Only 44 per cent of them are actually licenced and on the road, very few of them are driven regularly and the average number of times each one is taken out is 16 times a year, for an average annual mileage of only 1,200. That means the total average mileage for the fleet is 800 million miles, which is less than 0.2 per cent of the total 356.5 billion miles driven every year on British roads.

Not that classic car owners aren’t above doing their bit for the environment. According to the survey, 35% of them say they are already contributing to or would consider contributing to a carbon reduction scheme.

All this classic car malarkey is good business, too, with the sector contributing an estimated £7.2 billion to the UK economy, up from £5.5 billion in 2015 and more than the equestrian sector’s contribution. Classic car businesses of all types number about 4,000. These employ more than 34,000 people and most would consider employing apprentices or are already doing so.

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Have you purchased a classic car? Let us know why you think there has been such a vast increase in historic vehicles in the comments section below.