How Do We Find Our Cars & Other Questions Answered
For the team at Great Driving Days, the greatest part of our jobs is meeting people. During our season we get to spend quality time with hundreds of different people from all of the UK and further afield from different walks of life every month.
We really appreciate the interest people take in what we do and the questions they ask. So while we busily self isolate, Graham Eason of Great Driving Days answers to the questions that we get asked most.
Q. When was the business set up?
A. I got involved in this business in 2006, originally as a sort of classic car version of Hertz where customers could hire an old car for a day, a weekend or longer. I started with two cars, a Jensen Interceptor and an Alfa Spider. I kept the Jensen until 2018, when its fuel consumption became too expensive to run. We still have the Alfa on the fleet.
Q. Why did you set the business up?
A. Some of the reasons were personal - I was bored with my job and wanted a hobby business as an outlet. But I also felt there was an opportunity that existing classic car hire companies hadn't spotted - in terms of the cars we hired, how we hired them - including online booking - and how we approached customer service.
Q. How do you choose the cars?
A. There's no real science to it. Originally I made a lot of left field choices, trying to find the cars other companies weren't offering. This erred sometimes into an opportunity to undulge my childhood passions! But as we got established the fleet has become more mainstream and reflects what is popular with customers. Now we try to reflect the type of experiences we run - so on a road trip customers may want to drive an E Type and Mk2, but you may not want to drive 100 miles in a 50 year old car so we include more modern, easier to drive classics like the XK8.
But I am always looking for the next classic - at the moment we're looking at late 80s and early 90s classics. So we've recently added a supercharged Jaguar XJR, for example.
Q. Where do you find the cars?
A. There's no real magic to it. I keep an eye on eBay plus the popular classic car classifieds like www.carandclassic.co.uk. I research the model we're after carefully so that I know what the pitfalls and weaknesses are. Unlike most buyers I don't want a car in really good condition or with low mileage - it won't stay that way under hire conditions and we have a workshop to fix any faults. As a general rule it takes about 12 months for any new car to become reliable enough for regular hire use, so it isn't worth over spending on the purchase. The key is the maintenance.
We also take on projects that we restore to put on the fleet. The XJS V12 came onboard that way and you'll spot two or three projects in our yard during your experience.
Q. How do you maintain the cars?
A. During the hire season the cars typically cover 1,000 miles a week. That's a lot for a modern car, let alone one that's 50 years old. And they're doing that in the hands of many different drivers, most of whom want to exercise and enjoy them. So maintenance is critical.
In the early days we used external classic car specialists, but their couldn't provide the reliable turnaround times I needed and they refused to work to agreed costs. So since 2010 we've had our own workshop. We're the only classic car hire business with this facility but it means we can minimise vehicle down time - and therefore disappointments - and the team really get to know the car. So when we have a problem they can trace it quickly.
Q. What cars are the most popular?
A. All of the cars on the fleet have to earn their living so they are all very busy. I've had to refine that over the years - the current fleet size of 20 is about optimum for what we do, keeping cars busy but with the option to rest them when we need to. We have had many more cars at different points but it just created choice, not demand.
The E Types have consistently been the most popular from day one. We could easily operate with just E Types, but it wouldn't be as much fun for us!
Q. What is your favourite car on the fleet?
A. I like them all for different reasons. But I learnt early on to treat the cars as working vehicles - otherwise it makes it harder to hire them out. I like the E Types but my favourite is the XJS V12 - it is so under-rated and yet such a gorgeous car to drive. It's why we set up a specialist business to support them - www.xjsjaguar.co.uk.
Q. What's the worst car you've ever had on the fleet?
A. There are a few contenders. You might expect me to say the Austin Allegro we had for a short while, but it was great fun. Until someone in Coventry drove into it. But a couple stick out - I had a Porsche 928 for a couple of years that haemorrhaged money and there was a green Mk2 that was catastrophically unreliable. We offloaded that a few years ago and it has resurfaced with another hire company. I hope they've have more luck with it!
Q. What new cars are in the pipeline?
A. I am hoping to add a couple of convertibles from the 90s, like an Alfa Spider or MGF. We'll also add a 1980s Jaguar XJ6 as it plugs a hole in our Jaguar range and probably another Ford Capri. Depending on how the current situation develops, they'll be added on for late 2020 or 2021.
www.greatdrivingdays.co.uk. 01527 893733