Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


PITY THE Brits enjoying vintage cars of one sort and another. In marked contrast to the U.S., there’s a single omnipotent Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for the entire country. And if you think a local DMV visit can complicate your life, consider the British DVLA’s newly instituted practice vis-à-vis historic-registered vehicles. I glean this information from the October 2015 issue of Octane, my favorite Brit auto publication.


Octane, October 2015, reports on “The Thin Edge of the Wedge?”

As background for readers in the U.S., the British counterpart to our state-by-state regulation of drivers and vehicles is a single nationwide agency, the DVLA, with its VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) and the MOT (Ministry of Transportation inspection, which requires a valid VED). Understanding the British process helps in appreciating this current DVLA squabble.

Each car has an annual VED, satisfaction of which used to be verified by a disc displayed in a corner of the car’s windscreen, er… windshield for us Yanks.


The traditional British road-tax disc has been replaced by an electronic link to the plate. Image from Auto Express.

The tax disc got scrapped in October 2014, replaced by electronic link to a car’s number plate. The VED paid depends on two factors: Cars first registered before March 1, 2001, are taxed on engine size; newer vehicles, on fuel type and CO2 emissions. (For an implication of this, see the VW diesel scam; CO2 emissions are proportional to fuel consumption, which is profoundly affected by NOX emissions tradeoffs.)

A pre-March 2001 car with displacement less than 1500 cc pays an annual road tax of £145 ($222), one of 1.5 liters or more, £230 ($353). Newer cars with CO2 ratings of 100 g/km or less pay no annual VED. First-time registration is free for those up to 130 g/km. At the other end of the CO2 spectrum, those rated at 255 g/km or more pay £1100 ($1685) for the first year and £505 ($774) per annum thereafter.


The International Council on Clean Transportation is headquartered in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Berlin.

A pause here to relate CO2 output with U.S. mpg: The International Council on Clean Transportation (the think tank involved with uncovering VW’s scam) published a chart for this. In particular, a gasoline car getting 55 mpg U.S. is emitting 100 g/km of CO2. For a diesel to meet this level, it must get 63 mpg U.S. Why must it be more frugal? Because diesel fuel has more carbon atoms, more Cs, than gasoline and therefore a diesel engine puts out more CO2. At the other CO2 extreme, 255 g/km corresponds with 21.6 mpg U.S. on gasoline, 24.8 mpg U.S. on diesel.

The ICCI puts these in perspective by citing a couple of cars. A 2013 Toyota Prius’s 50 mpg U.S equates to 110 g/km CO2. It would have no VED on initial registration and a measly £20 ($30.63) annually thereafter. A 2013 Lamborghini Aventador’s 12.0 mpg U.S. is accompanied by 458 g/km of CO2, and thus the Lambo driver pays the max VED of £1100 initially, £505 thereafter.

There are VED exemptions galore, for organizations transporting disabled people, electric vehicles, steam vehicles (?!), those used in agriculture, horticulture and forestry—and, finally getting to the Octane article, historic vehicles, those “made before 1 January 1975.”

Pre-1960 historic vehicles are not subject to Britain’s annual MOT either. Named for its Ministry of Transportation, this annual inspection of safety, roadworthiness and emissions is required of most vehicles more than three years old.


The British MOT logo identifies approved stations for annual vehicle tests.

A current MOT transfers from owner to owner, and is important in a sales pitch. By contrast, a VED does not transfer. (There is, however, a proportional rebate for the seller.)

So here’s the current DVLA squabble in a nutshell: Thus far, historic cars have had neither VED nor, if pre-1960, MOT. However, the DVLA has grown wary of bitsa cars and replicas fashioned in the spirit of genuine historics.

The latter are easier to describe. For the past 20 years, for example, Pur San Argentina has manufactured replicas of Bugattis. Its website describes a new series patterned after the iconic Type 35 and Type 37 as well as (my favorite) the Type 43 Grand Sport and Type 51. The Pur Sang Argentina cars are exquisitely fabricated and spiritual kin to original Bugattis, but they’re new.


Pur Sang Argentina automobiles. Image from

By law, these would not qualify for DVLA historic exemption. However, perhaps a less than scrupulous owner might pass one off as authentically historic.


A favorite museum-replica of mine, the Cunningham C4R. Image from R&T, December 1998.

More complex is the matter of a bitsa, a car constructed from “a bit o’ this and a bit o’ that.” Some or all the components may be historically significant, though a car’s reassembly, its manufacture, might be recent. Another of my favorites, the museum-replica Cunningham C4R, has a rebuilt V-8 of 1952 vintage. Most of the rest is newly fabricated, though in some U.S. states, it can be licensed as a 1952 car.

In attempting to close what’s seen as a possible scam, the Brit DVLA is requiring owners of historic-registered cars, principally Bugattis at this point, to provide information verifying provenance. This includes old logbooks, copies of receipts, historic race reports, old ads and the like.

Notes the DVLA letter, “If the vehicle has been recently built using a new or replica chassis, it is likely the DVLA record will be incorrect. You should be aware that we may contact the relevant Owners’ Club to help with our investigations…. Please be aware that while these investigations are ongoing, applications to notify a change of vehicle keeper will not be processed.”

“Vehicle keeper,” as in ownership? You betcha. ds

2 comments on “THE DVLA, A BRIT’S DMV

  1. Pingback: Bugatti Owners Club, DVLA and a situation that may affect us all - Page 35

  2. Mike B
    October 13, 2015

    So let’s see. We got this ’64 Moostang. Replaced rusted-out frame rails, rocker panels, fenders with fabricated and replica replacement parts. Replaced most suspension pieces with various period and new replacements, not only Ford. Replaced clapped-out motor with a crate 289 with a 4-barrel. Looks and drives better than new. But it was first sold in ’64 and have a bill of sale to show that. What is it?

    There are lots of cherry olde carz in my area, many used as daily drivers. They smell worse than Harleys with (as is usual) mufflers and emission controls removed. I’m in a “Severe” nonattainment area. It would probably take dozens of even my 15-year-old ULEV (still passing smog) to produce as much pollution per mile as one of them – maybe even 100 Prius. If there were a way to truly limit their use to shows and the like (most are beautiful), that would be OK. But as daily drivers they are just an assault that should be dealt with, as the Brits are apparently considering.

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