Funky Bangers

Why environmentalists choose to drive some of the most unsafe and polluting cars on the road

It’s interesting how those who proclaim their concern for the environment and all things green often choose to drive elderly vehicles with a cuddly and non-threatening character such as the Citroën 2CV, Morris Minor and Volkswagen Beetle and Camper. By doing so they are signalling their rejection of the cult of speed, aggression and ostentatious display that they see in modern motoring. They will travel at modest speeds in a friendly, durable little car rather than flashing past in an arrogant 5-series BMW.

But the irony is that they’d be doing much more for the environment in a 535i. Such have been the advances in engine technology that even the biggest gas-guzzler of today puts out far fewer noxious emissions than a small car of twenty-five years ago. The contrast is even greater with cars of the same size – an early model Ford Escort produces no less than 62 times more emissions than a modern Focus, and the Focus will also be far more safe and economical.

Old cars have vastly inferior handling and roadholding to new ones, so are much more likely to be involved in accidents – which may well harm others apart from their occupants. Their angular bodies, devoid of crumple zones, will do much more damage to any pedestrians or animals they may collide with. And, if you do have the misfortune to crash, they will offer their drivers and passengers a very poor degree of protection. In short, they may look cute, but they are dirty and dangerous.

If you really are that concerned about the environment, then you ought to think long and hard whether you need a car at all. Plenty of people manage to do without one. But if you do decide you have to have a car, then you should choose the smallest fit for your purpose, and the newest you can afford. The new Toyota Yaris, which is very compact, has a cheeky, modern aspect, and is available with a one-litre lean-burn engine that comes below the Chancellor’s cynical 1.1 litre road tax cut-off point, fits the bill perfectly. And even a mainstream small family car such as a Focus or Astra would be vastly better on every environmental and safety measure than a funky banger.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t run classic cars if they have a genuine interest in them as a hobby. But no-one should imagine that they demonstrate more social responsibility than modern ones. 2CVs, Morris Minors and Beetles have served their purpose, but now really should be confined the museums and classic car collections where they belong.

(November 1999)

Return to Index Page