29th January 2024

Challenges of running a modern classic

There’s a huge buzz around modern classics, and it’s easy to see why. Cars from the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties offer all of the driving thrills we love allied to more modern tech, comfort and performance. What’s not to like? Well, nothing until they go wrong – this is when an increasing number of owners are finding that everything from trim clips to engine electronics can be hard to find, replace, or restore.

Does this mean these more technically sophisticated classics could be consigned to the scrap heap before they’ve had a chance to fully blossom as part of the classic car world? Not a bit of it. There are challenges in owning and maintaining newer classics, but there is an expanding band of specialists willing to find solutions and keep these cars running.

TVR Engine

An example of this is cited by Martin Russell, Head of Business at Hilton and Moss, who has a background in working on TVRs. He says: “If you look at TVR, the ECUs are no longer available for the cars from the 1990s. There are companies out there who make upgraded replacements, but the trouble with this is the expense as you could end up going down the route of a complete loom replacement and that could be £5,000 on a TVR. Do you do this or not? The answer is most owners will choose to go ahead because otherwise the car cannot be driven.”

Chris Tolman, Managing Director of Tolman Motorsport, agrees and adds: “I’m very passionate about cars from the 1980s and ’90s, but so many bits are now unavailable. In many ways, these cars are harder to restore than older cars because of the added complexity of their manufacture when they were new.”

There are multiple challenges facing restorers of this era of car – often defined as the retro sector, or modern classics – that stretches from the 1970s through to those from the beginning of the 2000s. As well as the electronics mentioned by Martin Russell above, body panels and engine components can be hard to track down. Much of this is due to the same reasons affecting older classics, where stocks of parts were discarded as these cars simply became cheap used cars or dealers could no longer warrant the expense of storing parts for obsolete models.

While more popular and established classics such as the Mini or MGB, Jaguar E-type or Ford Mustang enjoy excellent support now, many of the in-demand modern classics today are poorly served. Chris Tolman’s company has launched its own subtly improved Peugeot 205 GTI, called the Tolman Edition, but this has not been easy and he says: “Original panels are very hard to find. We 3D scanned an original bodyshell so that we could make tools to create panels.”

Scirocco body

Even with modern classics where there is strong aftermarket support and large numbers of cars still being used, problems are commonplace. Anthony Record works for Mazda MX-5 specialist DoctorMX5 and notes: “As more owners want to restore their cars to original specification or return them to standard from being tuned, getting hold of the right parts is becoming harder. As Mk1 MX5s are now a recognised modern classic, most of the cheap rusty stuff has fallen out of the market and been scrapped, along with bits that might have been salvageable. There are workarounds for everything, but rebuilding a car to exactly how it left the factory is tough unless you have components in working order to begin with for things like the ECU.”

It's not just the engines in modern classics that pose problems for restorers where electronics are concerned. Martin Russell points out that this era of car saw the introduction of much more complex gearboxes. He says: “The complexity of some cars from the 1990s onwards can without doubt limit their appeal to many owners. For instance, some gearboxes with electronics involved can be hugely expensive and involved to put right.”


This is the nub of why many electronics in newer classic cars can become an expensive headache as the parts to repair them are no longer available. Trying to find the parts to fix an ECU is difficult, so it’s often easier and more cost-effective to move to a more modern alternative with the same look but better reliability, albeit at a cost to the owner.

There is also a knock-on effect of trying to restore original electronics that Chris Tolman points out: “It’s easier to preserve a race car from this period as the computers needed to run it usually come with it as a package. With road cars, it’s not so easy to adapt components, though luckily many use a quite mechanical system for running the engine, such as with the Peugeot 205 GTi. This is complicated, however, by being able to get hold of components like an original exhaust. The whole set-up needs to be in harmony to work properly.”

This sort of experience of how a particular car functions is needed to make so many systems work with modern classics, such as for ABS anti-lock brakes, CAN bus electrics, air conditioning, and traction control that became more widespread during this period. It’s why companies that want to work on these cars are finding ways to expand their understanding.

“Keeping up our own knowledge and training can be difficult when dealing with systems that are 30 years old. There are places where you can learn about this and train. In the future, it’s something that we are going to have to spend money on with training,” says Martin Russell. “Another challenge we face is finding ways to update machinery and equipment because some companies try to lock out anyone from working on their cars. We’re investing in new machinery to deal with this, though most of the time we can find a way to address issues with existing tools. This allows us to fault find electronics and put out dash warning lights, which of course also has implications for a car passing its MoT test.”

This is good news for fans of this era of car. It shows there are modern solutions to keeping a modern classic on the road and being enjoyed as it should.

Do you need insurance for your modern classic? Have a chat with our friendly UK team on 0330 162 1055 or get a quote and purchase online here. We're able to cover a variety of modern classics, subject to criteria.