The government has decided to allow the export of vintage cars and classic motorcycles as there is a lucrative market overseas and since some local owners appear keen to make use of this opportunity, motor industry sources said.
The recent statement by State Minister of Transport Services Dilum Amunugama on allowing vintage and classic cars and motorcycles of antique value to be exported from Sri Lanka has suddenly turned a virtual hobby and a pastime of the rich to a potential business.
He has noted that there was a high demand in western countries for the Ceylon numbered old vehicles bearing old numbers such as C and EN.
The Classic Car Owners Club specifies that the car must have been built between 1940 and 1970 to consider it a classic car.
However, classic cars in Sri Lanka are also classed according to the registration number in the 1930s, until it was discontinued in 1950. A couple of letters, derived from Sri Lanka’s colonial name of Ceylon, were used in the order CE, CL, CN, EY, EL and finally EN in front of numbers for registration. Such cars are also considered classics.
The State Ministry of Transport Service is ready to facilitate such export business ventures, the minister said adding that the Department of Motor Traffic has no proper procedure to export these vintage vehicles.
The country’s classic car culture is at risk of collapsing at present, State Minister Amunugama disclosed at a recent media conference pointing out that the aging population of owners, high cost of taxes and maintenance, and lack of interest among youth are key factors behind the current situation.
The restoration and export of these valuable vehicles can be a very profitable activity, several franchise motor dealers said.
Sri Lanka has a rich motoring heritage going back to the early 1900s. The high per capita income of Sri Lankans at that time made them buy the best and high end British, German and American brands and import them to Sri Lanka.
It was common to see Mercedes, Jaguar, Riley, Humber, Cadillac, Daimler, MG and other expensive cars driven on the roads of Colombo alongside the Fiats, Morris Minors and Austins.
Most middle income families in the 50s and 60s owned a car which made Sri Lanka the country with the highest population of car density in South Asia.
Top brands of motorcycles like Triumph and BSA were imported mainly for the police and the plantation sector during that era.
The decline of the car industry started in 1970 with the import restrictions and downturn of the economy. Very valuable cars and motorcycles were abandoned by their owners as they were unable to maintain them.
However the Sri Lankan love for the motor vehicle continued despite all these setbacks and many valuable vehicles were restored and put back on the road starting from the mid-1990s.
There are around three large private collections in Sri Lanka with over 50 vehicles owned by wealthy families.
The other collectors are scattered with many collectors owning less than 10 vehicles. It is highly unlikely that these cars owned by serious collectors will be ever exported, several vintage car owners said.
The concern of many vintage car owners that Sri Lanka’s motoring heritage will be lost with Minister Amunugama’s move is unreasonable given the fact that export is only a choice for the owner and many collectors will not do so, industry sources said.
On the flip side, many cars owned by single individuals who are not passionate about collecting them could be a target for exporters. It is to be seen how many cars and motorcycles will fit into this potential market. It will certainly be many dozens, they added.
The next issue is price. It is a well-known fact that classic and vintage Convertibles and Coupes in Sri Lanka, are already fetching the same price or in some cases even higher than in Europe.
The potential for any investor could be in the saloons and the motorcycles. Many valuable motorcycles have been sent overseas in containers in the past 10 years due to good prices, motor industry veterans said.