In 2019, my commute involved a brief 15-minute walk from Victoria Train Station into the heart of Westminster. On a nice, sunny morning, I’d often grab a hot drink and take a longer route in to enjoy the pleasant surroundings of the area. An area full of tall, expensive buildings with absolutely no off-street parking. Because of this, every residential street was clogged up with endless rows of street-parked cars. Not just any cars, though. No, we’re talking old money cars.
For those who haven’t heard the term before, ‘old money’ refers to upper-class families whose financial standing is largely rooted in inheritance. These are the families who live in Zone 1, Central London and they are also the families who would have purchased something like a W126 Mercedes Benz 500 SEL brand spanking new in 1979 and still own it today.
There is a lot of this scattered all over London, and for a car guy it’s incredible. A living museum of automotive goods, calmly sitting there on the side of the street where your Average Joe doesn’t even clock it. Many of these cars have extremely low mileage, too. After all, why drive when you live in the city with the greatest public transport links in the world.
I started taking photos of the cars I saw whilst getting about and sent them to a group chat with my two best mates who also worked in the city. They would always send me photos back of the cars they came across. We’d naturally find ourselves chatting about things like why, if we were alive in 1986, we’d have bought a 525i over the 525e we just saw in Pimlico. And so on…
Within a week, we were sending each other five to 10 finds a day. Anything mildly interesting that we’d bump into whilst out and about would end up in this group chat. It was a lot of fun, but also a terrible distraction when actually trying to get anything done in the office.
I’d often post these cars on my Instagram story and the interest in what I was spotting picked up. We decided that spamming the group chat was an inefficient way of tracking what we had and hadn’t yet seen, and we had a good bunch of friends who wanted to see what we came across. Instagram was the obvious answer, so at the end of 2019, Mildly Interesting Cars of London was born. We like to call it ‘Micol’ for short.
The genres of interest grew. We progressed from fancy, old money Bentleys and started posting photos of abandoned Volvos. The grey 340 in Mayfair has less than 4,000 miles on the clock. It’s done 220 miles since 2006. The mystery behind some cars is so thick that you can taste it.
Occasionally we’d even bump into a car with its owner by it. There are a few things I’ve learned through Micol, but one thing that stands out is how open the owners of these cars are for a conversation. A lot of the time they know what they have is special and they love it even more so for it. I’ve long found London to be the home of culture and passion for every niche of human interest, and I am glad to report this too stretches to everyday car ownership as well.
Some lovely folk will even let you grab a photo of them with the car. Suddenly, you’re no longer just sharing a photo of a 190E Cosworth on the side of the street, you’re now sharing the story of someone’s fond memories of their loved ones that they experienced through the car 17 years ago. The green Celica you spot at your post office is no longer a funky alternative to a 3 Series, driven by a little lady. It’s now a present Shirley received from her late mother. The Pirelli GTI is not just driven on weekends; it belongs to Charlie who relies on it to get to work every day so he can pay his bills.
Two and a bit years later, London still doesn’t fail to surprise me. Of course, there are a few places which are known to gravitate car activity, but as a whole these spots hit you when you’re not really looking for them. Last weekend though I went out looking for cool cars to share with you here, which is where I got my supporting images from.
The day was a fair representation of what to expect: Rare, uncommon sports cars such as the Vauxhall VX220 lingering in the more colourful parts of London such as Soho and Shoreditch.
Big, cushy Rolls-Royces mingling with tiny electric cars of the mid ’00s outside busy pubs.
The odd, abandoned everyday car in a residential area, likely to have been killed off by local emission laws.
Then of course, the extravagant supercar parked in the high-end streets of Mayfair.
Micol went from being a photo-dump of mildly interesting cars we saw littered on the streets of London, to somewhat of a melting pot of everyday car culture. Everything of interest gets shared, and what was once a circle of our friends has grown into a micro audience of people tuning in to see what we find out in the wild.
In the spirit of Speedhunting then, allow me to share with you my five favourite spots that we’ve hunted down for Micol over the last few months. As a bonus, I’ll attach five extra spots that I’ve not gotten around to sharing yet.
One way to stand out in Knightsbridge, a bright green classic Citroën.
4: BMW 850 CSi
An abandoned E31 on the outskirts of London. Yes, this is the V12 one. And yes, it did have a manual gearbox. And yes, it is Dakar Yellow…
Filthy from use, this is the true Speedhunters way of using a true performance car. Parked on one of the most prestigious parts of Central London, too.
It would be too predictable for me to put a rare supercar at pole position, even if it is in this dream movie spec.
This shade of white is faster anyway. The pinnacle of small, barebones driving fun deserves the number one spot here.
Here’s the bonus finds I promised…
A car for a special occasion. I had a chat with the chauffeur of this one who told me the whole inner workings of the car have been replaced with a retrofitted modern setup. He was vague on the details, but once he got in the car shot off out of sight. Not a bad way to travel around the city.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC
There are so, so many R107s knocking around London. They are by far the most common classic, probably due to the fact that in true classic Benz spirit they don’t want to die. Super durable, super reliable and super usable, make them an easy-to-live-with classic, with many owners having theirs since they were new. This one is a little more special though, as coupes (C107) are not as easily found roaming the streets as their convertible counterparts, especially in this bigger engine specification.
Honda Civic Coupe
I know what you’re thinking of right now… Three black Civics chasing a lorry. And just like that, what was essentially an economical commuter car has become a car culture icon. Living in the heart of Westminster, the owner of this car pays both clean air charges. Chances are then that they don’t spend their free time street racing it.
Mercedes-Benz 280 G
Arguably the most hypebeast, Instagram-friendly car today (E30 in close second), the older G Wagons hold a special place in a lot of people’s hearts. Seeing one is still an occasion, and the cars naturally radiate class despite their rugged design and purpose.
Volkswagen Polo Open Air
To finish off, a cute little city car in its natural habitat: South Kensington. A rare model with a full roof-sized rag top that can be pulled back on a sunny day. The VW kids go crazy for these here in the UK, and often pinch the roofs for other models. This one has a rare, brown leather interior, too.
A true, mildly interesting car of London.