The UK’s MOT exemption for 40 year and older cars

On the 20th May 2018 UK legislation changed and introduced the above, a subject that we have given coverage to in three issues of the magazine, the last being in May 2018.  The best way of describing this change is that it ‘stumbled’ into existence with probably more questions than answers as the initial announcement was short of detail and the subsequent Government clarification document is reproduced in full below.  As this covers a wide range of vehicles including non MGs, that which doesn’t is in blue text.

 Vehicles of Historical Interest (VHI): Substantial Change Guidance

Most vehicles manufactured or first registered over 40 years ago will, as of 20 May 2018, be exempt from periodic testing unless they have been substantially changed1.

Large goods vehicles (i.e. goods vehicles with a maximum laden weight of more than 3.5 tonnes) and buses (i.e. vehicles with 8 or more seats) that are used commercially will not be exempted from periodic testing at 40 years.

A vehicle that has been substantially changed within the previous 30 years will have to be submitted for annual MOT testing. Whether a substantially changed vehicle requires re-registration is a separate process.

Keepers of VHIs exempt from periodic testing continue to be responsible for their vehicle’s roadworthiness. Keepers of vehicles over 40 years old can voluntarily submit vehicles for testing.

Keepers of VHIs claiming an exemption from the MOT test should make a declaration when renewing their vehicle tax. The responsibility to ensure the declared vehicle is a VHI and meets the criteria, rests with the vehicle keeper as part of their due diligence. If a vehicle keeper is not sure of the status of a vehicle, they can consult a marque or historic vehicles expert, a list of whom will be available on the website of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs.

 If a vehicle keeper cannot determine that the vehicle has not been substantially changed, they should not claim an exemption from the MOT test.

 1 If the type of vehicle is still in production, it is not exempt from periodic testing.

 2 Further arrangements for motorcycles may be introduced, including if core testing standards are considered further internationally.

 The criteria for substantial change

 A vehicle will be considered substantially changed if the technical characteristics of the main components have changed in the previous 30 years, unless the changes fall into specific categories. These main components for vehicles, other than motorcycles 2, are:

Chassis (replacements of the same pattern as the original are not considered a substantial change) or Monocoque bodyshell including any sub-frames (replacements of the same pattern as the original are not considered a substantial change);

Axles and running gear – alteration of the type and or method of suspension or steering constitutes a substantial change;

Engine – alternative cubic capacities of the same basic engine and alternative original equipment engines are not considered a substantial change. If the number of cylinders in an engine is different from the original, it is likely to be, but not necessarily, the case that the current engine is not alternative original equipment.

The following are considered acceptable (not substantial) changes if they fall into these specific categories:

• changes that are made to preserve a vehicle, which in all cases must be when original type parts are no longer reasonably available;

• changes of a type, that can be demonstrated to have been made when vehicles of the type were in production or in general use (within ten years of the end of production);

• in respect of axles and running gear changes made to improve efficiency, safety or environmental performance;

• in respect of vehicles that have been commercial vehicles, changes which can be demonstrated were being made when they were used commercially.

In addition if a vehicle (including a motorcycle):

• has been issued with a registration number with a ‘Q’ prefix; or

• is a kit car assembled from components from different makes and model of vehicle; or

• is a reconstructed classic vehicle as defined by DVLA guidance; or

• is a kit conversion, where a kit of new parts is added to an existing vehicle, or old parts are added to a kit of a manufactured body, chassis or monocoque bodyshell changing the general appearance of the vehicle;

it will be considered to have been substantially changed and will not be exempt from MOT testing.

However if any of the four above types of vehicle is taxed as an “historic vehicle” and has not been modified during the previous 30 years, it can be considered as a VHI.

This guidance is only intended to determine the testing position of a substantially changed vehicle, not its registration.

The above is the core document from which the interpretation of whether your MG is eligible to be declared a VHI (Vehicle of Historic Interest) and no longer need to submit your car for the annual MOT test.  This process the Club and most members feel is a retrograde move and could in years to come be a stick to beat the classic car world with, but it is the law of the land.

Now for those wishing to take advantage of the exemption, interpreting whether the many very common changes to improve MGs done over the years has been a headache for many owners, so this feature is intended to try and clear some of the fog.  Then for owners who have decided their cars qualify there is uncertainty on the process of how this is done.  In fact now that the system has been in place for a reasonable period there is a clearer format on how this is done and I will cover this first.

Declaring VHI will now be an integral part of the re-licencing of all cars over 40 years of age and this now includes pre-1960 cars where previously owners didn’t have to do anything, although this must be noted has nothing to do with the otherwise completely separate aspect of whether the car is classed as a ‘Historic’ vehicle in terms of the zero rated tax. 

If you have a straight forward renewal then this will be start with the arrival of the form V11 through the post and this will say, ‘This vehicle may need an appropriate MOT test certificate’, (or similar wording) so if you renew the tax at a licence issuing Post Office, then you will have to present either a test certificate that covers at least the first day of the new tax period, OR, a completed form V112 correctly filled in to claim VHI.  If you fail to do either then your tax application will be refused. 

Taxing a car that has been off the road for a period of time where you do not have a V11 reminder means that you have to complete a standard application for tax form V10 that is downloadable from the GOV website and you can also download the V112 VHI declaration form to go with your application and taxing can be done at a licence issuing Post Office.  Note that I am not mentioning any aspects of changing the taxation class if the car has been off the road for long enough that it is still not in the ‘Historic’ tax class as this is separate, but can be done at the Post Office.

For those wishing to tax on line then you follow the normal process in going to the website and entering the sixteen digit reference number to bring up the correct vehicle details.  Once there you will now be faced with the need for the vehicle to have a test certificate valid for at least the first day of the new tax period, or to declare VHI there is a small check box to click on. 

In simple terms when you come to renew the tax the application will only succeed if you either have a current test certificate or you declare VHI.

Now moving to the various interpretations of what is and what isn’t a ‘Substantial Change’ is a much more variable subject, but almost every MG over 40 will be eligible to be declared a VHI.  The first point to make is that previous mentions of a 15% increased power to weight ceiling no longer exists as the totally impractical suggestion could never be policed and why there is no mention of it in the Government document.

Next if we work through the ‘criteria for substantial change’ we see that the document states that a substantial change is one where the ‘technical characteristics of the main components have changes in the previous 30 years’.  

The 30 year element is easy to interpret as this relates to changes in the last 30 years (on a rolling basis).  So taking an extreme example of a clearly substantially modified car; an MGB GT that has the bulkhead, interior and floorpan removed and a space frame structure added so that a complete Jaguar V12 engine, auto transmission and rear drive and suspension could be fitted would be seen as a ‘substantial change’ if done less than 30 years ago, but if done more than 30 years ago would not.  In addition if the above vehicle was modified less than 30 years ago as it ages and passes the 30 year date from when the changes were done, then those modifications will no longer be considered and the owner will be able to declare VHI and not submit the car for the annual MOT if he/she so chooses.

Interpreting ‘technical characteristics of the main components’ is more difficult and open to varying opinions, however, my interpretation of this would be the fundamental change of a complete assembly, engine, axle full front or rear suspension or steering, but whilst seeing such major changes always as a ‘substantial change’ is then to be qualified against the provisions further down the document. 

One specific substantial change area relates to the section mentioning changes to the chassis or monocoque bodyshell.  Chassis here relates to the separate chassis that is applicable to the MGA and earlier MGs and I can’t see any common or normal changes that would apply here, although I have seen an MGA coupe somewhat chopped up to make an American ‘Rat Rod’ that would clearly be seen as substantially changed, and I suggest the ruin of an MGA! 

Monocoque bodyshell though does have a very specific MG related connection as the MGB is one of the most unusual classic cars in the world that benefits from new replacement bodyshells still being made, and when they first appeared there was a surge of MGB GT donor cars being rebuilt into roadsters.  The end result is always so technically close to an original roadster that only the D in the chassis number provided the confirmation of the change.  In my view this is a ‘substantial change’ and on the face of things only if this was done more than 30 years ago would it then allow the owner to choose to declare VHI.  However, a caveat to this comes later!

The next section covers ‘Axles and running gear’ and this is followed by a very short sentence that says, ‘alteration of the type and or method of steering or suspension constitutes a substantial change’.  My first comment here is that the title is somewhat detached from the follow on detail and that the detail is scant.

Taking this at face value, which is all that we can do and not try and see beyond the printed words into the authors thoughts, only the reference to the steering and suspension provides some pointers.  Immediately various MG coil over and independent rear suspension conversions come to mind along with power steering conversions.  On the basis of the wording all such major suspension and steering conversions are to be seen as substantial changes, but once again there is effectively an overriding contradiction to this conclusion within later wording.

One area of suspension changes that has already repeatedly been the subject of questions concerns the common change on many Midgets, MGBs and other MGs from lever to telescopic dampers and this is in my view NOT a substantial change.

The next section is ‘Engine’ and this has already generated many questions as this is such a common area where mild to wild changes have been completed by owners.  My first comment is that with no upper ceiling on the raising of power means that this is open ended, so supercharged B series engines no longer raise questions on their considerable power increases. 

Perhaps the most important clarification point in this section comes from the first part that says, ’alternative cubic capacities of the same basic engine and alternative original equipment engines are not considered a substantial change’.  This has big implications for many MGs, and as a prime example any B series engined car can have a different capacity B series engine.  This whether that is a production capacity, 1489cc, 1588cc, 1622cc or 1798cc, or any different capacity achieved through normal reconditioning with a rebore, or any deliberate larger overbore (or stroking the crank) to achieve a much bigger capacity, such as the common 1948cc or 1994cc conversion seen in MGBs since the 1970’s and indeed the common MGB engine in an MGA.  It also has implications for other MG engines, such as the earlier XP engined T series where the 1250 engine can be replaced with a 1466cc 1500 engine.

Let me also make it clear that the common changes of different carburettors, electronic ignition and other engine tuning on one of these original engines is not a substantial change.

Alternative original equipment engines doesn’t immediately point to any MG within the post War period except perhaps the Australian ‘Blue Streak’ engine, which was a 2433cc six cylinder B series engine based in very basic terms as a 1622cc B series with two extra cylinders.  This was developed specifically for the Australian and New Zealand market Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80, essentially the Australian version of the UKs Austin A60 Cambridge and Wolseley 16/60.  MG flirted with this engine during the MGC development but there are no UK vehicles or engines aside from the odd personally imported engine. 

Quite whether replacing a four cylinder B series with this six cylinder version would be seen as a ‘substantial conversion’ would be subject to discussion, but if this were to be in one of the Farina range (A60 etc.), then as BMC made such a version as the Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 I see that it would be accepted.  However, fit the same engine in an MGA or MGB and the interpretation using ‘alternative engine capacity of the same basic engine’, and, ‘If the number of cylinders in an engine is different from the original, it is likely to be, but not necessarily, the case that the current engine is not alternative original equipment.’ Will stretch the interpretation and see different experts come to different conclusions, so perhaps it is a benefit that so few of these engines exist!

We now move on to the next section, ‘The following are considered acceptable (not substantial) changes if they fall into these specific categories:’ This is where exceptions are listed and where many of the areas previously assessed as a ‘substantial changes’ will not now be seen as such.

‘Changes that are made to preserve a vehicle, which in all cases must be when original type parts are no longer reasonably available’, is not often a situation found with the post war MGs, such is the strength and availability of parts.

‘Changes of a type, that can be demonstrated to have been made when vehicles of the type were in production or in general use (within ten years of the end of production);’ has a much bigger impact, especially in respect of the MGB which during its 18 year production period, and especially adding the ten years after production ended; that means up to October 1990, saw many significant modifications done quite frequently.

Now this 28 year period in which these more complex changes were done on a regular basis drags in a number of areas that were previously seen to be ‘Substantial Changes’, can now be excluded.  One is the use of a new MGB roadster bodyshell to rebuild a donor GT into a roadster as the roadster bodies were launched in May 1988 at the NEC Spring classic car show.  There then followed a two and a half year window where I know of quite a number of these GT to roadster conversions were done.

Another can be seen to be MGB V8 conversions that Ken Costello started in 1969, and from the following year this became a commercial conversion with something in the order of approximately 225 roadsters and GTs being created during the 1970’s.  Obviously these V8 conversions, and the 2591 factory GT V8s made between 1973 and ’76, used the 3.5 litre version of this engine, but it is interesting to note that in the time period to October 1990 the 3.9 litre engine had been in mainstream production for two years and this had already been used in some V8 conversions. 

Thus it would be reasonable to see a V8 conversion using a 3.5 or 3.9 litre engine as one that can be reasonably attributed to being done during the allotted time period and so not be seen as a ‘substantial change’.  It could also be argued that the previous clause that says, alternative cubic capacities of the same basic engine’ will not be considered as a ‘substantial change’, and so open the door to later 4.0, 4.2 and 4.6 litre production spec Rover V8 engines and the additional bigger engine capacities that specialists have been able to generate.

The next clause has the biggest potential coverage and impact where it says, ‘in respect of axles and running gear changes made to improve efficiency, safety or environmental performance’, will not be seen as ‘substantial changes’.  Since so many of the modifications available have benefits that improve efficiency and safety, with some of the efficiency gains also enhancing the environmental performance, this opens a big door. 

For example do we include engines in this section as part of the running gear?  If so could/should that apply to replacement modern engines such as the Rover K series in MG Midgets and MGBs?  This may seem to contradict the earlier aspect as this is not an original or ‘alternative original equipment engine’ and so will always be seen as a significant change, but can equally then be seen as offering a considerable benefit in efficiency and environmental performance.  As the guidance document doesn’t give any specific indication which of these elements carries more weight or overrides others, we take the efficiency and environmental performance improvement as justification to allow these changes, but this is still sure to create two different camps.

The situation in respect of other running gear changes such as the fitting of a fuel injection or full engine management systems will have benefits in improving power, fuel efficiency and reducing the noxious gasses coming out of the exhaust, so once again the significant environmental performance is a big bonus and justification for acceptance.

Looking at the comprehensive suspension and axle conversions such as the superb Hoyle and Frontline conversions, which genuinely provide significant improvements to ride and handling and so can be seen to also clearly deliver a better safety envelope and so not be seen as a significant change.

The same view can apply to power steering conversions and additionally with the conversions available for MGs we usually do not see any ‘alteration of the type and or method’ of the steering, just adding electric power assistance to the upper steering column, or a replacement steering rack for another rack with hydraulic power assistance.  If the steering was converted from say a re-circulatory ball to a rack type then this would be an alteration of the type, but even then the benefits in efficiency and associated safety improvement that come from that efficiency gain can still be applied. 

I always use the experience of non-power assisted Range Rover (Classics) from many years ago that at low speed were horrendously heavy to steer and less strong persons had significant difficulty in safely controlling at low speed, something that vanished when power assistance was added and that principle is where MG power steering conversions can deliver the same sort of benefit.

Other running gear elements that also come into focus would include a different gearbox and the popularity of five speed conversions is a primary consideration and there is nothing that indicates that this aspect has been specifically considered in the Government document, and in fairness a modern five speed gearbox is simply more efficient than the older gearbox it replaces, so that in itself provides the justification that isn’t a substantial change. 

Likewise significant changes to the braking system, such as the conversion of MGA 1500 front brakes from drums to discs, or the more common conversion of MGB front brakes to vented discs and four pot calipers; perhaps even a conversion of the rear drums to a disc set up will all be noticeably enhancing the brakes efficiency and with it the cars safety so again these do not count as significant modifications.

Another common MG modification is the conversion from bolt on wheels to wire wheels and this is not a significant modification, just as the common changes of wheel size and associated tyre size changes are not significant changes.

The last aspect in this subsection of the guidance document deals with commercial vehicles so doesn’t apply to MGs, and the following section has little impact, although some MGs may well have been classified by DVLA as ‘reconstructed classics’.  This is not the same as the majority of older MGs that have been rebuilt but the title ‘reconstructed classic’ refers to a car that doesn’t have an identity (registration number) because it is made up of parts over 25 years old from multiple vehicles and usually attracts a Q plate registration.  

The one aspect of this section that may affect a few members is related to Kit cars (e.g. NG kits based on the MGB).  In simple terms this group will always be ineligible to declare VHI unless the vehicle is taxed as Historic (£0 tax rate) and the modifications were done more than 30 years ago.

The above is my interpretation of the substantial change aspect of the MOT exemption for 40 plus year old MGs and as indicated there will be other historic vehicle experts who may draw different conclusions in different areas, but the final decision is always going to be with the keeper and the best he can do is make an honest decision based on the state of his/her vehicle and how this applies to his car. 

If he/she has any doubt then the best guidance is not to declare VHI and continue to have the car MOT’d, something I have done with both of my eligible cars.  Indeed it is worth labouring the point that the Club feels this exemption is not good for the long term and recommends continuing with an MOT whether this is a mandatory or a voluntary one if you do declare VHI.


Roger Parker -  Email Address : rogerp@



August, 2018