At the Ace Cafe in Stonebridge, north west London, there are dark clouds approaching from the south, where once a squadron of German bombers flew.
The transport cafe was not the intended target, but one night in November 1940, a high explosive bomb that was intended to wipe out a nearby railway line ripped through the building. It was one of 90 high explosive bombs to drop on the area during the Blitz.
Now London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and his Ulez policy, already causing resentment for the city’s motorists, has spread trepidation among patrons of the Ace Cafe.
The venue is legendary among petrol heads, a place of homage and a meeting place for people who share a passion for classic motorcycles and cars. Some come to London to visit the majesty of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, others want to be entertained on the West End. For fans of the internal combustion engine, a cafe on the Old North Circular road, a mile from Wembley stadium, is a must see and occasionally, a bucket list item.
Inside is a visit to the past. Rockabilly music on the jukebox and proper mugs of tea for just £1.40. Breakfasts for around a tenner and main meals providing change from £15.
The Ace Cafe is a place where lovers of classic cars and motorcycles meet up at the historic roadhouse on London’s North Circular Road
Managing Director of the Ace Cafe, Mark Wilsmore, pictured outside his venue, said despite being currently outside the Ulez zone, his business has already been massively impacted by the policy
Along the walls are photographs celebrating the history of the cafe. Where after the end of the Second World War, ex-service men, who learned to ride motorbikes during the during the conflict, would meet up, and race to the next transport cafe along the newly completed North Circular Road.
These ton-up boys wanted to average 100 miles-per-hour at a time when only the laws of physics controlled how fast you could travel along main roads.
This was soon raised regularly in Parliament, with Lord Ferrier taking to his feet during a late session of the House in Lords in 1960, admitting: ‘I confess that I first rode a motorcycle some years before I was entitled to have a licence. That was a good many years ago. I consider that riding a good motor-cycle is second only in thrill to riding a good horse. But “I could not agree more” that there is absolutely no reason why they should make such a beastly noise.’
He claimed, quite rightly, that some riders were modifying their bikes to make them faster, and as a consequence, increasing the sound coming from the tail pipes.
Many of whom who tweaked their machines for marginal performance gains would have met up at the Ace Cafe.
Most evenings, groups of classic car or motorcycle enthusiasts meet up at the venue to display their vehicles and talk about their mutual love of the internal combustion engine
Unsurprisingly, a major topic during this meeting of classic British motors, was the impending expansion of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s Ulez zone
In 1968, the Ace Cafe closed, though stories about the culture continued to spread. Annual events were held for fans of the original. From the mid 1990s, a group decided to resurrect the venue which reopened fully in 2001.
For patrons today, it is a welcome refuge. A place where there is no need to explain what ‘suck, squeeze, bang, blow’ means. For the uninitiated, they are the four stages of a four-stroke engine and not a childish innuendo.
Currently, the cafe is just outside the Ulez boundary, but on August 29, Mr Khan’s new tax will cover the majority of the zone within the M25.
Managing director of Ace Cafe London, Mark Wilsmore smiles as he stands in the car park looking at a wide range of classic cars assembling outside his venue. The owners park up and quickly head inside to avail of food, such as marinated pork ribs in a ranch style sauce, costing £13.95. Later this year, they may have to pay a further £12.50 to Sadiq Khan – almost doubling the price of their night out.
For Mark, whose business survived Covid, is dealing with the ongoing inflation crisis and still continues to pay astronomic energy bills, the tax is a further unwelcome burden.
Mark Jones, 52, from Ruislip, Middlesex is pictured beside his immaculate 1989 Astra GTE. He said he is not willing to pay the Ulez charge so his car may be sold to another enthusiast from outside the M25 or locked in his garage until it reaches 40 and becomes Ulez compliant
Mark told MailOnline that this new charge is threatening the good work he and fellow owners do for charity, raising money for good causes by parading their cars
He told MailOnline: ‘It looks like Ulez is coming to envelop us at the end of August. Ulez has already affected us. Most people from outside of London, all seem to think we were in it. London is Ulez. The extension will affect us, but not as much as the initial introduction of it did.
‘It has hugely hit my business. It’s not just this evening, classic car night. We were hosting events for VW T4 and T5 vans, which are diesel machines and are big no-nos today. That’s almost completely vanished.
‘We have Hot Rod night or American car night. Many of those fall into the historic category and are not liable for Ulez. But between the modern and historic there are a whole swathe of cars and bikes that have been affected and will be further affected by the expansion.’
He said he feels sorry for Mr Khan, which is not a common sentiment among his patrons. He said before reopening the Ace Cafe in 2001, he worked in the city of London and would commute from his home in Hendon, north London, along the A1 passing through Islington. Getting up in the morning and looking over towards Croydon, he could see a layer of pollution settling above the city, shimmering as the sun rose from the eastern horizon.
‘At Henley’s corner in the spring, I would smell cherry blossom, but after going down the hill at Archway and into Islington, my eyes would water with the pollution. ‘
Not all of the cars present were in show room condition, such as this 1984 gold Mini
‘There is a problem, without a doubt. And I contribute to that with my vehicle and I smoke. But the problem is with Government policy.
‘We might be the last people, like at the turn of the 19th century “I’m the last person to ride a horse through London”, you might the be last person to ride a motorbike through London or the last person to drive a car through London.’
When asked if he believes the mayor or the government are trying to ‘strangle his business’, he pauses for a moment and looks up and tells how the Metropolitan Police have actively stymied attempts to diversify his business and encourage new groups to meet up at his premises.
READ MORE: Little known loophole to dodge Sadiq Khan’s £12.50-a-day tax
Cameras will monitor cars as they pass through the city and outer suburbs and pass their details through a central database which will automatically determine whether their engines are compliant with the strict emissions standards
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‘I wouldn’t say they are trying to… but that’s the net effect of the onward march of silly legislation that is unsupported by appropriate government policy.
‘There are zillions of electric scooters out there. We would happily host meetings for them. We are told “no, they’re anti-social and they are illegal”. So we can’t host them. It’s completely bonkers. This is something to throw back to government for not joining up the dots, but being very keen to blame everybody.’
Mark Jones, 52, from Ruislip, Middlesex, Runs an engineering company for the railway. He arrived at the Ace Cafe driving his 1989 Astra GTE. The car is immaculate and on the bottom corner of the windscreen sits its original tax disc.
Many 1980s hot hatches ended up in hedges and written off by young drivers who over-estimated their ‘talent’ behind the wheel when they should have been spending more time studying Isaac Newton’s Third Law on Action and Reaction.
Seeing the original tax disc is instructive. It says the car has been in the stewardship of owners who value it greatly and are fastidious with its maintenance. On the odometer, it reads 60,000 miles, which is supported by a level of documentation that would impress an airline maintenance engineer. Every new nut and bolt is accounted for.
In City Hall, these machines should be crushed. Though, only one per cent of car owners who have tried to avail of Mr Khan’s scheme have been approved for payment.
His office has been forced to deny that the roll-out of Ulez cameras is preparing the infrastructure to eventually switch to road pricing, which will see motorists charged for each mile they drive – possibly increasing the bill when demand is greatest.
These two luxury saloons, from Rolls Royce and Bentley are from different generations. The Rolls Royce Silver Shadow on the left is from the 1970s, while the Bentley Brooklands is one of the final produced in Crewe in the mid 1990s. The Rolls is deemed a classic, so is not affected by Ulez. The Bentley – which is only used for 200 miles a year – may be parked up for longer
A classic car fan looks at the rear of this wonderful Rover P6 TC, where hidden from view was its state-of-the-art De Dion rear axle with in-board disc brakes. For petrol heads, this is special
Mark is rightly proud of his car, of which he is the second owner. Or more correctly, its custodian and benefactor. He fears for its future and the future of other owners in a similar situation.
What is being threatened, is not just a random selection of components, but a way of life. A community which faces uncertainty because of decisions made in a remote bureaucracy of which they have not been specifically consulted.
He told MailOnline: ‘I have a collection of cars and vans that are not compatible with Ulez, so from August 29, I will not be able to drive them. If I want to drive them, I’ll have to pay £12.50 which I’m not going to do, simple as that.
‘I may have to sell them and the value of them is plummeting in London. I can’t take them to car shows, for which I pay.
‘I insure it and tax it, I’m part of a club who exchange spare parts.’
One of the unintended consequences of Ulez is the effect it will have on fundraising events for good causes.
‘We do a lot of charity work. This will mean we can’t take them to the charity events, so there won’t be any charity events. This will has another impact on society itself.’
A Porsche 928, pictured, parked beside a pair of Lotus Europas, famous for their incredibly impractical rear screens
He believes the Ulez expansion is an attempt to further penalise motorists. In some parts of the city, acts of civil disobedience have taken place, damaging the cameras tasked with keeping a hawk-eye over citizens and tracking their movements across London.
‘This car has another 30 years left in it. I probably do no more than 200 miles a year in this car. Of course I do have a few more classic cars, which are historic and do not have to pay Ulez.
‘So I might be forced to park this one in the garage, rotting away and not being loved. It is a crying shame. I have a connection with this car, a love for this car and it’s going to be taken away from me.
‘It is part of me and it is part of my social life as well. It is just a crying shame.
‘It might have to sit in the garage for six years. That’s just one of my cars. I have a 1991 van, a little Vauxhall Rascal van with 50,000 miles and it is as good as it was when it came out of the factory.
‘I think they have to have a rethink about the whole thing. Where I live, I’m five minutes from the country. There’s no air pollution. I’ve lived there all my life.
‘I might have to move somewhere else. This is not about pollution, this is yet another tax that Mayor Khan wants to impose on us. Simple as that.’
Bob Baker, 65, from Harrow stands beside his 1994 Caterham Seven, parked beside fellow members of Harrow Classic Car Club
Bob has been angered by the Ulez charge and its proposed expansion. He told MailOnline: ‘I don’t want a new car. I want the cars that I’ve got. I want privilege of owning the car I want. I don’t want to be dictated to by petty politicians, who instead of sorting out the actual problems are just trying to make themselves money’
Across the car park, the imposing figure of Bob Baker, 65, from Harrow, stands beside a mid 1990s Caterham Seven. Luckily, his one is fitted with the optional quick release Momo steering wheel and Boss. The mechanism allows him to get in and out of the two-seater ‘not quickly’.
The former fire protection engineer is a member of Harrow Classic Car Club, who are regular patrons of the Ace Cafe.
He told MailOnline: ‘I own just two vehicles which I use just socially, unfortunately, both of them are non-compliant, that’s it, that’s my story.
‘Let’s put it this way, I didn’t vote for Khan and I didn’t vote for Ulez.’
He didn’t vote for Boris Johnson, who as Mayor of London introduced the original Ulez zone. Although, the Tories are hopeful that resentment about Mr Khan’s policy could boost their support in the by-election for the seat vacated by Mr Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
‘The fact is, behind it as we all know, it is a money making scheme. If they were actually spending the money on traffic it would be great, but they are not.
‘Last time I was in London I had relatives over from France and I was appalled really, by the service by London Transport. I got fined because I didn’t realise that my truck was not Ulez compliant. You still got to drive in there because London Transport does not provide the service you need.’
Hiding between a Volkswagen Beetle and a Ford Mustang is this 1974 Triumph TR6, based on the classic British design of an engine in the front providing power to the rear wheels and an open top to allow the wind in your hair
Speaking about his car, he said: ‘It’s a K-series 1,400cc Caterham Seven. It’s 1994 circa and originally had about 130 horse power.
‘I was eight when a Lotus Seven went past me. It took me 50 years and getting rid of two wives to be able to afford the car that I wanted, but I did get one. And I now use this – I wouldn’t say daily – but when I do drive and the weather’s not bad and I’m not going shopping – I use this as my car’
The Lotus Seven was designed by legendary car designer Colin Chapman, whose obsession was reducing mass in order to improve the handling and power-to-weight ratio of the car.
The original car was produced between 1957 and 1974. Chapman wanted an affordable, road legal race car that would help fund his racing projects.
Owners could buy the car in kit form, which saved them the costs of a purchase duty tax – as long as Lotus did not include assembly instruction with the boxes of parts. Instead they gave owners disassembly instructions.
Owners of the original Lotus Seven could buy the car in kit form to avoid a hefty tax charge. Modern day Caterham fans can also receive their new cars as a pile of parts, but unfortunately there is no longer a tax reason to assemble the car yourself
The rights to the Lotus Seven were sold to Caterham in the mid 1970s who continue to supply kits or completed cars to devoted fans today.
Unfortunately for Bob, his K-series engined Caterham is not Ulez compliant. It being a Caterham, with some fettling, he could install a brand new Ford Duratec engine supplied with modern cars, but that would no longer be ‘his’ car.
He said: ‘This car is almost 28 years old. It’s carbon footprint has been paid back a long, long time ago. It’s not as if I travel every day, but I probably will travel less if it is £12.50 every time I do go out. I’m been arbitrarily been stuck into an area that I’ve never asked for it, never voted for it… even the local council doesn’t want it. Harrow Council has said they do not want it out this far, but it’s being thrust upon us.’
Harrow Council is one of the local authorities which has taken a High Court challenge to block the expansion of the scheme, claiming evidence cited by City Hall supporting the policy was ‘unsubstantiated’.
Bob said: ‘There are lots of people in this situation. My other vehicle is diesel. We were all encouraged to buy diesel, now they are worthless. But it’s 14-15 years old. Serviced by Nissan. Never let me down. It works perfectly.
‘I don’t want a new car. I want the cars that I’ve got. I want privilege of owning the car I want. I don’t want to be dictated to by petty politicians, who instead of sorting out the actual problems are just trying to make themselves money.’
Karen Field from Harrow arrived at the Ace Cafe driving a wonderful 1964 Rover P4. As such, the car is more than 40 years old and will not have to pay the tax
Karen, pictured, believes ‘in principle’ Ulez is a good idea, but it is being driven primarily as a way of making money
Mr Khan faced a hostile reaction while trying to defend his clean air policy at LBC’s State of London debate, by angry citizens struggling with the cost of living crisis.
The divisive Ulez issue could even see the Tories hold onto Boris Johnson’s old seat in next week’s crunch by-election, with Labour sources fearing the electorate may use the poll as a protest against the controversial tax.
Karen Field from Harrow arrived at the Ace Cafe driving a wonderful 1964 Rover P4. As such, the car is more than 40 years old and will not have to pay the tax.
Karen, who said she is ‘slightly older’ than her car, says Mayor Khan is right but for the wrong reasons.
She told MailOnline: ‘I think Ulez is a nice idea if it was a principle which was being adhered to as a principle and not for making money, and that’s where the problem is.
‘It penalises older vehicles and older vehicles are not necessarily polluting. They are recycling, they are not using any energy being produced.
‘Slow speeds and idling is what leads to the pollution. You’ve got 20mph speed limits and speed humps, causing you to start and stop, all of that is leading to pollution and that is not being addressed. Instead it is “let’s fine you one way or another”.
‘It’s a great idea in principle.’
Under the system, brand new supercars burning fuel at a rate of 10-15 miles to the gallon are welcomed into the city or large SUVs as long as they are fitted with compliant engines.
For Karen, this is a problem: ‘You have petrol guzzlers and SUVs that take up half the road – you can get three of these Rovers in the space of one and a half SUVs.’
Even some leading cancer specialists have spoken out about the policy and the impact it may have on their patients.
Over in the corner of the car park was a highly modified Honda Fireblade motor bike, with what appeared to be a large dent on the fuel tank and a steel cage protecting the engine and crankshaft.
It’s owner Sparky, a latter day Lee Majors, is the unknown stuntman who made someone -he is rather coy about naming – such a star. Although past credits include a film franchise involving fast cars and motorcycles.
Speaking about his role in film he said: ‘He is the man who has no name, who has no presence, really. The unknown man…’
The strange indentation on the tank is a modification he designed himself which allows him to sit with his legs over the handlebars while riding around. Unlike many of the shiny examples on show, this bike has the odd scratch and signs that it has been ridden in an enthusiastic manner, and a back story which John Sullivan could have used as inspiration for Trigger’s broom.
Sparky, a latter day Lee Majors, describes Ulez as a ‘disingenuous way of extracting money from people’s pockets’
‘My bike is a lovely bike, she has a lovely character and she doesn’t harm anybody. She’s a ’98 Honda Fireblade, She’s had 11 owners, I’m the 12th. She’s had five new handles and four new heads… she’d had some people who are not as nice as I am.’
On the issue of Ulez, he is in a confusing situation when it comes to his bike. On paper, his bike is Ulez compliant, but on the computer, which is supported by the all-seeing cameras being dotted liberally around the city, the bike has to pay the charge.
Many bike owners have the option of getting their engines tested to determine whether they are within the limits, but Sparky believes this is unfair.
‘Paying £180 to get something stamped that doesn’t need assistance is not something that I really want to do. It doesn’t make any sense.
‘There are additional charges on top of that. Friends of mine who live in the city and use their bikes for work or a daily commute have all been affected.
‘It’s a disingenuous way of extracting money from people’s pockets. For us, it has got to a point where enough is enough. There is only so much you can fleece people, the man on the street, before we have to remove people from office.’
He added: ‘I am from an engineering background and one thousandths’ of a mil is one thousandths of a mil. If the data doesn’t stack up, then why are we jumping through hoops.’
A spokesperson for Mr Khan said the mayor fully intended extending the charge on schedule.
‘The Mayor has been clear that the decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide was not an easy one, but necessary to tackle toxic air pollution and the climate crisis.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, pictured, has described the decision to expand the Ulez zone as ‘difficult’, though claims nine-out-of-ten cars in the city are compliant with the new regulations
‘Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to air pollution, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.
‘The ULEZ is a very targeted scheme: nine out of ten cars seen driving in outer London are already ULEZ compliant and will not have to pay the charge. Classic vehicles with a historic tax class are exempt and will not have to pay a penny.
‘For drivers of the most polluting vehicles, the Mayor is delivering the biggest scrappage scheme yet – £110m – to help the Londoners who need it most, including charities, low income and disabled Londoners, small-businesses and sole traders.
‘From the end of this month this scheme will expand eligibility to hundreds of thousands more Londoners, including all those receiving child benefit as well as all of the capital’s small businesses and charities.’
MailOnline has approached the Metropolitan Police for comment.
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