This week in the workshop has involved some head scratching, some remarkable success and, as ever, a lot of swearing.
When my much-maligned Allegro was rear-ended in Coventry at first it seemed to give us all yet more reasons to laugh at the squashed bean. But the joke was on me. It turns out that Series 3 Allegro rear lights are as rare as hen’s teeth. Bearing in mind that you pay £200 for a new front indicator on your Ferrari 456, £125 for a rear light on Allegro feels like someone’s having a flippin laugh. It also risked the Allegro being an insurance write-off (and that wouldn’t be a joke) so I decided to go all retro and get flush-fit series 1 lights, £12.50 for a pair. And then the brilliant Austin Allegro Appreciation Society Facebook group came up trumps with a free Series 3 light. Wowsers. The All-aggro is currently in Belgian with Classic Car Weekly.
I love my £600 Fiat, mainly because it goes like a rocket. Unfortunately a couple of weeks ago it kept going like a rocket, long after I’d asked it to stop. A broken throttle cable was the cause of my trouser-wetting incident. Surely an easy fix? Nope. Fiat has cast its distinctive coupe hot shot into the wilderness and doesn’t make new parts. Second hand parts are almost non-existent. So £80 it is for a remanufactured one. We’re not looking forward to it arriving: like most things on the over-complicated Fiat it isn’t a straightforward fit.
Our Mk2s are popular so they work hard. Unfortunately they’re also prone to being a bit argumentative. Our 3.8 was fitted with a new coil for the season and performed happily on the Autotweetup Rally. Then it didn’t. The coil packed up and the car broke down on the M5 with a customer. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that we suffer problems with new coils: it’s one of our most common faults and is caused by poor quality parts. Solution: buy better? If only we could.
Some classic cars are a masterclass in how not to buy a classic car. Obviously it isn’t obvious that they’re obviously bad when you buy them. Kit cars are a particular case in point. The body may be new but nothing else about a kit car generally is: the engine, chassis, suspension and drivetrain are from donor cars. So whenever you buy one you’re at the mercy of whoever made the buying decisions when it went together. Our Cobra had allegedly covered 700 miles when we got it 4,000 miles ago. Not much of what has happened subsequently suggests that was true. We’ve essentially rebuilt the whole car: gearbox, diff, ancillaries, the list goes on. Now it’s the engine. The car had developed a misfire so this week we partially dismantled the engine and identified a worn camshaft. This, plus the heads, have gone off to be sorted. In the last 12 months we’ve put around 250 hours labour into this car. The lesson learned: if you must buy a kit car be very, very careful. You’re buying an amalgam of second hand bits, expect problems.
I like a bargain. I drive a £300 Alfa after all. My canny Scottish genes mean I tend to buy projects for restoration, rather than restored cars. This enables me to invest in the car over time and when the workshop is quiet, which increasingly tends to be never. This explains why a Triumph Herald project that I bought from TRGB two years ago has only just emerged, blinking, into the light of day. Ostensibly solid, the Herald had been partly restored before the owner gave up and flogged it to the Suffolk Triumph specialist. When I bought it it was a hideous shade of blue. Now it’s white. Edging this car to completion has taken a while because sourcing small but essential parts has been a slow and difficult process. This problem isn’t new to classic car restorers but it may explain why your restoration project stalls and stumbles at the garage and the months roll on with minimal progress. When you’re waiting for parts the car has to be pushed to one side and another gets started. Even when the parts arrive it can take a while to get back onto it. But the wait has been worth it: the Herald looks amazing.
The diminutive 924 is one of those cars that is perennially overlooked. Which may explain why you can buy a good, solid car like the one we worked on this week for a few hundred pounds. That’s a decent, proper Porsche for the price of a 10 year old Fiesta. This car was a recent purchase and just needed a check over: we sorted out a few practical issues like slow windows, ill-fitting rear hatch and poor hot starting. The car isn’t perfect but at 22 years old and 200,000+ miles it is remarkably solid and drives really nicely. At this price and with these problems, where’s the risk?
Before MG got hold of it and made it a Midget, there was the Healey Sprite. The Frogeye is the personification of ‘cheeky’: small, curvy, nippy and sporty. We had a lovely cream Frogeye in for some work this week. The car is in excellent condition, a real testament to its owner, and was in to cure handbrake problems and a gearbox leak. We took on the work because the owner struggled to find a local garage interested in tackling these simple problems: this is one of the issues increasingly facing old car owners. Modern cars are so different to classics that more and more garages don’t want to touch them. We will.
We start filming on a new TV series in a week so we had this 356 in for checks. We’re using the Porsche for filming between March and May so it needs to be fault-free and reliable. Fortunately this one is. I’m not a huge fan of Porsches and the 356 has split opinion at Great Escape Tower but I like it. The car is tiny but svelte and looks great on its beefy conical chrome rims. Plus inside there is Bakelite, lots of it. Watch out for it on screens later this year.
For more from the workshop, tune in next week or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.