Across this fair and green land there are innumerable otherwise perfectly useful garages and workshop spaces filled with, for want of better words, automotive wrecks. Sometimes these derelict vehicles reappear on EBay after many years under the delightfully whimsical title of ‘barn find’ or ‘easy project.’ The project phenomenon is so prevalent that it is the subject of many books and a regular feature of monthly and weekly classic car magazines.
I’ve often wondered how a car can get to that state and, what’s more, stay that way. How do otherwise desirable classic cars linger for years unloved and untouched? It wasn’t at all obvious to me. Until, of course, it happened to me.
There is a point in every classic car fan’s life when they decide to take on a project. This idea is certainly related to the number ‘4’ in a man’s age (for we are generally men) and seems borne out of a caveman-esque desire to make and do something. Obviously the desire to make and do is entirely disconnected from any suitable skills to either make or do whatever is required. Which is invariably a lot.
Taking on a project is like accepting a well worn heirloom. The greatest joke on EBay is the listing that says ‘99% complete’ or ‘requires a couple of weekends to finish.’ Because of course anything easy to finish would surely have been finished by the person best placed to finish it, the current owner. I suggest that in the entire history of classic cars nobody has really ever fully and completely finished a project. It is, after all, the first rule of a project.
So hundreds, probably thousands, of classic cars hang in limbo between the road and the crusher, nobody quite having the energy to fire the bullet. I know all this because I have my own project. Actually across the Great Escape fleet we have about 6 projects, but 5 of them are still at the Probably, Definitely, Almost Certainly Will Go Back On The Road stage. Only one hangs by the thin, withered thread between action and inaction.
Rather inevitably, because I like them, it’s an Alfasud. It’s story, both as roadgoing car and project is rather typical of the ouvre. Several years ago, when I couldn’t find a roadworthy Alfasud to buy, I bought this Alfasud as a project. It came to me from a fellow enthusiast who had dismantled it, done some inexpert welding and then discovered that something more interesting beyond the confines of a murky lock up was far more appealing than proceeding further with the restoration. The car came to me with a big folder of stuff, including a lot of photographs showing the car in the early ’00s in concours condition. It was rather a long way from that when I got it. Essentially rust free it was in a million and one bits.
Not long after the sorry bundle of bits arrived at my unit I chanced upon a mint road going Sud. So the project Sud languished in a corner of my unit. At one point I offloaded it to a classic car specialist who promised to work on it ‘as and when’ in his spare time. The trip to the helpful specialist is a common if not essential stage in any classic car project’s life. Naturally, this specialist either never had any spare time in 2 years or, like me, forgot the car existed. Eventually he gave it back to me, dirtier but in all other respects exactly the same as it was when I gave it to him.
Back in my larger unit it sat in a corner rather forgotten. The trouble was that I had no real use for it and no firm idea what to do with it. I could easily have got rid of it – I had a few offers – but assembling all the bits and shifting it required time and focus that, with a busy business, I just didn’t have.
Eventually, a couple of years ago, someone suggested turning it into a track day weapon. This potentially solved at least one of my problems in putting it back on the road. There are now so few Alfasud left – and this car is a particularly rare TiX – that sourcing all the parts needed for a decent rebuild was going to be a tough challenge. A track day car made sense in this respect and would be fun.
Decision made some progress began. I sourced a 1.7 litre engine, a roll cage and various other racing parts. We took the old 1.5 engine out and refurbished it. Then things stalled, mainly due to demands of the business.
Which is where we are now. In time worn fashion, it’s 99% complete. Any easy project to finish. The trouble is keeping 60 classic cars reliable and safe means we never quite get to the Sud. A shame as it would be – sorry, will be – a great track day car. For the times, whenever they might be, that we all have a weekend free to actually go to a track day.
As with any project, the Alfasud still has a chance of progressing. And in our defence, that chance is getting bigger. In the next few weeks we move to a new, larger unit where we plan to install an extra ramp and a spray booth. To test the new spray booth out we’ll need a willing candidate that we’re not too bothered about. Cue the Alfasud.
I only mention that because almost certainly in 5 years I’ll be updating this post with proposals for turning the Alfasud into a stylish desk or object d’art. Alternatively I could just sell it but, well, where would the fun be in that?
Our other projects, which will be ready for the 2014 season we promise, include a Jaguar XJS V12 coupe, Triumph Herald convertible, Fiat X1/9, Saab 900 convertible and MGF. For more details on our roadworthy fleet visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.