Car Mechanics (UK)
‘The Cavalier went downhill, ironically while going uphill’
If you have a retro classic, take note: beware of mega-low-mileage cars. Back in 2006, the friend of a friend asked me to remove an immobiliser from a Vauxhall Cavalier as it was playing up royally. The job took little more than an hour and, owing to the fact the elderly owner was related to someone I knew, I made little more than a packet of fags for my troubles.
I’ll make no excuses for the fact that the Cavalier in its third generation is one of my all-time favourite cars. I owned one of the last ever Lutonbuilt examples, which was a twin-cam 2.0 GLSI. Even now, its gutsy engine, good fuel economy, ability to sit in top gear in the outside lane and sheer DIY friendliness gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I’ll go on record stating that the Cavalier MKIII was perhaps the greatest all-round Vauxhall of the era.
Soon after completing the immobiliser job, the owner surrendered his licence and asked if I would be interested in buying the car. I had no use for it, but I did put him in touch with someone who was after a decent saloon car as a distress purchase. Said acquaintance bought the 9500-mile H-plate 2.0i Luton flyer for just £1000 and seemed pleased as punch initially. Unfortunately, the honeymoon period was shortlived.
After a month or so of daily grind, the plug leads failed, followed by the coil pack, and a nasty oil leak developed from the cam carrier. Yours truly was hired to cure the leak and fitted a timing belt and water pump at the same time. About two weeks later, further fun ensued when the alternator decided to draw a current rather than generate one.
By now, my friend had ploughed considerable money into the Cavalier, convinced it would eventually become reliable. However things went downhill fast, ironically while the car was going uphill slowly. A towbar had been fitted to the red retro rep-mobile after the new owner inherited a big caravan from a deceased in-law, so his wife and two fed-up children were packed into the car for a week in the Lake District. The holiday was cut short after his wife got caught short on the M6 after stopping for a ‘splash ’n’ dash’ at Corley services.
Anyone who knows the various rest stops along the M6 will know that Corley has a gruelling bank when heading northbound. It’s a long, grinding gradient that has many a truck on its hands and knees crawling through the gears, though chances are you wouldn’t really notice in the average car. In all fairness, a fuelinjected Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0 loaded to the gunwales and with an ABI Monza nailed to the bumper should still give a good account for itself, but soon after building up speed on a hot summer’s day the Cavalier decided enough was enough. Without any warning, the Vauxhall started knocking like Woody Woodpecker, followed by the oil lamp illuminating and a quick rise in temperature. At this point, evasive action took place by pulling onto the hard shoulder.
The final straw
As they were rattling along at a snail’s pace trying to make it to the next call box, there was an almighty BANG and that was that. All around the car and in its wake was a combination of oil and metal pieces. Lifting the bonnet revealed a jagged hole in the engine block that, to quote my mate, “a fox could hide in”.
To cut a long story short, the car was recovered and a secondhand engine was fitted, after which the owner’s missus decreed that the car was to be sold at any cost. His brief flirtation with the Cavalier MKIII ownership was curtailed before further expenditure threatened his wallet, marriage and sanity. He ended up weighing in the car for scrap after vandals dropped a brick through the sunroof.
I recall something similar happening to a family haulage firm with a small fleet of three-year-old ERF tractor units acquired from an easygoing contract. They were cascaded into a very different working environment wherein, one by one, they suffered spectacular engine or driveline failures. This was not so much an issue with the tractors themselves as the fact that they had never worked hard in their previous job. Now that they were seriously earning their corn, it became apparent that they had never been run in properly. This unfortunate event cost the company tens of thousands of pounds in a relatively short space of time.
The moral of the story is a simple one: although it’s nice to bag an older car with almost zero mileage that still looks and smells like new, you must treat them gently at first. Run them into a daily grind carefully, just as if they were brand new, and be prepared to recommission them in terms of new tyres, hoses and fluids. Otherwise neither you nor your Cavalier will be laughing.