Scared to fettle? Nick tells you how to gain a little confidence.
It’s not necessary that the purchaser of a Ming vase knows how to fire a kiln, or period home buyers be proficient in replacing a wattle and daub wall, strip out lead water pipes, fill in a well or hop up a ladder to repoint an ancient chimney stack. Or indeed learn how to grow honeysuckle around the front door and keep chickens. Or know how to track down ghosts.
Unless you are an expert, rich and/or very stupid, you’ll find somewhere not needing massive work. But you will need to know basic maintenance, or at least know when it’s due.
So why don’t people apply such philosophies to classic cars? Motoring scribes are regularly asked whether a would-be classic owner should take the plunge. How easy will it be to rebuild the car’s engine and strip the body down to a bare shell?
Well, the answer is to buy a classic that probably won’t need those things in the near future – well certainly not all at once.
Unless you really are into restoration and have certain skills, you are always better off buying a classic you can enjoy while taking pride in carrying out basic maintenance and learning as you go.
All this is basically the philosophy behind an excellent course, which started recently at the British Motor Museum.
Getting stuck in
The one-day Living with a Classic workshop is for anyone who has recently bought their first vehicle. There are three sections. Care of Your Classic gives students advice on how to look after body and paintwork, while a second looks at roadside repairs before a third – in the beneficial surroundings of the museum workshops – goes into servicing and maintenance.
A fourth finds students rebuilding a 1967 Borg Warner automatic gearbox in two hours, or they’ll get no lunch. Oops, wrong course!
Additionally the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs is all for member organisations running courses for their own members, or in the early stages of planning something.
The accent here is on the word ‘maintenance’, you may notice. Obviously I have written countless articles covering owners massive restoration projects and I am left in awe at the skills some people have.
But, and I’m sure you’ll be dumfounded by this revelation, many of the jobs needed to restore a classic are extremely difficult. Welding, painting and upholstery are three very different skills, and are many people are that brilliant at all three?
To be honest, many restorers have been around cars under repair since they were kids, or completed apprenticeships at garages, etc. However, there’s no need to be able to do all these things.
Having said that, a clear head, the appropriate back issues of Practical Classics and an oilimpregnated Haynes Manual can, if you have access to the right tools, plus practice, finally result in some major achievements.
It was, a statement from coordinator of the British Motor Museum course, Bob Wilkinson of the Classic Virgins Day and Classic Car Loan project scheme, that really hit home. ‘We would encourage classic clubs to offer maintenance courses to their members to give people the confidence to carry out work on their vehicles.’ Did you see the important word in there? C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-C-E!
That is so true. I’m sure there have been people on a gas-welding course who blurted out: ‘Wow this welding is easy!’ before a mushroom cloud rose above their garage. But be careful, read everything there is to read, realise your limits, take advice and… just get on with it!
‘Read up on things, realise your limits, take advice and… just get on with it!’
An innovative course for new classic owners has made Nick realise the one word most important to would-be restorers. Nick Larkin has appeared in many classic car (and a few bus) publications since 1989. He joinedPractical Classics in 1996, and remains a regular contributor.