Sunday saw a quick trip with the firstborn son to the Texas All British Car Day in Round Rock, where I was surprised to find hundreds of British cars. Cars that I had forgotten were British – Metropolitans, Deloreans, Range Rovers, Aston Martins and Lotus. This was in addition to what I had expected to see there – old MGs, Triumphs, and E-type Jaguars.
As I steered my sticky fingered little chap around the gleaming paintwork, I started to lust and imagine. Maybe I could buy an old banger (not the sausage type) from a barn and fix it up for the little monkey and I to scoot about in. I noted that the engine compartments of the cars were cleaner than the interior of mine – none were festooned with plastic fruit, pacifiers, and I saw narry a Cheerio anywhere. While I romanticized about what it means to have a pristine car that turns heads for under $1000, I suddenly came back down to Earth with a shock. Houston we have a problem and all that malarkey.
The problem was this. While it is possible to find parts for said cars, it is expensive, inconvenient and as my experiences with vintage London Taxis has proved, fraught with uncertainty. By which I mean that despite the engineering being considerably simpler on a 40 year old car, the ability to get the right part manufactured and to have it fit first time is not so simple. While the Fairway cabs have theoretically been produced for decades, the older ones are harder to get parts for. A lot harder.
Compare this to the million MX5s on the road around the world, and the fact that I can trudge over to Autozone and have a clueless teenager hand over a replacement part that fits for peanuts, and I’m suddenly slamming on the brakes when it comes to any moves towards a vintage car. I like the fact that I can post a question about my MX5 on a forum and get 8 answers by the start of next day business. After all, while I enjoy working on cars, I also want to be able to drive them.
I asked one vintage British car owner how much he drove his car and he said 3000 miles a year got him an award from his Houston motoring club as the highest mileage driver. He also said he spent five nights under the car to be able to drive it on the weekends. I guess my ideal ratio would be closer to 15% fixing and 85% driving right now. I do enjoy the physical nature of working on cars, and I do like the feel of concrete on my back and inventing tools to work around certain problems, but I also like bezzing about on the road for no good reason.
So where does this leave me? Inspired. I stopped off at Autozone on the way back from the event, and got some parts. I fitted them all in the coming days and reassembled my engine. Sure, the car is still like the Exxon Valdez when I started her up – oil spurting merrily from the front of the engine somewhere – but I feel that the parts are in my grasp. And a replacement engine is more likely to cost $500 than the $5000 it would have taken to recondition my old 1967 cab’s engine. For me, walking around the vintage cars is enough – to know that they’re out there, and that their bearded owner has spent weekends and nights restoring the tiny details so that I can look at them and pass compliments will do fine.