Don’t let fear stop you from wrenching

Aaron McKenzie

It might be age (mine and my car’s), it might be a perceived complexity or simply the cash that I’ve sunk into it, but I’ve been rather afraid of my classic since I bought it two years ago.

It’s a fear that built up with every breakdown and issue and one that has cost me dearly in labor charges. Quite simply, I became wary of working on the car myself and, consequently, wary of driving it too.

Regular visitors to this website may know that I bought a 1982 Lotus Esprit on eBay, in 2021. I knew it would be a risk, but I also hoped it would be a chance to get my hands dirty and learn more about the mechanical mysteries of an exciting motor car.

And yet, somehow it had the opposite effect. Pretty soon I didn’t dare do much more than check the fluids and tire pressures. Looking back at the bills from a Lotus specialist, I realized that I could—and indeed should—have been able to undertake most of the minor fixes that I was paying over £100 ($125) per hour for someone else to sort out.

Nik Berg Lotus Espirit
At the time this photo was taken, Berg was still to discover the full list of work needed on his Esprit … Nik Berg

I’m not completely incompetent, either. I’ve recently stripped and built up a race car to compete in the EnduroKA motorsport series and in the past had all manner of old machines that required hands-on help. In fact, the first car that I bought was a 1975 MG Midget that I spent many happy hours crawling underneath, a product of necessity combined with the curiosity of youth.

In good news, today’s young car enthusiasts appear to remain just as fearless. Research by eBay shows that a quarter of millennials and 23 percent of 17–24 year-olds are willing to maintain their cars themselves.

The Lotus, though, had eaten away at my confidence. Something had to be done.

Help came in the form of a Care for Your Classics weekend at the Heritage Skills Academy at Bicester Heritage. During the two-day course led by Rover afficionado, former garage-owner, and cardigan-wearer Richard LeFevre, my spannering self-esteem (spanner = wrench, to you Yanks) grew with each new task and theory lesson.

Nik Berg Lotus Espirit engine
Nik Berg

Within an hour of arrival I was stripping a Ford engine down completely—a brilliant way to demystify the motor. A bench full of parts then had to be re-assembled and, with the aid of Austin Healey owners Jane and Brian, it all went back together with not a single bolt left over.

Like me they were keen to keep their Sprite and 100/4 out of expensive workshops as much as possible, while TR6 owner Adrian said he “didn’t want to embarrass himself by the side of the road.”

We stripped and re-assembled brakes, learned how to adjust valve clearances and points gaps, and discovered the inner workings of the carburetor, which had always seemed like magic to me before. Tutor Richard even gave me a detailed guide on how to balance the Dellortos on the Esprit. It was a thoroughly enjoyable DIY deep-dive.

Most of all, the weekend banished the fear that had been eating away at my enjoyment of my Esprit. I’m sure there’ll be more challenges, but now I say “bring ‘em on.” Please, give it a go and get hands-on yourself.




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    Age and more money let a guy talk himself out of repairs he did in his younger days and should be able to do now as we have much better tools to work with. I’m guilty!

    As much as I have enjoyed driving all of my vehicles over the past 6 decades (a LOT), I’ve equally enjoyed the time spent (alone and with friends) wrenching on them. Some I’ve built from a frame up, and some were bought brand-spanking new (with a few used ones sprinkled in). Some were racers, some were off-roaders, some were vintage, some were workers, most were just drivers. But nearly all of them needed at least some maintenance and/or tinkering done in the shop, garage, driveway, barn, or even backyard. The challenges of diagnosing issues and conquering them with my own hands have proven to be immensely therapeutic for me. I’m with Nik here – put on some tunes, pull on the coveralls, raise that hood (or bonnet, for you Brits), and get those hands greasy doing something to your classic!

    It’s much more satisfying to fix issues than to pay someone else – and, as you can imagine, the Esprit has quite a few opportunities for this!

    I’ve never owned a Lotus of any sort, so I’ll take your word for it that there are “opportunities” galore. For the most part, though, I’m betting that most of us owners of British-/Japanese-/French-/Italian-/Korean-/US-/_________-made vehicles of certain vintages can find plenty to do on them. They ALL have their quirks! 🙂

    The scam filters don’t seem to be working too well, Sajeev! “Anne” – like “Julia” a few days ago – needs to be wiped off the site and banned forever!

    I generally avoid particularly valuable and particularly technically complicated when it comes to my cars. I also generally steer clear of timing belt + interference engine after a bad experience with a Porsche, although I’m pretty sure it’s replacement (1 Series BMW) is of the same ilk. Wrenching on them is part of the experience for me, and I would never want to be afraid to do so.

    The other approach is numbers. If one of my babies goes down, I have other toys to choose from and can take my time getting it taken care of

    The problem is finding someone willing to provide encouragement and support to overcome the fear of “screwing up “.

    I am 80 and still do as much work as I can on my own cars. I am paranoid about taking my car to a dealer for maintenance work. To pay someone $125 or more an hour plus overpriced parts, just doesn’t set well with me. Modern cars are a nightmare. They are a rats nest of hoses and plastic and wires. On my 64 Corvette I had a fuel line leak, opened the hood, gazed in there and immediately saw the leak and fixed it in about 5 minutes. On a new car you can’t see the engine let alone a fuel line leak. In many aspects, technology has really made a big difference in our engine performance but at the same time, made it very difficult to work on.

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