Don’t let fear stop you from wrenching
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.
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.
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.
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.
Via Hagerty UK