The Driver

The Driver




If you ever saw me wielding a spanner you’d know why this column is called The Driver and not The Mechanic.Perhaps that’s why workshops fascinate me, for they are the places where quietly brilliant people do amazing things.

Send me to a classic car restorer or historic race team and I can lose myself for hours. Each area tends to have its own vibe and attracts different characters and personalities. Imagine an oilier, noisier human version of Nick Park’s ‘Creature Comforts’ and you’re not far from the mark.

The engine room is generally a place of quiet order and calm, and smells faintly of hydrocarbons. OCD also hangs heavy in the air, as evidenced by clean benches and trays of neatly arranged components; regimented sets of valves and valve springs, pistons, conrods and gudgeon pins, all lined up like toy soldiers. I defy you to walk into an engine room and not feel compelled to touch something. I think that’s why engine builders tend to exude a strong ‘Hello. Nice to meet you. Now please leave my space’ energy.

If there’s an inhouse engine builder, then chances are there will also be a dyno room. And if there’s a dyno room then there will be a bloke (possibly the same one) hunched over a desk and peering through a thick pane of glass, inflicting precisely metered torture on a hot, howling engine. It’s a process that always makes me wince, but a bit like the weird kid at school who burned ants with a magnifying glass, they seem to enjoy it.

open PDFContinues below

My favourite place is the bodyshop. It never ceases to amaze me how flat, cold sheets of alloy and steel can be cut, rolled and beaten into the most fluid, fulsome shapes. Often just by eye and doubtless using an English Wheel. One of the great mysteries of the bodyshop, these huge and curious things really are relics from a bygone age. Their sense of permanence and purpose lends them a monolithic presence. A bit like Stonehenge, but handier if you need a new nose for your DB4 GT.

Panel beaters tend to be more extrovert than the engine boys, with firm handshakes, loud voices and early onset hearing loss from all the banging and crashing. Painters are less noisy but equally industrious. You can spot them as they’re the ones with faintly stoned expressions – ‘It’s the fumes, man…’ - and dressed like forensic pathologists.Those not painting will be in a trance-like state, flatting down primer coats or polishing paintwork to a glassy finish.

I joke, but it comes from a place of tremendous respect and envy. All to say I am feeling the urge for a project. Not necessarily in an effort to learn some basic workshop skills – though if that were to happen along the way then so much the better– but to embark on the journey of taking an affordable and as-yet unidentified old car in need of TLC and making it better. With the help of those unsung workshop heroes, naturally. Watch this space…

More stories & Films →