I recently unearthed a very old photograph.
It’s a picture of me. I’m in my early twenties, wearing frankly disgusting trousers and am lying on the ground in front of my first car, a Honda Z600. I’m in the process of putting a new engine into it. This was a big job, but I wasn’t particularly daunted as other than the MOT test, that car didn’t see the inside of a garage from one year to the next, because I maintained it myself.
Being very middle aged, I come from a generation whose dads often maintained their own cars, and to start with did the same. The South West London street where I grew up is now gentrified and expensive, but back in the 1970s it wasn’t uncommon to see cars with their bonnets up, owners changing spark plugs or servicing engines. This was an era where vehicles like Morris Minors where everywhere, and every couple of thousand miles they needed regular infusions of grease into their suspensions and other vital parts or there would be trouble.
Owners who these days would shudder at the prospect of reaching for a dipstick, were then quite happy to perform major surgery on their family cars. Terms like ‘de-coke,’ ‘valve re-grind’ and ‘running in’ were all still common. People expected to make running repairs to their cars, and they also expected those cars to go wrong.
On wet, cold winter mornings, dampened ignition parts would go on strike and on motorway journeys children sometimes entertained themselves by counting the number of broken down cars on the hard shoulder. There were always plenty to choose from.
Modern cars are a lot more complicated and when they go wrong fixing them often involves technicians with vastly expensive diagnostic equipment that looks as if it belongs in a hospital. New cars are not DIY friendly, which for some people is a pity. However they generally don’t go wrong as much, don’t go rusty and will go a great deal further than the cars that only needed a few spanners and a sense of adventure to put right.
The truth for motoring nostalgics is that ‘they don’t make them like that any more’ because the way they make them now is a great deal better.