Keith’s Blog: “While You’re in There”

Fixing cars on the cheap never works out well.

I was in a planning meeting for the 2020 SCM 1000, and a serious question came up — how many mechanics do we need?

The 2020 SCM 1000 has a spectacular route that includes Mount St. Helens and the Oregon Coast — go to www.sportscarmarket.com/tour-registration to sign up.

We were debating how many sets of mechanics to have along on the tour. In 2018, the SCM 1000’s first year, we had two instances when a car needed attention — a blown gasket on a lightweight Giulietta Sprint and a dead alternator on a 300SL roadster.

The 2019 SCM 1000 saw no serious breakdowns.

Cars entered in vintage tours today are prepared to a far higher standard than they were 25 years ago — or when we were using them as daily drivers. Even for entry-level Bugeye Sprites, owners today have much bigger maintenance budgets than I did when I was 16.

Further, once today’s owners have paid a tour entry fee, shipped their car and bought their airfare to get to and from the event, they don’t want to spend hours or days sitting with a non-running machine, while the rest of the tour speeds by.

I got my first lesson in the downside of cheap repairs early.

My first car, a 1960 Bugeye Sprite in decrepit condition, had chipped first and reverse gears, so it made a horrible noise in those two gears. My stepfather helped me remove the drivetrain and disassemble it (I have memories of becoming an excellent parts washer).

When we got the tranny apart, it became clear that we needed to replace not only the chipped gears — but the cluster gear as well.

I just didn’t have the funds to buy a new cluster gear. I assured myself that I really didn’t need one anyway. After all, shouldn’t one new gear be enough?

We reassembled the car, and for the first 20 miles it was perfect.

But then the same horrible sounds blasted from the gearbox, and once again, first and reverse were essentially unusable.

Looking back on this, I reflect on all the time and energy that was spent taking the car apart and reassembling it — all to be undone because I couldn’t afford a necessary part. Today, we call this the “While You’re In There” syndrome.

But at the time, the price for the cluster gear (maybe $75 if I recall correctly) was simply out of reach. And so after weeks of work and energy expended, I was back exactly where I had started. Well, the exterior of the engine was a little cleaner.

We’ve all learned our lessons by now. When you are dealing with issues that involve a lot of labor, you simply don’t have a choice. Do it once and do it right, or you’ll doing it all over again.

And that’s why our old cars are so much more reliable today than they ever were in our youth.

Our decision on the tour? We’ll keep the same setup we have used.

There will be one team of mechanics in the middle of the pack with gasoline and tools. Another team of mechanics will run sweep. The team will have a “loaner” sports car in an enclosed trailer should someone be unable to proceed.

Further, Hagerty is a sponsor of the tour, and their Roadside Assistance program will provide any necessary towing. This system worked before, and we have confidence it will work again. We just want to keep you rolling for the five days you will be exploring the fantastic Pacific Northwest.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

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