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Is your lock-up a heaven on earth or a junk room from hell? If it’s the latter, then make it a late New Year’s resolution that you’ll keep to and do something about it

Are you happy with your man cave, the garage down the end of the drive? A good, well planned out garage is a joy to behold – too bad that, like so many of us, you’re so ashamed of that outhouse every time you open the door! It’s our own fault; we devote all our time, money and affection on our classic car(s) yet a lovely lock-up should be integral with the classic car experience. Alas, too many of us hate to spend a penny on the place and use every shortcut going.

It’s a false economy and you should view any expense now as a worthwhile investment for years to come.

Do it right and you’re sorted for ever! It’s reckoned that less than a quarter of UK motorists use their garages for their intended job but the sheer size and girth of modern motors makes a typical modern family hatchback too big to fit in. Even with a prized classic the trouble is that garages become an inevitable permanent magnet for any junk and spill-overs from the house.

Brutal basic first steps

You must harden your heart. Anything not car-related ideally must be rehoused, perhaps in a new shed, not only to optimise space, but also prevent accidents or damage caused by other members of the family invading your personal space – so, if possible, out goes the freezer, tumble drier, kid’s bikes or fishing gear et al… Good luck but you’ll be amazed at just how much extra space you will no doubt liberate by being so ruthless (and not to say unpopular). Remove items off the floor using wall brackets if domestic items have to remain.

A spot of decorating by painting the walls and floors isn’t a wasted effort, to make the most of natural light. Grey is probably the best colour for the floor with either Brilliant White or Magnolia for the walls and ceiling because not only does it look bright and smart, but it also reflects light best plus is easy to keep clean or repaint when needed.

Painting the floor helps keep dust down but only use proper garage floor paint for this. If, however, you want the ultimate, then consider special interlocking PVC garage floor tiles. They are very easy to lay and take up, exceptionally clean plus they keep the warmth in. Typically, it costs around £350 to deck out an average single garage and perhaps £650 for a double. A cheaper alternative is the similar but lino type flooring (Costco sells it). Both look really great too, unlike some old flowery carpet which will soon deteriorate and looks naff plus has to be thrown out if oil leaks on it – which it will.

The light show is fantastic

Once you make the most out of natural light, supplement it with man-made brightness. Fluorescent strip lighting is always popular and not overly dear (you may find old items at office clear outs-ed) but these can be uprated with far superior LED alternatives (around £30) which also draw less electricity so are cheaper to run. Mobile lights (and rechargeables) are worth having too. Normally, the domestic 240V mains suffices but adding a consumer unit with trip switches is a safety point at £100 plus fitting by a professional electrician.

Play safe at play time

Always work tidily and let someone know where you are. Don’t block any doors and always have an ‘escape route’ if the worst happens. Invest in a smoke detector (around £5) and, as we are dealing with deadly car fumes, a carbon monoxide detector (£20). Add a fire blanket (£10) and a couple of hand-held extinguishers while you’re at it.

Fitting out your man cave

Old household furniture looks tempting and we’ve all used them in the past (and still do) but it’s restrictive as it dictates the layout of your garage. In an ideal world you should park your car in the centre of the floor to choose an optimum working position. If possible, draw a chalk line around the vehicle making it a ‘no-go’ area. Unless your garage is wider than average, the sides should be left clear.

Old cast-off office furniture, such as filing cabinets, is fine and much better than old sideboards while floor-toceiling shelving such as the old favourite Dexion is extremely versatile and adaptable, but you can go the whole hog and have a fully professional set-up installed from the likes of Dura and Machine Mart that really makes you proud of your workshop – if you have any money left over from Christmas, that is! Even if you can’t afford their stunning wares, obtain a copy of the numerous catalogues for some inspiration. Talking of which, a dedicated workshop installer (or an interior designer) may, for a reasonable fee, find novel ways of freeing up a lot of extra hidden space you wouldn’t even think of liberating and as a result find you enough added room that you may think twice about any garage extension you were half contemplating and so save thousands of pounds in return.

Old furniture (home or office), is rarely strong or adaptable enough for working on major, heavy components such as an engine meaning a good workbench (usually around £50) is a must as it’s the centre of any workshop.

Ideally, a bench should be framed with drawers and cupboard space or an open area to store jacks and axle stands.

For this reason a proper professional bench is money well spent. Complement it with a peg-board fixed to the wall so any tools can be neatly stored in order by the bench. With each tool in place, use a permanent marker to draw silhouettes around them so at the end of the working day, you can tell exactly which tool is missing at a glance. Alternatively, you can buy a ready-made for around £40, while fully self-contained cabinets start from around £120. Again, look at it not as an expense but as an investment.

Ups and downs of garage life

If you have money in the kitty consider adding certain professional touches which will pay you back long term, especially so if you are contemplating major restoration work. A pit is a godsend; once you’ve had one, you wonder why and how you ever struggled on your back before! MechMate, displayed at numerous car shows, markets a one-piece fibreglass shell that makes under-car work bliss. Breaking up the concrete and digging out the earth is a real back breaker, but costs nothing although a local builder may not charge much. Just be careful of any electric/ gas/water/drains that may be unearthed during the excavation.

Can’t go down? Then look up! There are a number of reasonably priced two-post electric lifts that run off domestic 240v mains power and make working underneath a car a doddle.

We know of one enthusiast with a high-ceiling garage who installed one to store two classic cars (one up, one down) saving him the cost of building a double garage to accommodate his cars plus has a lift at his disposal. Strongman Tools, of Warcs, markets a two post lift with manual operation for £1550 or £2200 for the electric-powered alternative.

If a lift is a bit too much for you, then consider some of the ‘super’ jacks and ramps that are available from the likes of CJ Autos and Restoration Ramps. There are certain types that you drive on and it raises the entire car by a useful amount for added work space and the next best thing to a proper working pit and lift, like the Strongman ‘Chepstow’ 2.8 ton mobile scissor lift at £1650. Specialist axle stands, ramps, lifts and body rollers can do the same job at less cost.

We’ve had a body roller for years. Marketed by CJ Autos (01706 367 649), it works a treat. In fact in certain respects it’s better than a pit or ramp as it allows working at a normal height; the only problem is the space needed (at least 2.5 metres) to enable the roller (which can be powered) to turn the cradle on its side.

Gen up on garages

Sounds an extravagance but tearing down the old garage for a purpose-built new replacement is actually quite sensible as it allows you start from scratch as opposed to suffering with a compromise and may well enhance your property’s value at the same time. There are some fantastic modern designs and styles in steel and fibreglass. Check out hansonsteelbuildings. for instance where a typical, good sized ‘double’ costs around £7000 erected.

Pre-fabs, don’t boast the benefits of a proper brick outhouse, but so long as you have the land for a concrete base, then you can buy one as a flat pack for a couple of thousand pounds. Add some light (even an extension lead from the house as and when required will suffice) and you’ve really have something to work from. Bear in mind though that before you even think about constructing a permanent garage, you must consult your local authorities for approval and possible planning permission.

If that’s a non starter, a carport is one alternative. These are much cheaper than a full-blown lock up (typically starting at around £800-£1000) and provide much needed shelter although you will still be at the mercy of the elements.

Another solution, if there’s no room to expand, is to use the garage just for car storage and have a spacious shed or workshop built – prices start from £2995 for 10x6 foot shed and £3750 for a 10x8’6” workshop.

A temporary garage is nothing to be ashamed of. There are some innovative designs on the market, ideal for short term storage, such as the winter and what’s more don’t require planning permission. They start with glorified ‘super tents’ and go all the way to stylish GRP shells, all with their own flooring.

For as little as £400 Hamilton Classics markets Auto Pod; a fully-enclosed outdoor shelter made of a lightweight fabric which is both weather and UV resistant with vents to allow air to circulate and inhibit condensation. The large zipped door provides access, and there are also three smaller doors. The size of 7.3m x 3.5m is enough for most classics and while they aren’t really suitable for major repair work make for passable workshops for lighter DIY stuff.

Another alternative is Carapace (see pic) a semi portable GRP shell which doesn’t look an eyesore and is available in assorted colours. Sealed covers along the lines of a Carcoon, Auto Storm ( PermaBag or Cair O Port, not only protects your classic but also provides a conditioned atmosphere to ward off the ravages of winter.

Machine Mart has a great range of portable garages at good prices – but we’re going one better and will be giving away one – stay tuned for more details!


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