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Carry on Classics

Classic Maintainance Published: 17th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics
Carry on Classics

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All classics need regular attention to keep them running sweetly. The question is who should be allowed to touch your prized possession. Kim Henson investigates...

As most enthusiasts will confirm, buying a classic car is the easy part of ownership, but properly looking after it can be quite another matter. Regardless of which make, model and type of vehicle you opt for, it WILL need routine maintenance in order to keep it on the road. It is also a fact that in general terms, older cars require more frequent attention (albeit usually easier!) than today’s vehicles; ‘a little and often’ is an appropriate maxim to apply. This can take some getting used to if you arejust taking your first steps into classic car ownership. All the same, maintenance need notbecome a chore, and there’s certainly no need to be a slave to the vehicle, even if it is used every day, and perhaps covers high annual mileages. Providing that you plan wellahead and build servicing and (especially) spares requirements into your running programme,problems can be eliminated or at least minimised. It is always worth remembering that a classic which is properly maintained is likely to be cheaper to run overall, also to give service for much longer, and to provide far more enjoyment when being driven, than one which is neglected (and sadly there are many of those around).

Do it yourself?

The very good news about the majority of classics is that they are comparatively straightforward in design terms, and usually much easier to work on than modern motors. Of course there are exceptions but the overall simplicity ofmany of the cars produced up until the 1980s means that they really do lend themselves to do-it-yourself servicing and repairs. Often too there is much more underbonnet space in which to work than is the case with today’s cars, which have their engine bays packed with loads of ancillaries and electronics. Another plus point with most classics is that technical information is usually well documented and accessible to owners. The owners’ handbooks and workshop manuals published by most vehicle manufacturers until (approximately) the 1980s weretypically in-depth in their coverage, and invaluable if you fancy tackling the maintenance of your own vehicle. These days too, ‘aftermarket’ manuals published over the years by a variety of publishers can help with additional useful informasome tion. Owners’ Clubs and websites can also help with specific vehicle data. If you are contemplating carrying out your own servicing/repair work, my advice is to obtain as much written technical information as possible relating to your model, and to talk to fellow owners about their experiences with their vehicles. Often there are modern ‘fixes’ to inherent problems, or alternative parts, which can be used if certain bits are in short supply! Typically, any car fitted with running gear lubrication points will need to have re-lubricationcarried out every 1000 miles or so. Engine oil and filter changes also need to be carried out far more often than is the case with modern cars, in which change intervals of 20,000 miles are now not unusual. By contrast, some pre-War vehicles require oil changes every 2000 miles or so, and even with most cars of the 1960s/70s, the maximum mileage interval between changes is usually 6000 miles (or annually, whichever comes first). One interesting point; in almost all classics that I have encountered with engines which have covered mega-mileages before major attention has been required, the engine oil and filter have all been changed MORE frequently than suggested by the manufacturers’ service schedules… Worth considering whatever car you run! With most classics, many major repair/overhaul jobs are within the realms of do-it-yourself work, whereas similar work on modern motors would not even be contemplated in a home workshop. Cylinder head overhauls, clutch changes and suspension stripdowns all fall into this category. There are a great many owners of classics who take great pride in looking after their own vehicle, quite apart from the labour costs they are saving by doing the work themselves. So why not have a go?

Marque Specialists

Not all classic car owners are do-it-yourself fanatics, and not all of those who are willing feel competent enough or have the facilities to carry out all the maintenance work required on their car. Some, for example, might tackle relatively straightforward aspects such as changing the engine oil or attending to the ignition system, but would perhaps fight shy of setting the valve clearances, changing a timing belt, or working on safety-related systems.For those who enjoy their classics but don’t wish to, or are unable to, carry out all the work required on them, the assistance of a specialist who is familiar with the model concerned is invaluable. In many cases ‘marque’ specialists have for many years been true enthusiasts of the cars they work on, and have in-depth knowledge of their design, any inherent weaknesses and how to get the best from the vehicles. Indeed many have gained experience in main dealerships, when the cars were current models, and/or have ‘grown up with them’. Often too specialists can suggest/implement useful modifications gained over the years to improve reliability and/or performance, without detracting from the essential character of the car. Another important aspect is that one-make and single model specialists will have at their disposal any special tools and equipment required - this area can sometimes present difficulties for DIY owners and even some garages. Of course labour costs have to be met, but many owners consider that the peace of mind of having their car looked after by someone who understands and loves the badge is worth paying for. This aspect can be particularly important in the case of classics which are relatively demanding in their maintenance requirements, or which are ‘sensitive’ to sympathetic attention. Even some orthodox cars are especially vulnerable to the effects of ‘casual tinkering’, for example, a number of multi-cylinder, multi-valve and multi-carburettor machines, and/or those with complex valve gear It’s a good idea to have a specialist carry out a service and check over on your classic even if you are a DIYer. Perhaps a bi-annual check to see that all your handiwork is up to spec (plus an electronic diagnostic tune up) is a wise step. Typically, at around £35- 55 per hour, specialists charge perhaps half what a main dealer wants in labour costs. Even if there is not a marque specialist near to where you live, to carry out the work required on your car, you may be able to obtain the parts needed by mail order, from a specialist miles away in the U.K. (or even abroad). The components can then be fitted by you, or by a local garage. Sometimes the specialist will happily offer advice about the correct installation of the components.


Many high street garages will find it difficult to help you maintain your classic, especially main agents, simply because the parts, service data and special tools (even, in some cases, the expertise) relating to older models will have long since dearly departed. Some establishments may no longer even own a humble grease gun, for example! Having said that, main dealers can still assist in some cases, especially with ‘modern’ classics such as 911s, Ford Cosworths and the MGF, while an increasing number of car manufacturers are introducing second-tier fast-fit service and repair programmes which are dedicated to those makes using factory trained staff and genuine parts as a tempter along with competitive prices. Examples to look for are Rapid-Fit (Ford), Masterfit (Vauxhall), Autobase (Toyota), Express Fit (VW), although many of these can tackle all makes.In addition, some workshops still employ staff having worked with these makes for many years and so will be familiar with your model. If the garage concerned cannot obtain the components needed for your car, they may still be able to help if you can supply the requisite parts for them to install – such as oil filters, brake shoes, pads and discs and so on. The best advice is to talk to the service manager of your local garage (assuming one still exists), to find out what they can offer you.

Other Options

Classic owners often rely on the help of (usually) small, non-franchised local garages, the proprietors of which are frequently familiar with older cars, and enjoy working on them as an antidote to their mundane ‘everyday’ operations on modern motors. Similarly, there are many ‘mobile’ mechanics who can provide good service to the owners of classic vehicles; in this case there is the added benefit that they come to you, and you can talk to them about any difficult aspects which may arise as the work proceeds. ‘Fast-fit’ outlets should not be ignored, since they are often able to help in sourcing (for example) exhaust systems (and tyres naturally) from within their countrywide networks. The fact that they can supply and fit components while you wait is also beneficial, of course. Some are able to deal with routine stuff such as fixed menu servicing requirements, butnot all will be able to supply the parts needed.  Again, sound them out; you may be pleasantly surprised how much they can help.

Can a high street repairer, more used toMondeos than Morris Minors, cater forolder cars? We decided to find out…

‘Nationwide’ may be new to you but this national whileyou- wait group dates back three decades when it was founded by automotive giant Lucas. After successive take-overs from the current management team involving Lex, RAC and the AA it is now an independent chain specialising in all types of repairs and actually encourages older cars into its 225 plus branches located across the UK. It offers three levels of set services: Interim, Full and Major – or you could opt to have your car serviced according to manufacturers’ schedules. We elected to go for the £135 full service for our 1968 Vauxhall Viva guinea pig. Apart from giving fair warning of the make and model (so it can source spares) it was routine, and to its credit Nationwide supplied everything needed. Steve, (one of the more mature mechanics Nationwide posts at its depots) did a thorough job and certainly went ‘beyond the book’. Interestingly, apart from repacking the front wheel bearings and checking clutch free-play, this set service met or exceeded Vauxhall’s schedule. All in all, this high street repairer did as good a job as a specialist: excellent if your car doesn’t boast such valued backup.


Regular attention is the key to longevity for your vehicle, and happy ownership for you in the long term. Whether you do the work yourself, or pay someone else to do it, will obviously depend on your own inclinations/technical abilities, your available budget, and also the type of vehicle you run.

Mainstream family classics and sports cars which were produced in huge quantities are usually easier to maintain than complex high performance machinery.

Parts availability is another important factor relating to the ease of looking after the car. Virtually all components required are easily obtainable for popular British sports cars (such as MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars, for example), whereas tracking down parts for a particularly rare and/or exotic models requires more time, effort and (usually) money.

Finally, whichever route you choose to maintain your classic, it will repay you for proper care; look after it, and (nearly always) it will reciprocate by looking after you!

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