Little British Cars and the 'Slippery Slopes of Winter'

Octagon Newsletter January 1999

By Cam Russell

Oh, the mid-winter months seem dark ones for the sports car owner. An ice cream run on a perfect sunny summer evening seems so distant, both as a memory and as anticipation of next season's fun. In the depths of January and February, when darkness falls in mid-afternoon, hibernating to a warmly lit garage or basement seems the most natural thing to do. No one in the family suspects a thing when you announce: "I'm just going out to look at the car for a minute." Not even you, yourself anticipate what the following weeks will bring when you make an innocent mid-winter visit to your favourite little British car for a few minutes. In your mind, you only intend to try and revive some warm sunny memories, or sit behind the wheel for a moment in anticipation of your record breaking slalom times this spring.

What happens next is a process so gradual that you can never recall how or when it actually began. Usually you notice some small detail, perhaps one that has been bothering you for some time and you quickly decide that there's no time like the present to attend to it. The minor bit of work begins and the situation remains under control for anywhere up to twenty minutes to half an hour before you utter the fatal statement, a sentence that always begins something like: "While I've got this apart, I might as well ..." The slippery slope begins! The simple cleaning and painting of a rostyle wheel has turned into a full front suspension rebuild.

Within the last year in this club I can bring to mind an engine compartment detailing that turned into a new clutch and some gearbox synchromesh baulk ring replacements. In another instance, a minor dent below the bumper in a left front fender soon had the windshield off and another MG was being completely re-sprayed in an underground Fairfield bodyshop.

The process down the slippery slope is often assisted by an additional factor. With Christmas just passed, it is so often necessary to make a Boxing Day visit to our cars to install the new MG logo chrome lug nuts that were in our stocking, or test out the new set of wrenches that Santa brought. The very best lubricant for a ride down the slippery slope is receiving a Haynes manual as a gift. By Christmas dinner you have read it well enough to know that there is no process on any vehicle that is so complicated it can not be completed in twelve or fewer simple steps.

On the basis of our cars often being referred to by "witty" friends and relatives as "holes in the road into which you pour money", we have a water-based equivalent, the hobby boat builders. This group which have many obsessive similarities to our own have a medical sounding name for the condition described above: two-footitis. Some time during winter, a hobby boat builder decides to construct a 10 foot sailboat which can be used to take the family out on pleasant outings next summer. While in the planning stages, though, consideration is given to increasing the length to 12 feet as there would be more room. Next it is upped to 14 feet because an ideal plan is available for that one. The process continues in two foot increments until somewhere in the low twenties a cabin is added and by the time everyone has a place to sleep and there's a decent galley on board, plans are fully underway and construction begins on a 36 foot offshore cruising ketch. Somehow the project doesn't get finished for use this summer, but does eventually, most often after re-mortgaging the house, immense marital strain, etc.

Luckily for the car enthusiast, there is a little less likelihood of such a major project commitment as our boat building friends. We do have, nonetheless, some warning signs about the sports-car equivalent of two-footitis. Presented here is a 'Reader's Digest if-you-answer-yes-to-more-than-three-of-the-following-you-may-have-a-problem' sort of surveys. A look at this list will not prevent any problem, but it should let you know if you are already on the slippery slope.

Do you have a pump-sized container of Fast Orange hand cleaner in your ensuite bathroom?

Did you receive a rather expensive looking 'To a Valued Customer' Christmas card from Moss Motors this year?

Do you have the phone number for Searles Auto Repair and Mike Owen's local programmed onto speed dial on your garage telephone?

Do you recognize the telephone voices of Dave, Brent, and Colin when you ring Octagon Motors to place another order, and do they recognize yours?

Have you considered booking a weekend-for-two at Manzer Lodge, but ... what you find more exciting than the prospect of a 'naughty weekend' away with your sweetie, is the chance to take a few body panels out for Peter Lee to 'have a look at'?

Do 'coffee table' books in your living room have titles like: "The Complete Factory Works Manual for the 'MGB'" or "Tuning the 'A' Series Engine"?

Are the last thoughts that come to mind before you drift off to sleep at night ones like: "Did I really torque down all of the main bearing cap bolts"?

Was the only time your hands have been truly clean in the last two months when you made shortbread before Christmas? (I would like to credit Al Fraser for this line but I feel I deserve to use it having eaten two pieces of his shortbread.)

If Canada Customs had a wire tap on your phone, would they be a bit curious about the following message? "This is Tony at Big 'O'. I've just received a new shipment of soft compound Yokies in your size. If you're interested in buying, give me a call ..."

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