My first classic car project

I’ve always had an interest in cars but I still consider myself a newcomer to classic project cars. What accelerated my initiation was buying my first classic car about 7 years ago. I started out with very little knowledge and a vague idea of what it would mean to own a classic and it certainly exceeded my expectations, especially in terms of how much I learned about cars.

I first got interested in classics by starting to read classic car magazines and attending local steam rallies and car shows. It was a world away from my daily life and one that I had only really glimpsed in the past on those rare occasions when a smart MGB burbled past when out for a walk.

The more shows I went to the more I wanted to feel a part of it. It was very much feelings that drove me to be on the lookout for local classics for sale and enter into the somewhat hasty purchase of my first classic: A black ‘rubber bumper’ MG Midget. After a test drive on a summer’s day and a fairly cursory inspection I went away to ‘think about it’, but there really was only one option in my mind.

It’s hard to describe the intoxication of trying something so different and new to you. I’m quite sure with the benefit of experience if I tried to recreate the excitement about that car now I would struggle to justify purchasing it! But at any rate a classic car that drives for less than £2000 is hardly a bad buy in todays money.

So to cut a long story short (as I’m sure you can guess) it needed a lot of work. Much more was required than I ever would have been willing to sign up to. But having bought and driven this classic and been bitten by the classic car bug: again there really was only one option in my mind. When it failed its next MOT on structural rust I had to do the work to get it back on the road and that is where things really got interesting.

With the car off the road the pressure was off. This coincided with the fortuitous timing of moving to a house with a garage. I considered paying someone else to do the work but it was too costly and besides I didn’t want to part with the car for an extended period of time - I think I’d just lose the enthusiasm for it. So the ‘project’ began.

I spent the next year and a half learning and putting into practice as much as I could to get the car up to a roadworthy standard, and even improve it in places, to the best of my abilities.

With the floor and sill on one side replaced, the biggest hurdle was over. It was not a full restoration but it was much sounder than before.

It was never destined to be anything other than a scruffy old MG. I just wanted to see it live a bit longer. Ultimately the little Midget made it back on the road and I enjoyed a few excellent summer drives and car shows before I sold it as an ongoing roadworthy project. While I was fond of the car, it was the change it brought into my life that was the thing I value most from it.

There is nothing quite like having a project during which you have no idea when it will end, in no small part because you will always find more things to do! But the beauty is no-one is breathing down your neck pressuring you to finish it. You get to work how you want, when you want, if you want. And at the time I really wanted to be out in the garage, regardless of whether it was the middle of winter or the height of summer, getting it done my way.

There are lessons to be learnt from facing a challenge without worrying too much about where it’s going. I discovered that, for me, this is absolutely the best way to learn. Sure I could have done with some help at times and I’ve since found you can get a lot more done with the right people around you. But it’s nice to know on my own I’m capable of more than I could have imagined.

Looking back through my photos I realise how busy my life was when I took this project on. Oddly I think it came along at exactly the right time and was just what I needed. Stress dissipates when you’re solving a problem and you know at the end of the day if doesn’t work out there will be no consequences and you can just try again another day. Particularly if it takes you far away from your normal daily routine.

Simple things kept me going: Reminding myself that with the litany of botched repairs discovered on the car, I was always making some part of it better no matter how small, and that it was OK that it would never be perfect. There’s something to that philosophy and the contrast to our modern world where everything is supposed to be perfect and delivered ‘on time and on budget’ despite the fact it usually never is. Perhaps if we set our sights a bit lower and just gave things a try more would actually get done without putting unnecessary pressure on one another for no obvious benefit. It’s worth a thought, isn’t it?

I thoroughly recommend taking on a project and exploring the unknown, whether it’s classic cars or something else. The key thing, as I learned, is that it’s something you really want to do and not to worry too much about whether you can do it.

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