My Father’s Jaguar – Part 2 – The Culture of Parts

Guys Named Nigel

In my time, I’ve beat up and restored lots of cars. American, Japanese, German, Swedish, English, and even French. Well, the French restorations were really just attempts to keep them running, but that’s because France has so many other distractions that prevent full restorations. Like wine. And literature. And cafes with dusky women smoking Gitanes…

In any case, in working on these cars I’ve met suppliers of parts from every region of the world and almost every cultural background. Certain patterns emerge.

American cars are delightful to work on. You can walk into a Pep Boys in any part of the country and walk out with a carburetor that works on essentially any V8 engine made between when the automobile was invented and 1986. Then you can spend between three and five minutes bolting that to the top of the engine and – hey presto – you’re back on the road. Ten out of ten to America.

German cars are a little darker. Need a fuel accumulator for your 1978 Porsche 911SC? They’re backordered from Porsche and Bosch, the OEM supplier, can’t deliver one either, for complicated Teutonic reasons. Fortunately some dude at a used Porsche wrecking yard in San Francisco has removed and catalogued all the remaining good ones. So, seven out of ten to Germany, if you know what you’re doing.

Japanese cars… at the risk of stereotyping, let me stereotype for a moment. You will never hear from an authentic Japanese car source that they do not have, or cannot do, something. There will be additional research, much part number cross-checking, computer system inquiries and, eventually, you may be able to translate from the written Japanese result that the request is impossible to fulfil. Fortunately, Japanese stuff essentially never breaks, so this is rare torture. Six out of ten to Japan.

France. Ah, France. If you need some inboard front brake discs for your Citroen 2CV – and I did – you have to call a guy in the South of France who runs a little 2CV specialist place. Sometimes. When he’s not drinking wine, reading literature, or cavorting with dusky girls smoking Gitanes. Actually, French cars are often the most delightful to work on. They put it all in perspective. Eight out of ten, but the car might not be running at the end. Tant pis.

And, finally, English cars. Look, there’s enough of an enthusiast community that if you have your typical MG, Triumph, Healey, or even Jag, you can pretty much get something in California that will have the car back on the road in a day or two. But…

…If you have something particularly English and special like, say, a Ford Escort Cosworth RS (and I have), you get into another domain. A domain run by guys named Nigel. Now, I’m sure there are some perfectly reasonable and charming guys named Nigel. I’ve just never met them. The Nigels that I’ve met have always been conniving, truth-obscuring, evasive and difficult partners in the quest to keep British cars on the road. Nigel always has a “really lovely” “as new” “complete cylinder head” which, when it shows up, is nothing like any of those things. And the price is always “Oh dear, well, y’know, izz my last one, and I ‘aven’t seen another in donkey’s years…” Yeah, yeah, Nigel. Just send it to me. I’m resigned that it’ll be incomplete, that the valves will need to be re-seated, and that it’ll cost me the equivalent of a reasonably nice Mazda Miata. Damn you, Nigel.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be so mean. Nigel has to drink warm beer in Little Bonking while it rains outside. At least my Citroen supplier is sitting in a café somewhere with a brambly Grenache and a dusky woman with a pack of Gitanes. His car isn’t running, but who cares? Car repair kind of puts it into perspective.