Opinion: Don’t let fear stop you from getting the spanners out

by Nik Berg
24 April 2023 2 min read
Opinion: Don’t let fear stop you from getting the spanners out
Photo: Aaron McKenzie

It might be age (mine and my car’s), it might be a perceived complexity or simply the cash that I’ve sunk into it, but I’ve been rather afraid of my classic since I bought it two years ago.

It’s a fear that built up with every breakdown and issue and one that has cost me dearly in labour charges. Quite simply I became wary of working on the car myself and, consequently, wary of driving it too.

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Regular visitors to this website may know that I bought a 1982 Lotus Esprit on eBay, in 2021. I knew it would be a risk, but I also hoped it would be a chance to get my hands dirty and learn more about the mechanical mysteries of the motor car.

And yet, somehow it had the opposite effect and pretty soon I didn’t dare do much more than check the fluids and tyre pressures. Looking back at the bills from a Lotus specialist I realised that I could, indeed should, have been able to undertake most of the minor fixes that I was paying over £100 per hour for someone else to sort out.

I bought a Lotus Esprit and broke every car-buying rule in the book
At the time this photo was taken, Berg was still to discover the full list of work needed on his Esprit… Photo: Nik Berg

I know I’m not completely incompetent as I’ve recently stripped and built up a race car to compete in the EnduroKA series and in the past had all manner of old motors that required hands-on help. In fact the first car that I bought was a 1975 MG Midget that I spent many happy hours crawling underneath, through necessity and the curiosity of youth.

In good news today’s young car enthusiasts appear to remain fearless with research by eBay showing that a quarter of millennials and 23 per cent of 17-24 year-olds are willing to maintain their cars themselves.

The Lotus, though, had eaten away at my confidence, and something had to be done.

Help came in the form of a Care for Your Classics weekend at the Heritage Skills Academy at Bicester Heritage. During the two-day course led by Rover afficionado, former garage-owner and cardigan-wearer Richard LeFevre, my spannering self-esteem grew with each new task and theory lesson.

Nik Berg rebuilds engine

Within an hour of arrival I was stripping a Ford engine down completely which was a brilliant way to demystify the motor. A bench full of parts then had to be re-assembled and, with the aid of Austin Healey owners Jane and Brian it all went back together with not a single bolt left over.

Like me they were keen to keep their Sprite and 100/4 out of expensive workshops as much as possible, while TR6 owner Adrian said he “didn’t want to embarrass himself by the side of the road.”

We stripped and re-assembled brakes, learned how to adjust valve clearances and points gaps and discovered the inner workings of the carburettor, which had always seemed like magic to me before. Tutor Richard even gave me a detailed guide on how to balance the Dellortos on the Esprit. It was a thoroughly enjoyable DIY deep-dive.

Most of all the weekend banished the fear that had been eating away at my enjoyment of the Esprit. I’m sure there’ll be more challenges, but now I say bring ‘em on. Give it a go and get hands-on yourself.

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  • Jim Thompson says:

    I sympathise with Mr Berg. As my 80th year approaches and I get dizzy under my MGBGT, my fingers are no longer attached to my brain and my nerve is wobbling. I took up the challenge of a dent recently with the help of a fellow octagarian and we did well but failed to read the colour on the can was wrong. Dove grey not Dove blue. Ebay makes returns a jungle so bite the bullet and order again. Pigeon blue arrived this time. Tried to return cans but GPO refused to carry them so did courier. How did they get to me then? So the search is on for VW Dove blue ref L31. Awful hole in the pension this week. Mr Berg I will keep going thanks to you!

  • Alan France says:

    Like yourself l am 80 years old.I have been working on various models of cars since l was in my 20’s but now oh dear . Everything is working quite well fingers brain etc but when l get down l can’t damnwell get up again and when l manage to get up it takes ages to get my breath back but we battle on.
    Proud Honda Prelude 1997 owner..

  • Harold Pearson says:

    You probably picked one of the worst kind of cars for “DIY”. Back in the 60s my pall had a Lotus Elan which nearly killed us both when the carburetors jammed full open at speed!

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    Great article, I’m ( only) 60 next year sounds like I better enjoy the next 20 years!

  • Neville Amos says:

    I think it was good that you were able to get some hands on experience and help in the form of the Heritage Skills Academy. I have 3 older cars, two of them relatively easy to work on and one a lot more complicated. I have recently retired from the motor trade after 50 years and so i do have hands on experience of working on motor cars.
    However i pick my battles now. Some jobs that involve taking apart small or intricate parts i leave to others as my eye sight is not as good as it used to be. And welding now has become very difficult. Some jobs need facilities that i no longer have access to, and some times i just cannot bring myself to get on with it.
    But once i get started, i wonder to myself what all the fuss and anxiety was about.
    So i am not ready to give up just yet, and i know quite a few guys older than me that are still willing and able to roll their sleeves up and tackle most things.

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