January Workshop Update: Light Blue Jensen Interceptor

Parts supply problems have held back the Jensen since our last update, but the car is now back on track.
The Jensen needs new front wings, but the offside panel was out of stock and, when it came to remanufacturing, our supplier had problems with the press. While we could progress with other areas of the car, this caused a hurdle with the front end of the car.

Since the last update the work on the Jensen has included:
  • Soda-blasting the bonnet ready and rectifying small areas of rot for respray
  • Preparing the front wings for new panels
  • New front floor on passenger side
  • New inner and outer sills on nearside of car (offside done in 2014)
  • New metal welded into offside rear arch, including drain holes
  • New metal welded into full length of base of driver's door
Watch the video to see the work so far.

I've seen that somewhere before

Inspired by the revelation that the Pagani Zonda uses the air conditioning switchgear from a Rover 45, here are my favourite supercars with their feet on the ground. 

1. That Zonda

Remarkably, for your £600,000 or whatever a Zonda costs these days, you get the chance to interface with Rover's mid-range finest when adjusting the temperature to suit your Armani-clad godliness.

2. DeLorean

John Z was either the ultimate parts magpie or the world's worst corner cutter. Whichever, there's a lot of Rover SD1 in the cabin and the electric mirror switch is pure GM. And still in use. 

3. Panther De Ville

Back in the 70s, if you found a Rolls Royce a little too common you could have a Panther De Ville. With some very common components. Doors off a BMC 1800, door handles off the same. And that's just the start. 

4. Aston Martin DB7

The DB7 looks amazing but the cabin is a major let down, a curiously ill-conceived mix of wood and Ford Fiesta knobs. As if someone chucked whatever was to hand in a big bucket, stirred it all up and handed it to the production line.

5. Aston V8

When Aston were casting around for stuff to complete the interior of their new super coupe in the 70s they obviously settled on Jaguar, purveyors of the finest quality, most aesthetically pleasing switches on earth. Or not. The boxy, unreliable buttons look about as comfortably at home in the Aston as James Bond at a feminist convention.

6. Jaguar XJ220

Share and share alike is clearly the mantra of cash-strapped manufacturers. Engineered to be the greatest car Jaguar had ever made, Browns Lane's top bods cast around for the very finest components to justify the car's sky high asking price. Inevitably they alighted on the rear lights from Rover's 400. 

7. Noble M400

For parts seekers copying is the sincerest form of flattery. Or at least, that's clearly what Noble's engineers thought when designing the  M400. Jaguar had knobbled the supercar rear lights of choice so Noble picked the next best: those from a Hyundai Sonata, a car widely admired for its supercar-esque rear end design of course. 

8. McLaren F1

Possibly because it's quite fast, so looking behind you is not strictly necessary, but when it comes to wing mirrors on a F1 they faint whiff of afterthought permeates. They're off a VW Corrado. Oh, and the tail lights are off a bus.

9. MG SV

The poor old MG flagship. First a tortuous birth, then Fiat Punto headlights, then nobody wanted it. Perhaps history might be kinder. 

10. Lamboghini Miura

Quite possibly the world's most beautiful super car, but if you're lucky enough to own one you'll be indicating right and left using the same beautifully tactical, hand-tooled stalk familiar to Austin Maxi owners. 


Graham Eason

They wanna know what love is

It's not long until Valentine's Day and love hearts and bears have suddenly appeared in every shop. Interflora shares are up. I'm well ahead of myself this year: I've already got the card and bath salts for Mrs Great Escape. So with a romantic mood pervading and time to kill before the big day, I've turned my thoughts back to classic cars. Specifically the classic cars that perhaps deserve our love but rather pointedly don't get it. The, if you will, Orange Cremes of the automotive chocolate box.
I realise of course that many people love Orange Cremes and despise The Purple One. Obviously such people are just weird. And yet, guaranteed as they are to always get the last chocolate in the box, perhaps they're onto something. And so it is with my Orange Cremes of motoring - here they are...

1. Reliant Scimitar

Our first car on the list is the one that breaks the rule: most classic car fans, when prompted, will tell you they like the big Scimitar. They'll say they can't understand why they're not more valuable. And yet they aren't and nobody except a hardy band of enthusiasts buys them. I don't get it either: the 70s SE5a is a really good looking car. It's got a lusty V6, space for four and a practical boot. It doesn't rust. The later SE6 was loved by Princess Anne. Which may have been its downfall. That, or the association with something equally toxic to classic car fans: the Robin. Whatever, the Scimitar is a great car and needs our love.

2. Triumph TR7 

It's so obviously a motoring Orange Creme that I'm almost ashamed to put it on the list. In their drive to create a simple, reliable sports car to sell far, far away in the Land of The Free, BL royally cocked it up. The simplicity didn't equate into reliability, it just made the car seem creaky and old fashioned. But the TR7 is immensely better than anything that went before it: more practical, faster and comfortable than a B or TR6. If any other company had built it we'd probably still be applauding it. You don't need a V8 or 16v to enjoy the TR7: it's a decent car. Try one. 

3. Any 60s Jaguar that isn't an E Type, XJ or Mk2

Like The Beatles, Jaguar has been hand tied by its big hits. But in the 60s there was a lot more going on than cars for George Best and The Great Train Robbers. Jaguar literally splurged out a huge range of saloons for a confused customer base: Mk X, S-Type, 420 and on it went. Stylistically most of these were in the shadow of the Coventry firm's brightest stars, but in many cases they were actually better cars. The S-Type had independent rear suspension. The Mk X was brilliantly massive. Take the Mk2 out of the equation and most of these cars would be far more desirable because they look good and drive better.

4. Porsche 928

I need to declare an interest: I hate the Porsche 928. I loathe it. I had one, spent a small fortune on it. I never, ever want one again. Ever. I can barely force myself to look at one. That said, I certainly don't want to put anyone else off. So I'll try to be objective. If the 911 didn't exist we'd all want 928s. They're well built, they're fast, they're immensely good GT cars and they look distinctive. Buy one. Well, at least think about it. I wouldn't want to take responsibility for anything beyond that. 

5. Jensen Healey 

If you think the TR7 was a bit of an own goal, spare a thought for the Jensen Healey. Conceived as a replacement for the Austin Healey to be sold Stateside, the Healey was a neatly designed and engineered sports car with a decent badge on the bonnet. Unfortunately beneath the bonnet lay the punchline to one of notorious prankster Colin Chapman's many motoring jokes: a twin carb two litre race derived engine. Great. No, not great. This untested engine proved hideously unreliable. Couple that to shoddy build quality and typically Jensen-esque Heath Robinson electrics and you have the real reason why the West Bromwich company failed in 1976. A shame because it is a brilliant car and if we'll sorted a very good alternative to a MGB. They also did a lovely Scimitar-esque estate. 

6. Alfa 33

The 33 is like Alfa's own Allegro: the place in the mid 1980s where it all went rather wrong for the Italian firm. Like the Allegro, the 33 followed a popular predecessor. We had had the warning signs of course: the despicable Arna/Cherry Europe, an illogical marriage of Japanese design and Italian build quality. And yet the 33 is way, way better than its reputation suggests: it is basically an Alfasud with a new suit, albeit one with a few wavy stitches, and it was - and is - Alfa's best selling model. It handles, its engine fizzes, it makes you drive like an ape: they're rare as hen's teeth now but still worth buttons. 

7. Any AC That Isn't A Cobra

The tiny Surrey firm of AC stumbled along from the early days of motoring until Carroll Shelby turned up and changed everything. The Cobra's reputation far exceeds the numbers built, which perhaps explains why values have risen astronomically. The car has cast a long shadow: whereas Aston Martin evolved beyond the DB5 to succeed and thrive, AC struggled to create and effectively market another winner. Consequently the great cars it did build, like the 428, 3000ME and 1990s Ace, are possibly better than the Cobra but unloved in comparison. Only the 428 has appreciated in recent years: the rest are bargains. 

8. Leyland Princess

Oh dear. When BL did conventional, they messed up. When they tried unconventional everybody laughed. The Princess was the answer to a question nobody had asked, a cutting edge design with sophisticated underpinnings. It's not so much derided today as ignored, a quirky motoring footnote indicative of its time. Which is a shame, because the Princess is, in many ways as daring as a DS and, shock, Quite Good. You may not want one, but try not to hate the Princess. 

9. Lotus Excel

Lotus' foray into the GT world with the unloved Éclat/Elite/Excel wasn't entirely successful. Perhaps more accurately it was disastrous. Saddled with the same undeveloped engine as the Jensen Healey, the Éclat and Elite were dismally unreliable even by Lotus standards. And, frankly, deserve to be unloved. The Excel, though, is worthy of its place on this list: ostensibly just a revamped Elite, the Excel was actually properly engineered with Toyota bits and quite well built, for a Lotus. It's perennially overlooked but it does so much that you want from a classic: looks good, goes well, desirable badge and rare. 

10. Renault Alpine GTA 

Desirable and Renault are words not often seen together. Which may explan why the company's most outré model languishes in the lower reaches of the I Want One charts.  Admittedly the idea of a complex mid-engined French car doesn't exactly scream Logical Purchase, but the humble GTA is worth a look. It goes well, handles well, looks great and is even screwed together well. If it didn't have the Renault badge we'd probably all want one. That it does means it's cheap: grab some bargain Gallic charm. 

Regrettably, much as I love some of these motoring Orange Cremes, I doubt we'll see them on the Great Escape Cars fleet any time soon. But who knows, after all we do have an Allegro... 


How not to be cheated by garages

If cars had been around at the time of the Bible I'm going to lay a safe bet that Jesus wouldn't have been kicking over the tables of moneylenders, he'd have been getting messy with a torque wrench at his local garage. The car repair business has a bad reputation.
A recent discussion on Twitter highlighted the problem. A simple service on a Mondeo revealed oil priced at £11/litre and a 400% mark up on parts. 
As the comments revealed, garages can get away with this because nobody really knows what the parts should cost and nobody ever asks how much a garage charges for oil.
Like many car owners I imagined that only Other People got caught out by these niggly little tricks, I was wrong, and perhaps on reflection you may feel the same.  One of the main reasons I set up my own classic car workshop is because I was fed up with the service I was getting from the garages I used.  Only when I began sourcing parts and materials directly, and directly employed a team of mechanics, did I realise how badly I was being scammed.  Not only was I paying over the odds for parts I was being charged inflated prices for labour.
Now, fixing cars is never going to be cheap and many garages play by the rules: it's the minority that give the majority a bad reputation. But how do you spot them? Here are some simple ways to avoid being ripped off by garages when you have your modern or classic car fixed.

1. Get a quote in writing

It sounds simple but few people ever do it and garages often actively discourage it. Ask for a quote for the work with a breakdown of parts. While the final bill may be different, because few mechanics can diagnose faults accurately without some investigation, the quote will give you an idea of the final price.

2. Cross check parts prices & labour

In the battle against dodgy workshops, the internet is your friend. It is now very easy to check the price of parts online.  In particular you can also check how long different jobs should take on your car, although this tends to be more reliable for modern cars than for classics. When running these checks do bear in mind that garages have to make a living: their parts prices have to include delivery and collection and administration. Although these shouldn't add much to your bill.  Similarly, labour allowances for jobs generally assume factory conditions: the older a car gets the longer it can take to do a job due to things such as seized nuts.

3. Use a specialist to do a specialist's job

This rule particularly applies if you own a less common car or a classic. Many garages will be prepared to take on any work, not all realise what they've taken on. I learnt this lesson when taking my Jensen Interceptor to a local 'classic car specialist' to fix the wipers. I got stung for £1,500 for a job a specialist could have done for less than £300. Similarly, a so-called clutch specialist attempted to sort my Alfa GTV, without any experience of the complexity of these cars. I paid the price for my stupidity.

So, if you need work on your car that is specialised or your car is specialised, go to a specialist. They're more likely to be honest and upfront on the work involved and they will almost certainly get the work done quicker and cheaper, because they are more familiar with it.

4. Keep an eye on the detail

One of my biggest frustrations with garages is the price of oil and other fluids.  The £11 charged above for a litre is not uncommon. Bear in mind that the garage is probably paying less than £5/litre and you may begin to feel robbed. The same applies to screen wash, antifreeze, brake fluid and so on: because these costs are generally small in relation to the total you can easily overlook them. Don't.

5. VAT

It is very common for garages to quote prices excluding VAT. This is quite naughty, because of course most of their business is retail and so VAT is inclusive. When you're given a quote ask up front if the price includes VAT. It should.

I set up the Great Escape Cars workshop because I was sick to death of these scams. Of course, I have to make a living, but I believe it's better to do that by offering an honest and transparent service that will bring customers back. Feel free to call or email me for advice or with any questions on 01527 893733 or graham@greatescapecars.co.uk.


Graham Eason

01527 893733


Classic Daily Driver: January update

Back in October, fresh from a holiday, I decided to use a 1989 Saab 900 as a daily driver. I wanted to see if it was possible and I wanted to showcase our classic car workshop, which maintains it. 
In the warm glow of a balmy autumn this struck me as publicity gold. In freezing, snow-dusted January, less so. But I have persevered.
January has really tested the mettle of the venerable Saab. It has been chance to redeem itself after disgracing itself in December. Back then, after planning a trip to Hull to see Classics Driven to make a video of the car, it developed a faulty heater thermostat and starting problem caused by a faulty wire. Or an aversion to Hull, because once fixed it did it again just before a rescheduled trip to Hull in early January. Then miraculously fixed itself.

In between these niggling stumbles the car has been faultless, so there really must be something about Hull. 
I chickened out of using the Saab over Christmas and New Year, for no other reason than I wanted to drive my smooth, automatic Alfa 166. But January has been a chance to put some miles on the car - much needed after 229,000 miles of course. 
I've been using the car for my daily commute where the early start and low temperatures have brought the superb heater and heated seats into play. With the lowered, stiffened 'S' suspension driving the Saab on our local rural Worcestershire roads is a little like walking over gravel in socks but after a while it becomes the norm. Only stepping back into the 166 reminds me how thing could so easily be. 
A crawling run into Birmingham in the rush hour revealed one of the car's weaknesses, an annoyingly notchy gearbox that feels like stirring a stick though gravel. At low revs the Triumph-derived slant four is noisy and unrefined by modern standards, in contrast to its in-gear performance under power. 
The Saab has a surprisingly narrow cockpit, so best you know your passenger well, but by contrast the 'combi coupe' hatchback is cavernous. This combination makes it bizarrely perfect for food shopping: parking in Tesco's ludicrously narrow bays is a doddle and it eats loads. The boxy, big-bonneted Saab also sticks out like a sore thumb in any car park, making it easy to spot from a distance. 

When an understandable booking mix up between cinemas in Stratford, London and Stratford, Warwickshire meant a last minute dash from the latter to Solihull to see The Revenant, the Saab's road-munching reputation was put to the test. With just 45 minutes to get from Stratford to Solihull, the car came good, arriving with 15 minutes to spare despite traffic jams. Not quite effortless, but I can see why James Bond briefly ditched the Aston for a Saab.  
I've always loved the 900 but pressing it into daily life 27 years and 229,000 miles into its life is beginning to feel perfectly normal. Time may have overtaken it but what made it good then - safety, solidity, comfort, 35mpg and performance - are still relevant now. 


Graham Eason

The 5 worst workshop fails

Doctors, dentists and car mechanics have a lot more in common than simply a waiting room full of dog eared magazines. Put simply: most of us would rather extract our fingernails with pliers than visit any of them.
I have nothing against my dentist or doctor but their jobs inflict discomfort. For many consumers, the same is true of car mechanics. But, crucially, it's entirely avoidable.   
I've seen both sides of the problem: before I set up a classic car workshop of my own I used a lot of independent garages. Here are my top 5 workshop gripes. I set up my own workshop to ensure we avoid them, and I think we do.  Feel free to submit your own.

1. English is a foreign language

You may imagine yourself fluent in the official language of this great and green isle. That is, until you encounter a mechanic. Car men have access to a whole vocabulary that sounds like English but its meaning is as clear as Dutch spoken in a Welsh accent. 
What you want is a diagnosis, what you get is a list of intricately expressed faults that require a degree in physics to decipher. It doesn't help that workshops often don't actually show the customer what the fault is.  
The result of this communication breakdown is that the customer often walks away feeling bamboozled or, worse, somehow taken advantage of. Not clearly understanding what the problem is can leave you wondering if the wool is being pulled over your eyes.
Clear explanations in layman's terms and actually showing customers the problem and what work will be done is the only reasonable solution here. 

2. It'll cost what it costs

When buying virtually anything you'll be told what it will cost. This applies to simple stuff like eggs as well as to complex purchases like kitchens, bathrooms and house extensions. Unless you change your request the price will stay the same. 
That doesn't really apply to garages. Whether you deal with a main dealer or a local one man band, the situation is largely the same: it'll cost roughly this. Invariably the final bill will be a surprise.
I can see exactly why this happens. Until the mechanic begins work it's often impossible to assess exactly what work is needed. That's not obfuscation, it's simply the way it is. 
So then the issue is about communication. Price is arguably the single biggest concern for any customer. Since workshop repairs can easily swing by hundreds of pounds this is hardly a surprise. 
Workshops need to split the project up into diagnosis and repair with prices for both. Once diagnosed they need to provide a fixed price for the work with clear inclusions and exclusions. 

3. How long's a piece of string?

It seems such a simple question and yet it is one that never seems to merit a straight answer: how long will it take you to fix it? When you entrust your car to a mechanic you want it back as soon as possible. Not having it is an inconvenience. If you have to deliver and collect it then you need to know what time to take off work. 
This timescale fudging was an endless source of frustration for me when I used outside workshops. They knew that a  delay had huge consequential costs to my business but this didn't affect their behaviour. 
As a business you need to understand what your customer's key purchase criteria are. Mine was speed, or at least reliable timescales. Having made this clear I expected results. Had any of these garages clearly stated their expected timescales and then updated me if they were at risk - or otherwise - I could at least have planned ahead. 
At Great Escape Cars we've made turnaround time our most important measure: our workshop is very clear on what is achievable and that means we can manage hirers accordingly.  

4. If you can't do it, don't do it

With classic cars knowledge is key. I have been caught out several times by so-called experts who fixed or bodged a problem at huge cost compared to a marque or activity specialist. I once spent £1500 to have the wipers on my Jensen Not Fixed. More recently our workshop wasted 80hrs repairing an Alfa GTV which had been previously tackled by a so-called clutch specialist. 
Take your car to the people who know your car. Or know your fault. Go on recommendation. Ask for proof of their experience. Test their knowledge. 
At Great Escape Cars we know that electrics are a black art: while we can generally solve the problem it will take us longer than a proper auto electrician. So we use a proper auto electrician. 

5. Can't get there from here 

Taking your classic car to the garage is a hassle. If the car actually runs you need a way to get back, if it doesn't run you need a way to transport it. 
Having worn out many, many shoes dropping cars off and walking back to rail stations or my home or doing this in reverse, I know inconvenient and annoying this is. The customer myopia typical of the garages I used is what prevented them seeing and responding to this otherwise obvious problem. When asked their response was surprise and bewilderment that my problem might also be theirs. 
Of course, having a workshop on site has cut down my roaming, thankfully. Based on my experience Great Escape Cars offer a collection and return service for customers, using fleet of trucks and trailers. We also provide a free driver service to collect customers or return them home. There's no charge for any of this: it's what I believe we have to do. 

You can discover more about our workshop at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.