Let Me Tell You A Story – Clutching at the Money!

Mike Humble

Around this time of year, when the weather starts to change, my heart goes out to that unsung hero of the automotive world – the mobile mechanic. In a previous ramble I have touched upon the fact I had once operated in this field during a three-year return to the North East. I made some good friends and contacts during this time – some of those people still live in my mobile phone number list, and most of them will boil the kettle and dig out the biscuits when I call in to visit.

Boldy going where no mobile has ever gone before — Ferryhill in County Durham.

Winter is a bloody rotten time for mobiles. Work tends to drop off a cliff edge owing to the public’s money spending priorities and those jobs that do come along often guarantee a cold or wet day of messing around. During the summer and autumn, you have to work like frenzy making sure you put a few bob away for emergencies and when the winter comes. Alternatively, you do what I did by signing on with a few agencies turning the wheel of a lorry or coach when the phone isn’t ringing.

One chap I do put the world to rights with every now and again is Peter Bell who now spends his retirement messing around on his boat or restoring his Bentley. During his tenure in trade, he ran a small retail Rover dealer not far from Darlington. In the later years he owned and ran the imaginatively titled “The Diesel Car Centre”. Here I would MOT prep or service his used cars for sale in exchange for a cheaper rate and the use of his two-poster ramp for my own jobs. If not for his generosity life would have been so much harder.

His premises allowed me to make hay not only when the sun shone – but when it rained too, but not all the jobs went that smoothly. One experience makes me tremble to this day over a decade after the event which took place on the eve of Christmas eve 2005. One of my regular customers was a chap called Mark who ran a fading coach operation and small taxi business. His cab fleet was a strange and eclectic mix of vehicles, three of which were Rover 400 saloons I would often have to patch up and improvise to keep running.

Owing to the fact he was based just over halfway to Durham in a town called Ferryhill, to make it pay, I would always add on a bit extra to cover my fuel and travel time. One day in early November, he called to ask if I could fit a clutch to a car he’d just bought. If he could live without the vehicle for a full day and get it down to me in Darlington, I would get this done at Pete’s place in relative comfort and convenience to me. As it happened the job got cancelled as his local garage found the time to do it – or so I was told.

An LPG converted Rover 420 minicab clutch in mid-winter? It was a HH arse of a job!

We now fast forward to a few days before Christmas 2005 when Mark called again enquiring of my availability. It turns out he’d run the car into the ground and the clutch had totally failed. Despite the new quote being higher than before, he still wanted me to do it and I was given the address to where the car had expired – a deserted car park on a Shildon industrial estate. It was a freezing cold but sunny morning when I arrived. Mark had left the parts in the boot and hidden the keys, so me and a mate I had commandeered for the day as a helping hand started work.

Annoyingly, Mark had failed to tell me the car, a petrol Rover 420 saloon, was fitted with an LPG gas conversion that obliterated much of the accessibility to the top of the gearbox. Is if that wasn’t bad enough – it started to snow. We eventually removed the gearbox despite the pipework and electronics to reveal a destroyed clutch and a flywheel that was also in bad need of replacement. I called to explain this to be told as long it would run over the Xmas / new year period he didn’t care if it caught fire so long as it earned its keep for that week. In no uncertain terms I was told it had to on the rank at midnight Xmas eve – a little over twenty-four hours later.

“Even a local panda car from Durham Constabulary visited us owing to a concerned member of the public reporting that we were stripping parts off an abandoned car”

Hurdle after problem we eventually had the car back off the axle stands. A quick road test found the car have drive in all gears but the most horrendous judder. We were finished around 6.00pm and for most of the afternoon had been working by lead lamp, torch and my vans dipped beam. Even a local panda car from Durham Constabulary visited us owing to a concerned member of the public reporting that we were stripping parts from an abandoned car. The two bobby’s drove off only to come back offering us two polystyrene cups of hot tea, two Kit Kats and some sachets of sugar – God bless our boys in blue eh?

With my mate driving the van I took the car round to Marks house. By now I was cold, wet, hungry and very miffed at the whole deal and he could clearly see this. As a way of appreciating our trojan efforts, he paid us a tidy bonus and we left the scene of the crime. After topping up our tanks at a nearby MacDonald’s I dropped Nigel back at his place, stuffed some paper money in his palm and drove back to my house. Despite the extra money coming very handy, it was until a recent kidney stone incident…

the worst bloody Christmas I’d ever had.

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