It's British AND broken – perfect for Al the lawnmower man


Author: Alastair ClementsPublished:

I’ve been obsessed with cars since before I could walk, but in recent years I’ve noticed an alarming trend. Actually, it isn’t really alarming to me, but my wife is certainly becoming a little perturbed. You see, I’ve found myself increasingly being drawn to other “old junk” as she likes to refer to it, in addition to the cars (and bits of said) that already litter our suburban semi.

Fortunately, for my own safety, I haven’t yet been bitten by the ‘bike bug (although it’s surely only a matter of time), but the groaning shelves are being overloaded still further by books on yachts, tractors, powerboats, planes and steam trains, plus Airfix kits of Ekranoplans and warbirds.

It’s all about the lure of machinery, the oilier and smellier the better – preferably with a light coating of surface rust and some faded signwriting. Mmmmm. The bottom of the garden is my domain, where I’m lucky enough to have a shed and a rickety asbestos garage, the latter already crammed to the rafters (and in the rafters themselves) with car parts – chipped windscreens, rusty doors and desirable period optional extras that are too rusty to fit to the car but that I just couldn’t resist buying.

The conversion of the shed into a proper man-nest began with a delicious old solid-beech workbench that a teacher friend of mine rescued from the skip when his school refitted its CDT workshops (although I think they’re called something different these days) with nasty plastic tables. And now I have moved on to the garden itself.

I do already own a mower, a horrid orange Flymo job that functions perfectly well, but is about the most unsatisfying tool that I have ever used. It doesn’t even cut the grass in a particularly attractive manner. ‘What I need,’ I thought to myself, ‘is one of those cricket-ground specials. Then I’ll have a perfectly striped, manicured lawn.’

Now I do have some experience in these matters: my early indoctrination into machinery came in a garage at the bottom of my dad’s garden that contained a fearsome bottle-green Dennis ride-on groundsman’s mower – that when I was little seemed like some sort of mechanical monster from a Stephen King novel, but that I grew to love for its all-round magnificence – and a pair of Suffolk Punches. I used to strip and (try to) rebuild the latter, with their disintegrating fuel taps and single-pot motors with fading compression, and even attempted to turn one into a go-kart.

Now, in a sad childhood revival that I’m kidding myself is a sensible and practical idea, I own another, a fantastic-looking aged Suffolk Super Punch secured after a few glasses of red via ebay for the princely sum of £2.21. Drawbacks? Well, it doesn’t work – serious déjà vu here – but it can’t be that complicated to fix, can it? And even if I can’t it’ll be a great garage prop beside the MG.

And it turns out I’m not alone in this passion – nor even the worst-afflicted in the office. Nestling in the garden of art man Port’s home is a quite scrumptious David Brown water pump, in chipped green paint with Villiers engine. It was unearthed by the maintenance guys at work and swiftly made its way from a skip into the back of his Land-Rover. Must say, I’m more than a bit envious, but then Mr P does have a rather more sympathetic missus than most.

So come on, fess up, it can’t be an affliction restricted to the sadder end of the C&SC office; what mechanical skeletons lurk in your closet?



Certainly not just you, I was in need of a "new" lawnmower recently and naturally turned to ebay to see what could be found. A few bida later I was the proud owner of a Briggs and Stratton powered Webb roller mower.

Nothing mechanical gets thrown away in our house, once it can't be fixed anymore it goes on the pile of things that might come in useful one day.


I've got a bit of a thing for hit-and-miss stationary engines myself. I remember staring at a little Ruston at a show a while back for about ten minutes, utterly mesmerised. Perhaps I'm just easily amused...

GreaseMonkey (not verified)

Yep, I try to keep my new garage reasonably tidy. I learned a lesson last year when it got too crowded and reaching for a water pump for my 280SE from the top shelf, it fell, rolled out my reach and carved a nice big scratch in the door of my SLC, that cost me $800 to get resprayed. Now all the redundant old Mercedes and Model T parts that in all honesty will probably never get used, or thrown away, have been joined under the house by a pair of busted Briggs & Stratton powered mowers and other assorted oily things. At least I can find, and reach what I want in the garage now though. Chris Martin

GreaseMonkey (not verified)

Sorry, just realised the title above. None of my junk is British, just broken.

Chris M.


Cut my classic car tinkering teeth on a Suffolk Punch engine when I was 12! I really wanted a moped, but my dad said no and gave me the engine to play around with and he showed me how to grind in valves etc. I negotiated my first ever ‘deal’ with a complete mower, trying to swap it for a split screen Morris Minor. Sadly this also got ‘quashed’ and a succession of rusty mowers made their way thru my dad’s garage, which I restored and sold for £50 a time! Brought my first ‘classic’ aged 16 with the Lawn Mower proceeds and went on to own a variety of classics and worked in the motor trade ever since...
Modern lawn mowers are like modern cars – dull, but easy to use. These old petrol jobs are much more entertaining and make the chore of cutting grass into a bit of fun!

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