Bookshelves that are heaving under the weight of history

| 17 Apr 2013

Thinking back 20 years, I recall that the first thing I bought after buying my first classic was a good old Haynes Manual – a process that I repeated for the next few purchases because it was, and still is, the default setting for ‘getting off to a good start’ when it comes to familiarising yourself with the inner workings of your old car.

While those cars have since moved on, the bookcases in the Port household still display some of those manuals, but for me the real delights are the various other handbooks which also take up considerable shelf space.

Car boot sales, second-hand bookshops, charity shops and, more recently, ebay have all provided some of these rash purchases but occasionally it’s nice to pause and remind myself just why I bought them in the first place!

Because I have owned a fair few classics from the BMC stable, there is a considerable number of different incarnations of the standard handbooks available when the cars were new.

Along with the aforementioned Haynes manual, they were, for me, the only two publications I needed in order to try and keep my Morris Minor, MGB or Mini on the road.

The ‘simple’ things were covered in the well-thumbed stapled BMC handbook and illustrated very effectively with the trademark line drawings and although they got a little more fussy as the 1960s gave way to the ‘70s and ‘80s, the essence remained the same.

The BMC publications inspired the purchase of one of my favourite items: a booklet issued to employees of Morris Motors in 1943 and covering the basics of ‘Welfare and Medical Services’ available to them. Women’s Welfare, Canteen and Food Laboratory, Children’s Day Nursery and Hairdressing Saloon are all covered in the buff-coloured guide and along with explanations of how to utilise the Morris Motors Athletic Club and Dental Service go towards making the organisation look very progressive in its approach to employee care.

The 1960s then offers another of my favourites: the ‘Ronseal’ titled Hotting Up Your Car – a Practical Motorist handbook costing two shillings and sixpence.

Everything from tubular manifolds to steering wheels is explored and, far from being a throwaway guide, this little publication goes into some depth, even covering crank balancing and rocker arm grinding!

Duckhams also produced a rather nice car maintenance guide, simply titled Help Yourself and features a charming chapter called Chewing Gum and Baling Wire which attempts to debunk the myths of ‘get you home’ fixes. It reads: 'Finding a piece of baling wire is not all that easy unless you hack something from a farmer’s fence… apart from the sheer vandalism of such an act, damaging a fence could allow cattle to break loose.' You have been warned.

The charmingly titled Family Car Companion by John Mills (above) actually comes across as quite sinister inside. Photos of menacing looking chaps lurking by classics parked in a side road illustrate a section on the dangers of car theft before moving on to the danger of drink driving, while even the chapter on polishing your car features two gents who look as if they were on the Kray twins’ payroll.

For me though, one of the must-have manuals for anyone owning a variety of classics has to be the wonderful Odhams Motor Manual. It was first published in 1949 and there are several editions, but what it doesn’t cover isn’t really worth knowing.

The inner workings of most components are covered, including most variations. For instance, there is a chapter on setting up a carburettor, but that then also covers Solex, AIP, Zenith, S.U, Stromberg, Claudel-Hobson, Carter and Ford carbs.

There is even a section on learning to drive , featuring the important instruction: 'The driver should take his place in the driving seat and feel himself into a forward-facing position that is erect, and yet comfortable.' So there you have it – you need to be sitting in the drivers’ seat and facing forward before you can drive. Invaluable advice!

Of course, these are just a select few – there are the spotter’s guides, the fantastically named Jack Brabham’s Car Care Cards sets, Castrol Achievements books, Autodata workshop manuals, Osprey How To... guides and many more. Time to buy another bookshelf.