Car booty for AC restoration

| 9 Jun 2011

“Meet me in the car park of the Five Bells at 10.15. I’ll be the one in a silver Mazda. Five minutes then I need to be off”. It sounded like a dodgy rendez-vous – a pub I’d only been to once, 17 years ago (for the record it was the setting for my first date with my future wife), a gentleman that I’d never met before and a swift exchange of items from one car boot into another. In reality it wasn’t that sinister at all – simply an indication of just how friendly and encompassing our obsession with classic machinery can be.

It all started with an email shortly before midnight: “I have two AC engines that are surplus to requirements”. My heart raced as the lifeline dangled in the ether before me – could this finally see my Buckland fire up of it’s own accord? Naturally I would have to finish replacing the rotten wood, put some floors in, re-wire the whole thing and then get some paint on the bare aluminium first, but the light was starting to flicker at the end of the virtual tunnel.

At 10.15 on the dot, a silver Mazda pulled in behind the Landie and as both parties stepped from our cars, the line of onlookers at the bus-stop opposite shifted nervously – perhaps they were expecting a gunfight, but they were to be disappointed. A polite handshake later and I was chatting about all things mechanical with the mysterious driver – also known as Ian Bingham.

Despite his generous offer, I just couldn’t run to buying both, or even just one of his complete AC UMB engines so had casually enquired if he would accept an offer on something from his vast parts store of pistons and liners. Bingham owns a 1928 Frazer Nash Geoghegan Special that runs an AC engine – several rebuilds over the years meant that he had a decent stash of used parts which fortunately he was happy to pass on to a worthy cause.

In the end it transpired that he was travelling from the outskirts of Wales to the outskirts of Newbury on a visit to his wife’s godmother (who, incidentally lives in an old farmhouse once occupied by Innes Ireland). As he transferred several boxes of engine parts from his compact boot into the rear of the Land-Rover, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer quantity of used pistons, cylinder liners and con-rods that he decided he no longer needed. “I took a load of stuff to the scrap heap last week” he admitted, and upon seeing the shocked look upon my face added: “It would have all been useless of course”.

When I asked how much he wanted for the bounty, he waved a hand to one side and dismissed any notion of payment. “Don’t worry, I’ve been there”, he said, acknowledging the fact that I was trying to restore a car while putting petrol in a Land-Rover and bringing up a family. And with that, he was gone – off to his next appointment.

Afterwards I couldn’t help but think that at times this is truly a remarkable hobby. As I sat on my drive taking stock of all the parts that Ian and others had donated (such as David Rix who also supplied several liners and pistons last year), I realised that it was easy to forget just how many people I had met over the years (many of them before I worked for C&SC), that have gone out of their way to help a fellow enthusiast.

Even before I bought my first classic there was no shortage of people willing to offer advice and the benefit of their experience for little more than a thank you. Sometimes generosity comes in the form of physical help – parts, a lend of a tool, or a shove when things go wrong, but in my case, one man’s trash is another man’s lifeline. Anyone need any spare AC pistons? I have a feeling I might have a couple spare after the rebuild.