Taking the effort – and the joy – out of finding classic car stuff


Author: Martin PortPublished:

Hands up who remembers the world before ebay. Well, yes, I do actually. In fact, at the risk of sounding like one of those ‘I love the ‘70s’ programmes they stick on which feature people clearly ‘reminiscing’ from a cue card rather than their actual memories, I remember when you had to get off your fat a*se and leave the house should you want to buy a classic car part or a bit of memorabilia.

And seeing as we’re doing the whole rose-tinted thing, I recall that the ‘olden day’ alternative to tapping something into a search box actually used to be quite exciting and fun.

Club events and classic car shows at places such as the NEC and Silverstone used to be as much about trawling through the autojumble and trader stalls as looking at other people’s cars for me, while I rummaged in search of a particular part, badge or brochure.

Going through the endless boxes of period ads and workshop manuals looking for something suitable for the year of manufacture of your particular classic was a task that required some dedication, but the joy at finally finding what it was you were seeking out made it all worthwhile.

Unfortunately, for me, ebay just doesn’t quite compare.

There isn’t any real hard work. You don’t have to go anywhere, buy tickets or even talk to anyone. In fact, the virtual shop window is so vast that there is a very good chance that your first search will be greeted with several pages of results – most of them a good match so that the only real work comes with having to check your bank balance and decide if you buy the cheapest one on offer (but has to be shipped from Quebec, via Singapore with a stop off in Holland), or the most expensive that will be delivered in a triple-insulated fire-proof envelope with a complimentary chocolate and ‘free’ delivery.

Where before you would talk to someone in a field and, based on their facial expressions, colourful use of language and bacon-butty-stained shirt decide if the gearbox they were selling contained clean EP80 or a bucket of sawdust, some old chip oil, porridge and an egg to try and keep it quiet, you now have to rely on trawling through ‘recent feedback’ – trying to build up a mental image of the seller thanks to 45 repetitions of  the words “Good ebayer, excellent communication” followed immediately by six “Item didn’t arrive. Wouldn’t respond to my emails”. 

And unless you have a tremendous amount of self-restraint, you will undoubtedly end up buying stuff you don’t really need. A neighbour of mine recently announced that he had bought a guitar, a telescope and a scuba diving air tank from ebay in the last week, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were things that he would have actively sought out if they weren’t on a computer screen in front of him ending in the next five minutes. I guess that’s what car boot sales used to be for… ah, the good old car boot sale: home of bargain Dinky toys with only three wheels and a headless driver (“but I think it’s a rare one”), a BMX bike for a fiver (“my Dad didn’t let me have one when I was a kid”), and 10cc vinyl (“but it’s got a Healey on the cover so it must be good”).

So why, in recent months, have I bought a set of seats, 10 wheels, a DVD, several books, a brochure, two race programmes, a pair of windscreen washers and a t-shirt from aforementioned auction site? Because it’s easy, often cheaper and occasionally you feel like you’ve got a bargain, even if you do spend more on fuel going half way across the UK to collect something because it was a fiver less than the one in your hometown. 

And anyway, I’m turning 40 this year which means I now officially have the right to hark on about how things used to be better while contradicting myself completely with my actions. I feel sorry for my kids already…


Chris Martin

Spot on Martin. Yes we can all find what we want a lot easier by doing our shopping on Internet High Street, but the key thing here is by making it easy, we also do not get the same sense of achievement, that ' Hallelujah' moment we used to get when the last missing part was spotted under a pile of junk in a muddy field. I now have a complete set of Ford Thunderbird brochures from 1954 on (yes, the brochure for the forthcoming '55 was printed in '54) thanks to ebay, but finding those last few rare ones was too easy and did not replace the thrill of finding even one of them for myself at a swap meet. On the other hand, I clearly recall getting up early to be at the front of the queue at Dunstable Antique Fair at 8am on Sunday and if I was fast enough I could guarantee leaving there by ten o'clock with at least ten Clarice Cliff salt, pepper or sugar pots for an average of a tenner each, to be sold for five or ten times that to some bloke with a slightly suspicious wiggle in his walk the next week at one of the high rent London 'Art Deco' antique fairs. In fact on one trip driving back from a few French markets with a Mercedes T123 estate full of marble clocks I had to turn down a '60s Gottlieb pinball machine for the equivalent of thirty quid 'cos it would not fit in the car. Now on ebay, that pinball would sell for a couple of grand and could be shipped anywhere at a price. Back in the '80s I wanted a right hand door mirror for my '66 T-Bird and found one listed for sale in Hemmings, which was then the American equivalent of Exchange & Mart, with the slight problem of it being in Texas while I was in Hendon NW4. A couple of expensive phone calls later and a trip to the bank to order a US dollar money order (slow and expensive) which was then mailed and a few weeks later I was the proud owner of a T-Bird with mirrors on both sides.  Point of the story? Don't know really, but yes, that feeling of getting a result is much diluted without the work we had to put in.



However! let me put it another way.. I live in a fairly remote spot.. so to go to the nearest auto jumble costs! ferry fare ,hotel,gas,time,entry fee,wear and tear on the car, food,.. so that 'deal of the day' for $20. has actually cost upwards of $400. so from my point of view I am perfectly happy to spend more time working on the car and less time trolling thru useless junk. Even if I do spend a little more up front it is way cheaper in the long run! The object of the exercise for me is to complete the car.. not spend the next ten years looking for that one elusive part to put it back on the road. I feel I can achieve a far better result having numerous vendors offering me items that they hope I might want.. than playing cat and mouse with someone who has far too much emotion wrapped up in whatever it is they are selling. I have had to point out to many a vendor ..you can't eat emotion! VIVA Ebay!


Ebay can be awfully convenient at times, but always make sure you're sober when browsing...have you heard "The ebay song" by Weird Al Jankovic - it's on youtube and highly recommended...

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