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

| 12 Jul 2013

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…