We all need help occasionally. Sometimes the work we are doing on our classic cars requires two sets of hands, or a specialized tool, or a service manual that we don’t own. Sometimes it requires someone who has not been troubleshooting a problem for the past eight hours without a food break or a rest room break. In other words, someone with a clear mind. Fortunately the classic car community is exactly that…a community.
This is true whether you are a hobbyist, collector, dealer, restorer, or repair shop. Many of us have our own support network that we can turn to when we run into a problem. We all know someone who’s good with bodywork, and someone else that’s good at diagnosing electrical problems. We also know the local Corvette, or Mustang or (insert your favorite classic car) guru. Of course, we are there to help when someone else needs our assistance.
I recently walked into a friend's shop. Tools and wiring diagrams were everywhere. He is incredibly talented, but after hours of trying to solve a problem, he was frustrated and I could just tell he wasn’t going to get anywhere. I cautiously asked him what steps he had taken to locate the problem. When he told me, it occurred to me that he had likely overlooked something simple, and I had a good idea what it was. I asked him to connect a test-light to a connection that had been overlooked. When he did, the wire at that connection fell right out into his hands. Sticking the wire back in and performing a simple “wiggle test” confirmed that a five-minute repair would have the problem resolved.
Later that evening we were working on a Model A that had an electrical problem. Many hours of analyzing one of the simplest wiring diagrams of any collector car had not yielded any clues. I emailed a friend who could be considered an expert on these cars with my tale of woe, the symptoms, and a description of all of the tests we had performed. Not five minutes went by before I received the response, “Change the ignition switch, and use a modern replacement, not the original pop-out type, or you’ll just have the same problem again.” I did, and he was right (thanks Bruce).
I couldn’t help but think how I had been able to help someone earlier that day, and how later someone had been able to help me. Call it Karma, “whatever goes around comes around,” “paying it forward” or anything else you like. It works.
One of the great things about the classic car community is that people are not only capable of helping -- they want to help. I’ve often said that the best way to get information about purchasing, repairing, or restoring a car is to attend a car show and talk to owners of similar cars. They will be a wealth of information and they are willing to share their knowledge.
I’m now going to impart one of my secrets that’s served me well over decades of collecting cars. I often find myself interested in purchasing a classic car in some far-away part of the country. If I have a colleague in that area, I’ll hire them to perform a pre-purchase inspection. But if I don’t, I turn to the large clubs and organizations that have a major presence on the Internet. They generally don’t recommend individuals who do inspections, but a little time spent on their website will usually yield positive results. For example, I recently needed an inspection on a 1941 Ford located in rural Missouri. I visited the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) website and clicked on the link for the local chapter that covered this portion of Missouri. Just a few clicks later and I was able to contact the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Editor of that Chapter. I sent all of them an e-mail and within a few hours they steered me in the direction of a local club member with expertise in these cars who was happy to perform the inspection. Of course, I paid him for his time.
The process is even easier if you are looking for a specific marque or model with its own national club. I’ve done the same thing many times with the NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society), the MCA (Mustang Club of America), POCI (Pontiac-Oakland Club International), PCA (Porsche Club of America), and many others.
You won’t get a formal report of the type that you would from a professional inspector, but the specialized knowledge and enthusiasm that these people bring in exchange is worth the trade-off.
Don’t be afraid to utilize the collector car community in unconventional ways. Just be prepared to do the same when someone calls on you.