Old Charmers

By
Updated: December 20, 2019

There’s an ever-increasing demand for classic car mechanics, and the Classic Car Clinic team on the Gold Coast show exactly how rewarding such work can be.

Two mechanics, 90-years of professional experience. As Steve Ward and Robin Mitchell pack away a Jaguar 420, BMW 2002 and Triumph TR8 into Classic Car Clinic’s small but busy and tidy workshop, you can tell it’s the end of another busy day. Yet the pair are still joking around, working seamlessly in a team based on mutual trust and respect for each other’s talents.

“We’re working on the same cars now as when we started,” Robin says, he with British Leyland some 50 years ago, and Steve a Jaguar and Land Rover master technician stretching back 40 years. “Our bread and butter are MGs and Minis, but we’re mechanics, we can work on anything.” The Gold Coast business specialises in repairs, services and restorations of classic cars, but the Union Jacks on the building and MG, Austin Healey and Triumph signs point towards a specific enthusiasm for all things British.

A Series I Land Rover Defender greets me as I enter the workshop, but behind are a Porsche 356 and stripped Mercedes receiving the full treatment, including fixing a poor right-hand-drive conversion effort.

The workshop’s owner, David Godwin, is a legend in local MG circles, and has had his well-travelled MG A prepped for a drive to Everest Base Camp next year. It’s clear there’s no such thing as a “normal” workday here. “Tomorrow we’re doing an MG B service which could lead to other work, I’ve a Mini to finish off and rear axle to come out of the Land Rover,” Steve says. “I’ve just overhauled some SU carburettors and distributors, we’ve got a steering box to go back into a 1937 MG and an old S-Type Jag’s coming in for gearbox-out repairs.”

Such work can’t be done by everyone. In the classic car game experience is imperative, and seemingly fewer mechanics are able to do the required work. “We need young people here,” Steve says. “All of us here are beyond 50, and Rob should have retired last year. You have to be an enthusiast to do this, to live and breathe the classic car life. We love the cars we work on, we own classics ourselves, and we’re always busy.”

Our motoring future is inevitably going to involve more electric vehicles, hybrids and even hydrogen power, so it’s little wonder apprentices are being led in more modern directions. But the classic car niche is not going anywhere. “Fossil fuels are not going to run out, and classic cars will always need upkeep and repair,” Steve says. “You can make a decent living from them, and if a young fella started now they’d have a career for decades.” Robin agrees. “Owners don’t mind spending on their MG, but they do mind spending on their everyday Hyundai Getz.”

Perversely, as cars have become more complex, the pair believe skill levels have generally decreased. “We’ve had work experience guys and a girl come through here and they’ve been good, but the teachers aren’t teaching mechanics,” Robin says. “Half of them don’t know what points are, most don’t know what valve clearances are. It’s not their fault, they’re just not taught it.”

“It really worries us,” Steve agrees. “We don’t want to see mechanics become glorified parts fitters, that’d be a real shame. With modern diagnostics and quick part replacement, they don’t need to know what caused the original problem. Okay, the oxygen sensor’s gone. But why? What caused it in the first place? For me, there’s no job satisfaction being a part fitter, that’s not what we got into this for. It’s easy to buy a replacement part, but we tend to recondition the original.”

When parts are required, the pair say they refuse to compromise on quality. It can be frustrating sourcing and waiting for some, but they’ll prioritise OE parts in their original specification, and ship them from overseas when required. “We both despise cheap stuff, and the customers understand that,”

“The Workshop’s Owner, David Godwin, Is A Legend In Local Mg Circles, And Has Had His Well-Travelled Mg A Prepped For A Drive To Everest Base Camp Next Year.”

Steve says. “A lot of stuff out of China is built to a price, but it’s typically no good. Many of these classic cars won’t be daily transport, so we’re fortunate we have time to wait for the correct parts, even if we are keen to get the work finished and the car out of the door as soon as possible for the customer.”

The Classic Car Clinic has a healthy waiting list for bookings, showing how well respected and in demand they are. Evidence, if it were required, that there’s strong need for such services. So should TAFE courses offer more opportunity for apprentices to specialise in classics?

“If TAFE offered courses on some of the older stuff, it might surprise them how many people they’d actually get,” says Steve. “We’d like them to teach the basics of motor cars, but when it comes to training, TAFE have limited resources and they have to deliver to their customers – workshops and dealerships– what’s expected of them, and that’s understanding modern cars. But we don’t want to see those old skills die out.”

It’s a call to action to any apprentice or young mechanic sick of spinning off annual service oil filters. If you want to work on classic cars, there are opportunities for those willing to learn and gain the required experience. “We can’t speak for others, but being a parts fitter you may as well be watching paint dry,” Steve says. “If there’s someone with an inkling for classic cars and ready to earn their stripes, please call us.” With such beautiful classic cars in your workplace each day, plus true job satisfaction, it’s a pretty compelling offer.

Call (07) 5529 1876

For more information visit www.classiccarclinic.com.au

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