By on September 6, 2012


The next stories I’m going to relate weren’t actually borne from performance-oriented driving impressions I might have otherwise gathered and formulated based on my British Car wheel time. Therefore,  I couldn’t rightly include them in my last entry. Worthy of recall they are, nevertheless—especially because they are firsts that I haven’t since repeated, fortunately.

Among all of the other “unique” experiences I’ve had with autos from the Land of the Union Jack, certainly being party to the inflicting of structural and cosmetic damage on them has to rank right towards the top.

The first “first” I experienced in this arena involved another MG Midget. This time, I thankfully wasn’t behind the wheel of one. I was, in fact behind the wheel of my Dad’s daily driver—a 1959 Ford Sedan.

By my fledging, but rapidly expanding standards, I considered that piece of automotive history (it qualified as such, even back then) as good a unit as any for honing my driving skills. With its semi-industrial-grade inline six cylinder engine, “three-on-the-tree” column shifter with non-synchro first gear, manual steering and drum brakes, it favored a clean but reserved driving style, as you might imagine.

The unfortunate thing for the Midget parked behind me in the parking lot of my favorite tennis court, was that with the top down, it was virtually invisible from the driver’s seat of my Dad’s Ford, as I looked out the rear window and across the rear deck and trunk!

Yeah, I did at least notice it as I got into the ol’ ’59, but with my spatial relationship memory still in the developmental process, I made a miscalculation as to where the Midge’ was as I attempted to back around it. Caaarrunch!

The right side corner of the Ford’s bumper caught the Tiny One right in the left side headlamp area. Fortunately, the sound of the headlamp being crushed provided a fractional early warning, which caused me to check up my progress just before doing serious damage to the surrounding fender. The Ford, of course, suffered not the slightest damage at all!

I was still surprised at the fact that, after re-seating myself in the Ford, I really COULDN’T see the poor little rollerskate from that vantage point.

Those cars were indeed vulnerable even when sitting still in a parking lot!

The second “first” I had involved a drop-dead gorgeous (and somewhat rare, even for the time) mid-‘70’s Jaguar XJ-12C. The “C”, for those who aren’t familiar, stood for “Coupe”—meaning this example was a two-door version, stylishly devoid of the “B” pillar that would normally have separated the front and rear doors. It sported a beautiful yellowish-cream exterior hue, and black Connolly leather interior…and, of course, that wonderfully sonorous (muted considerably outside of the XK-E), if not somewhat generously large, 326 c.i. V-12 engine!

I was commissioned by the dealer’s Service Manager to be driven down to our local alignment shop subcontractor for the purpose of driving the Jag back to our dealership, where its owner would pick it up later that day.

It would only be a three-mile drive down the PCH through the town of Lomita, but there were some concerns—primarily with the wet weather, and the hour of the day—“rush hour” fast approaching.

Well, the Jag DID make it back to the dealership, but on the back of a tow truck, its front end smashed enough to have damaged the radiator, rendering it undriveable!

I was impressed by the structural integrity of the XJ, after the rather slow speed T-Bone impact encounter with the 1970 Mercury Cougar (which was then viewed more as inexpensive older transportation than the classic it became) that made an illegal left turn in front of me. I didn’t even have my seatbelt on—and barely felt anything—as I saw the right front corner of the Cougar rapidly pirouetting away from the point of impact.

Had I been any more culpable than I was, I’m sure that the Service Manager would have probably killed me on the spot, as he was an old-school corporate punishment type (I may be exaggerating here, but it sure seemed like it was possible at the time!).

Those were experiences from decades ago, but as they were the first and only occasions I was directly involved as the perpetrator or direct participant in the physical damage of ANY car while behind the wheel, they have left an indelible impression. In British Colors.

Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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3 Comments on “Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel—A Couple More Inauspicious Behind-the-Wheel “Firsts”...”


  • avatar
    MarkP

    My brother attracted accidents while driving British cars. Someone rear-ended our baby-blue Bugeye Sprite, thus depriving me of the opportunity to drive it when I got my license. On the other hand, the TR-3 that followed survived an incredible amount of damage over the years. First my brother rolled it on a rain-slicked Tennessee road. Then I was rear-ended by a Corvette in Atlanta rush-hour traffic. After a body and frame transplant (yes, I know, technically it might not be considered the same vehicle after that), it finally succumbed to an engine fire.

    He didn’t fare much better with French cars. Both Renaults were totaled, one by another rear-ender and the other by a drunk Georgia Tech grad who T-boned him at an intersection.

  • avatar
    JohnTheDriver

    CORPORAL punishment. Corporate punishment is, um, something else entirely.

  • avatar
    Phil Coconis

    …or maybe not…


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