Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: My Formative Years Wrenching on British Steel. Or: How I Learned to Never Underestimate the Power of a Real Road Test Experience

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis

One would think that with all the head scratching, added expense and needless difficulty involved, anyone who persisted in their own repair and maintenance efforts (professional or otherwise) on such flawed contraptions —which I will continue to document in this series on my experiences with automobiles British— must be running as low on vital fluids as the vehicles themselves typically were!

But we’re not talking about the repeating of the same procedure and expecting a different result, in this case. The experienced British Car mechanic understood that the oil leaks would persist, the electrics would continue to be perform intermittently and the driveability would literally change with the weather. To expect otherwise WOULD have been a sign of insanity!

Those who would consider such expectations to be rather negative— and a good reason not to “stay the course”, as it were—were really missing the point of these vehicles. The “point” was intrinsically and unequivocally linked to actually OPERATING the machine. The slogan “Drivers Wanted” hadn’t exactly been coined yet, but it was something fully understood by any desiring association with these anti-appliances. INCLUDING the mechanic!

When it came to the driving experience—whether in the form of a road test, vehicle transfer logistics, or just running a customer back to their home or office—time has not diminished the impact these vehicles have made on me. Few modern automobiles even come close to what really amounts to a very unique phenomenon.

Firstly, all of these creations truly had distinctive personalities, even such relatively plebian examples as the Morris Minor or Austin America. These personalities were no mere accident, and were crafted through everything from basic exterior and interior styling, to the powerplant and drivetrain choice, exhaust system employed, and materials and running gear used.

It’s something that really needs no translation, which is undoubtedly why generations of car enthusiasts continue to appreciate them, making them now sought after collector vehicles (with an accompanying escalation in price).

But back in the days before they attained to such status, they were generally viewed, on some level as fun, stylish and affordable automotive statements; to which there was really no alternative.

I enjoyed driving them all, for their own special reasons. I’m listing some of my favorites below.

The Triumph Spitfire—which arguably looked to be the epitome of the small-displacement sports car—with its race-inspired reverse-opening front cowl, and well-balanced styling proportions, had this “flexible flyer” dynamic when brought up to speed on any road surface that wasn’t billiard-table smooth. Some would have considered that a serious flaw, but it gave the car its own distinct feel. If you didn’t like that, there were plenty of other choices.

How about the Triumph TR6, for instance? It had this sort of bulldog dynamic working: snappy inline-six with this very firm clutch that sported a light-switch engagement “takeup”, equally firm suspension and quick steering, and a lot less “frame” flex.

Then there were the MG sports cars. I just loved the way the MGB worked. I felt the “ergo’s” were just about perfect for my thin six-foot frame. The car felt very well integrated, for a convertible, and the sound and feel of the power delivery from the twin SU carb-fed larger displacement pushrod four-cylinder seemed very well matched to the whole general ride dynamic.

One of my favorite roadsters was the Austin Healy 100-6, mainly because it was relatively smooth and refined for a car of that class, and it had this wonderful inline-six tuned exhaust note, accompanied by an equally wonderful gearbox whine.

Of course, at the top of the heap was the Jaguar E-Type. Everything just WORKED for that machine! Ridiculously gorgeous styling, a true aviation-style “cockpit”, a drivetrain that was truly “magic”, whether powered by the inline-six or the V-12 (which, when equipped with manual transmission, had a sound that was just ADDICTIVE!), and great brakes and suspension, which contributed to the feeling that you were exempt from the physical laws governing fellow motorists.

Then there were the sedans—or more correctly “saloons”—of which, the Jag’s impressed me most. Those 3.8 and 4.2 “Mark’s” had this interior aroma that was just incredible! The combination of wool, leather, wood and a little bit of good ol’ H20 from the “calibrated” glass and door seal seepage made the driving experience something like being in a mobile English Antiquities Museum.

And then the XJ series had this ride that was absolutely unflappable.

The way the engineers isolated the beautifully designed suspension system from the chassis created a combination that really had no equal for quite a long time!

All of these cars possessed qualities that made measured performance and statistical capabilities irrelevant. With a few exceptions (like the E-type Jag), it really didn’t matter that they weren’t the fastest or best handling cars in the history of the automobile. The driving experience was this EVENT that was just perfect the way it was. When all was working as intended, you had the feeling that you weren’t just driving—you were MOTORING!

“Motoring” didn’t—and still doesn’t—require additional refinement to improve the experience, any more than refining a Horse would help with the experience of horseback riding. It’s good just as it is. Which is why the impact of the driving experience I’ve enjoyed with these cars hasn’t diminished. Which has made all of the head scratching, added expense and needless difficulty associated with working on the things worthwhile indeed!

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.

Phil Coconis
Phil Coconis

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  • GS650G GS650G on Aug 21, 2012

    One doesn't own a British machine, more like adopts it as part of their soul. The very idea of not working on it constantly seems far fetched since repairs are part of the ownership experience and provide good stories to tell.

  • -Nate -Nate on Aug 29, 2012

    Thanx for this spot on article . I've had a few LBC's over the years and have settled in on my trusty , unrestored 1959 Austin Metropolitan Fixed Head Sports Coupe , it has a very few basic up grades on it's original tiny 1500 C.C. engine and handles far better than anyone expects . It's also a terrific daily driver & commuter , I log over 800 miles every week in it , the 35 MPG's is nice too . -Nate

  • Akear I just wish GM could produce a vehicle 80% as good as the crown.I sat in a Trax at a Chevrolet dealership this weekend and was shocked how cheap it felt. GM does not care.GM - what a disgrace!
  • Akear I like the grill treatment of all Mitsubishi products. It is an interesting and original design.
  • El scotto Some rambling thoughts; Elon is pulling billions in cash out of Tesla. Tesla will be around, Elon won't let them fail. Mitsubishi is an odd place, you can't sell vehicles if you don't have dealers. Out of all the "Automalls" near you, how many have a Mitsubishi dealership? The Agnellis owned Fiat, Fiat got sold to Stellantis. The Agnellis control Exor. How much of Stellantis does Exor own? I really should be drinking beer with Billy Ford and talking Big-10 trash with him. Ford and Lucid should work out a partnership. You want an electric Lincoln? Have Lucid build it and slap a Lincoln name plate on it. BTW, kick Farley's butt to the curb.
  • Akear US contentChevrolet Trax - 5%Honda Pilot - 52%What a disgrace!I glad Consumer Reports panned the Trax, and put it on its avoid list.
  • Akear This is similar to what lazy GM and Ford used to do.