I was reading a report recently in which I found out that there are more apprentices in the motor trade today than there were 50 years ago.
That can only be a good thing for our industry, as over the past few years a real shortage of skilled mechanics (or technicians, as they prefer to be called these days) has been a real issue.
It’s also fair to say that being an apprentice today is more than likely a more positive experience than it was when I first started out in the motor trade at the end of the 1970s.
Back then, mocking the apprentice, practical jokes and generally making their life hell was a rite of passage, and although it was occasionally quite amusing, it wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do to attract young people into an industry that already had a bit of an image problem.
Sometimes, those practical jokes would also backfire, and the report brought back a memory from when I was working in the sales department of a Citroen dealership in the mid-1980s.
We had a young lad join us straight from school – Dave was his name – and unlike many of the apprentices we took on, he showed genuine promise.
He was a nice lad and also pretty handy with the spanners, but that was partly because he’d been learning by himself ever since he bought his own car at the age of just 14.
Naturally, his car was his pride and joy and he couldn’t wait to drive it. He passed his test just a few weeks after his 17th birthday and from that day on he’d come to work in his Ford Capri, which had been a labour of love for much of his youth.
With all credit to the lad, he made a decent job of doing it up.
He’d repainted it in its original Signal Orange, which certainly wasn’t for shrinking violets, and would frequently bring it into the workshop at the end of his shift to fiddle with it, fettle it or polish it.
To say he loved that car was an understatement.
Now, those of you who’ve been around long enough will also remember that where Fords of the 1970s are concerned, it was very much a case of ‘one key fits all’, especially as the cars got older and the lock barrels became more worn.
So, one day, when we had a Cortina in for some servicing, we thought it’d be hilarious to see if its key worked in Dave’s Capri.
I worked at the sales department at the time, so once the lads on the shop floor had established that we were effectively in possession of what appeared to be a Ford master key, they popped over to ask us in sales to help them out with their prank.
At the time, we were based on an industrial estate on the western outskirts of Birmingham and Dave would park his car religiously in the same space every day.
It was a couple of minutes’ walk from the garage but in a busy area within full view of the main road, where he figured it was at a lower risk of being nicked.
The joke. they explained, would be for one of us – namely me, as my absence wouldn’t be noticed from the workshop floor on the basis that I was never there – to go and move Dave’s car during the afternoon and park it round the back of the dealership in the sales wash bay, where he wouldn’t see it.
Realising it was a fairly harmless prank, I waited until I knew that Dave was busy on a job, went for a little stroll and returned back to the dealership as discreetly as I could, given that I was driving a bright orange car.
Home time came, but instead of rushing off back to their families or the pub, the mechanics hung around waiting for Dave to come panicking back to the workshop and exclaiming that his beloved Capri had been stolen.
Imagine their surprise, then, when a few minutes later Dave and his Capri rolled into the workshop so that he could spend his usual half-hour communing with it before he went home.
This was rather baffling, as the Capri should have still been in the wash bay where I’d left it about three hours earlier.
But what came as even more of a surprise was to find that it still was – the fundamental difference being that it clearly wasn’t Dave’s Capri.
Naturally, I did the decent thing and immediately got on the phone to West Midlands Police.
However, like all good car salesmen, I changed the story a little bit, and rather than confess to my sins I told them that a Ford Capri had inexplicably appeared in our wash bay.
They asked if I could hang back for a short while as they’d had a report of a similar car being stolen earlier that afternoon.
An hour later, they turned up complete with a young lady who was massively relieved to find that not only had the car she’d borrowed from her boyfriend been recovered, but it had also been found less than half a mile away from where she’d left it, and with no damage whatsoever.
As for Dave, well, unless he’s reading this column, to this day he never did find out.
This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 190 – along with news, reviews, features and much more! Click here to read and download it for free!