I’m getting to the age now where I appear to be going to an awful lot of retirement dos.
On the one hand it’s quite depressing, but on the other it’s the perfect opportunity to reminisce.
The latest of my former colleagues to hang up his trade plates was a chap called Roy Spanners.
Not his real name, of course, but ‘Spanners’ was his nickname when he ran the service department at the Citroen main agent I used to sell cars for.
Naturally, during his retirement drinks, stories were told and some of Roy’s finest hours were remembered.
Among these, the all-time classic was when we had a Citroen BX in for some warranty work.
Unfortunately for the owner, the BX had suffered a spectacularly catastrophic engine failure, so the car sat down the side of the workshop for several weeks while we waited for a new engine to arrive from France.
After almost two months and several irate phone calls from the customer, who wasn’t really enjoying our AX courtesy car, a crate turned up containing a new engine.
In order to get things sorted as quickly as possible, Roy authorised some overtime, with two of the lads volunteering to work all day on a Saturday to fit the engine.
Roy only worked Monday to Friday, so he arranged for the engine to be put on a hoist and left instructions for it to be ‘fitted to the red BX’.
Imagine his surprise, then, when he returned to work on Monday expecting to call the customer with some good news, only to find their car was still exactly where it’d been sitting for the past seven weeks.
Furious, Roy called the two mechanics into his office, which adjoined the main workshop.
‘Did you forget about the overtime this weekend, then?’ he demanded.
The two mechanics looked at each other, rather confused, and proceeded to tell Roy that no, they hadn’t forgotten and that they were really quite pleased with themselves for having swapped over the engine and all of its ancillaries in less than six hours, meaning they could spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub.
Slowly, the penny dropped.
What Roy had forgotten to do was specify which red BX the new engine was destined for, and on the Friday we’d had an older model dropped off for an MOT on Monday morning.
It passed the MOT with flying colours, but that was hardly surprising because under the bonnet was a brand spanking new engine that it shouldn’t have had.
The customer had then picked his car up and driven home, completely unaware that his 90,000-mile engine had just been superseded by a new one, fresh from the factory.
Of course, the ethical thing to have done would have been to order a new engine again from the factory, swallow the cost and apologise profusely to the customer for the further delay.
But Roy was a sly old fox and he didn’t want to incur the wrath of our dealer principal.
What followed was two evenings of extra overtime for our two mechanics, the first of which was spent extracting the older BX’s engine from the skip, cleaning it all up and painting it so that it looked like it was fresh out of the box.
The second was spent fitting it to the moribund car down the side of the workshop.
By Wednesday afternoon, the customer had their BX back on the road, completely unaware that their ‘new’ engine, fitted under warranty, had actually circumnavigated the globe. Twice.
When the original went bang, it had only done 28k, so we were fully expecting to see the car back in the workshop soon afterwards, the customer more worked up than ever after exposing our malpractice.
But in the end, it wasn’t Roy who saw the red BX again, it was me…
Two years later, the owner chopped it in for a new XM and it was yours truly who brokered the deal.
Apparently, the BX had run like a Swiss watch ever since the engine was replaced, and that was enough to not only restore the customer’s faith in our cars and our garage, but also make him buy a shiny, new and rather expensive one.
As for his old BX, by the time it crossed our threshold on ‘J-reg’ day – August 1, 1991 – and the owner drove off in his new XM, I calculated that it had covered at least 170,000 miles on somebody else’s original engine. So, I did the decent thing and threw it through the auction.
I saw it again as well, about six years later, sitting at a taxi rank outside Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre with a ‘For Hire’ light on the roof.
Some cars, it seems, simply don’t want to die…
This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 188 – along with news, views, reviews, features and much more! Read and download it for FREE here!