Big Mike CD 194 Disco 2Big Mike CD 194 Disco 2

Big Mike

How Slippery Sid’s second hip flask helped bag him Disco 2 bargains at used car auctions

Our mystery used car dealer columnist reflects humorously on how life has changed at the auction houses

Time 7:40 am, April 21, 2024

Just recently, I’ve been buying a few more cars out of the auctions than I have previously on the basis that there appear to be fewer private punters and roadside cowboys filling their ranks and bumping up prices.

There’s also now a fair number of cars coming through that suit my traditional market – I love big old Volvos, Jaguars, Mercs and BMWs, which often take a while to sell but rarely come back and bite you on the bum.

These are sturdy, well-made motors that if they do go wrong, do so in a way that you can usually put right without ridiculous expenditure, rather than today’s generation of small turbocharged engines with ‘wet belt’ engines, where the timing belt runs through the engine oil.

It may seem a bit old-fashioned to say we did things better back in the day but on this occasion it’s an undeniable truth – rubber, oil and time tend not to mix, especially not when forced to be more powerful than they were originally designed to be.

If you don’t believe me, ask any roadside recovery operator. Anyway, we’ll come back to the oil thing shortly…

As I’m sure many of you are aware, the entire process of buying cars at auction has changed substantially in recent times, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic reared its ugly head.

Today, the vast majority of auction purchases are completed online. As a result of that, most cars come with some form of inspection report.

An ‘essential check’, ‘condition report’, or call it what you will, it’s basically where an often-overworked staff member with a glorified iPad takes some photos of it, dips the oil and checks the tyre tread.

In some respects, the reports aren’t worth a bean – but in others, they can be really useful, because if the car has more red marks than my school homework did back in 1978, it can put the lazy punters off.

Yet sometimes, you can get four ticks for a fuse – if all of the electric windows have shut up shop, for example, when all that’s required is a 99p circuit breaker under the dashboard.

Indeed, an acquaintance in the trade has used this to his advantage lately by befriending one of the iPad-wielders at our local sales house.

While I could never accuse anyone of doing anything nefarious, one thing I have noticed is that when a car comes through that fits his stock profile, it does tend to have more yellow spots on its report than there are on Mr Blobby.

Big Mike CD 194 inspection report

Inspection reports can put some dealers off from buying certain cars at auction, but Big Mike has used them to his advantage!

This, in turn, has netted him some spectacular bargains, and I’ve not been entirely convinced when I’ve seen the cars in question that the faults were even there to start with – for example, yellow ‘low tread’ warnings placed against perfectly good tyres…

I’d never be that devious myself – although I do use these reports to my advantage.

If a car has lots of red and yellow blobs for things that are easy to put right, such as non-functional bulbs or windscreen washers, then I’ll have a bid on the basis that a lot of the local motor trade are too lazy to read, if indeed they can even do so.

After all, I’m not too worried about an inspection carried out by a non-qualified mechanic on a cheap car, which is nothing compared with the bad old days when the auction house was full of traders trying to pull the wool over each other’s eyes.

I remember one local guy: Slippery Sid as he was known to his not-exactly-mates, who is no longer with us but was a bit of a local legend.

Sid used to take two hip flasks to the auction house with him. Part of this was because he was an alcoholic and an occasional swig of Irish whiskey was needed from the first one to get him through the day.

The second flask contained engine oil – which was a similarly golden colour just in case anyone was looking.

This was back in the days when the Td5-engined Land Rover Discovery 2 was still hot property on the used car market.

They were good sellers but they also had a bit of a reputation for head gasket failure, which is where Sid’s extra hip flask came in.

Before the sale, he’d go to inspect the upcoming sale stock and would tip a little bit of the oil from his spare flask into the header tank of Disco 2s that were coming through the block, so that by the time they reached the sales room after sitting outside idling, there was enough back pressure in the coolant system to create an oily, frothy mess.

The hammer would come down well below book as a result and Sid would take a celebratory swig from his other hip flask to mark a job well done.

Apart from the one time I switched the flasks round in his pockets while he was having his lunch. That, dear readers, remains one of my proudest and funniest moments…

This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 194 – along with news, views, reviews, features and much more! Click here to read and download it for FREE!

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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