Never in my life have I been more productive – both in a work and non-work sense. All of a sudden, I’ve remembered how to cook, I have time to clean, my lawn looks good, and I’ve done one of those proper household clean-ups where you offload various detritus that has been wasting space for however long.
I don’t proclaim to be one of those social media minimalist gurus by any means, but if you’ve got something taking up space and you haven’t used it for five years, now might be a good time to get rid of it.
Project cars excluded, of course. These things take time – which we now have plenty of. And expertise. And planning. And dedication. And money… Most of all, though, they take time.
With the CarAdvice team grounded, we’ve all been productive in a work sense, too, which has been an enjoyable counter to the almost constant travelling you do when you’re testing new cars all over the place.
As such, we’re all spending more time at home than we ever have. And it might not surprise you to know that, first and foremost, those of us who work at CarAdvice are automotive enthusiasts.
I was having this exact conversation with another project car tragic the other day – he actually makes a living from it, unlike me – and back when we were at uni, we had all the time in the world.
Above: The ugliest car ever made? My Australia-only 1968 Country Buggy
That was the last time I can recall having proper time to work on cars. But, the reality was we had no money to actually buy a decent project car and work on it. As such, we tinkered with the junk we owned, all the while dreaming about one day being able to afford the project car we really wanted.
I guess the message in there is it doesn’t really matter what it is. And it doesn’t matter if it’s worthless to everyone else either. If it needs work, have a crack at doing it yourself. The skills you pick up along the way will come in handy when you get to the dream project car in any case. Anyway, I digress…
With the ‘partial lockdown that isn’t really a proper lockdown’ in place, I’ve had more time than ever to crank into a few projects that had been withering on the vine, so to speak. If you disagree with me and think our lockdown is arduous, I’ll put you in touch with some of my relatives in Italy…
Above: my 1970 Kombi
Our lockdown also dovetailed beautifully with a new rabbit hole I had recently fallen into – the pursuit of vintage Sidchrome tools – made in Australia, as old as possible please.
My father had passed onto me his old tool chest and some of my favourite tools from my childhood, most of which were old Australian-made Sidchrome items. I can pick up a particular ratchet and socket set, open the box, close my eyes, and just the scent of the metal and grease transports me back to 12 or 13 years of age.
My father is a toolmaker by trade (yeah, yeah, I know, he ‘made’ me and I’m a tool, I’ve heard it all before), and as such he has a proper respect for quality automotive tools.
I picked that up from him and I love using a quality ratchet, spanner set or pair of pliers. Do what I’ve done and hunt for second-hand vintage stuff, and it’s usually cheaper than some of the new garbage you can buy that definitely isn’t made in Australia.
Would you look at that? I’ve digressed again.
So, here I am, armed with an overload of ‘new’ old tools (the rolling tool chest had made its way into my lounge room, but that’s another story) and all the time in the world to use them. Just the daily commute that I had gained back gave me nearly three hours a day I could spend wasting time staring into space in my garage. Sensational.
Above: my 1966 Chevrolet C10
My project car situation has gotten a little out of control, too. Perhaps most ironically, a lack of time prior to the lockdown had led me to do something I’ve never done before – I sent one of my vehicles to be built by a proper shop. Aside from final paint and interior trim and gearbox rebuilds, I’ve never farmed anything out before.
And here I was with no time to work on it. Well, the fact I wanted it converted to RHD and engineer-approved, as well as an LS3 and 6L80e fitted and tuned, and a whole bunch of other proper engineering done, as well as a lack of time, meant I needed to farm it out.
At the moment, then, my 1966 Chevrolet C10 – short bed, big back window, ratty original paint – is under the knife at United Speed Shop in Newcastle. Check out their artistry at www.unitedspeedshop.com if you want to see what the boys get up to. The fact that I’ve known head honcho Ryan for nearly 20 years made it easier to hand over my rust bucket in the first place.
However, all is not lost! Having committed to never buying another Volkswagen again, I now own two. A one-owner-before-me 1970 lowlight Kombi, and the rarest production VW ever built anywhere in the world. The Australian-only 1968 Country Buggy.
Well under 1000 built for the Australian market, and I believe under 100 currently registered in this country. It’s perhaps the ugliest car I’ve ever seen, made even worse by the weird optional hardtop mine had fitted from new.
I’m lucky that my father has a whopping shed on his property with a hoist – but he’s not. He gets to work an obstacle course around my storage requirements. At the moment, the Country Buggy is in there in two pieces (one of which is using his beautifully hand-fabricated welding/assembly table as a dolly) and my other ‘project’ car – a 1960 Fiat 600. Suicide doors and completely original, one owner, parked in a shed in country Victoria since the mid ’80s, it doesn’t need much work. Just a full restoration…
I’ve always wanted one. Couldn’t ‘not’ buy it when I finally found one, could I?
I did, however, thin the herd when I sold my 1976 Honda Cub – yes, I have an issue with motorcycles, too. I’ve still got two 1961 Vespas (an entry-level 125cc and the high-end 150cc GL) as well as a 1967 Vespa 150 Super and a super early, unobtanium 1953 Vespa 125 with the headlight down on the front guard. Aside from the ’53, the others all run and are registered, but there’s always something to fix, tune or rebuild, isn’t there?
In the time we’ve been locked down so far, my long-suffering mate Damien (who is a panel beating and fabricating genius) and I have done two things – at a safe distance of course. One, we’ve done a bunch of work on the 1970 Kombi. A full service and tune plus new coil, leads, plugs, carburettor, fuel pump, starter motor, drive shafts/CVs, and we’ve rebuilt the front half of the accelerator linkage.
Next up, we’ll be servicing the brakes all round with new wheel cylinders and shoes, plus checking the master cylinder and all the lines to make sure they are safe to continue operation.
Two, we’ve worked out that we have enough project cars on the go between us that if this lockdown could just last until early 2025, we’ll be sweet. You should see his storage area if you think I’ve got problems.
Mates of mine in the trade – trimmers, engine builders, auto electricians and the like – are all telling me that they haven’t been this busy in ages, because everyone is at home working on their projects.
Are you working on something in the shed or garage? Send us some photos and an update. We’d love to know what you’re working on and how you’re tracking during the lockdown. We’d love to see photos of your project cars emerging from lockdown hibernation.
Do you want to see and read a bit more about what we’re working on? Let us know if you want to see what the CarAdvice tragics are up to, we’ve all got photos. Plenty of photos.