IT’S not every day you get to see a major TV star talking about what they’re really passionate about – and in this case, it’s mending old cars and tinkering with MGBs.
There was a national show celebrating car restoration last weekend – and cards on the table, I work for one of the companies that puts it together – which more than 25,000 of you packed into the NEC in Birmingham to see. One of the big draws was the show’s live stage, which included appearances from motoring experts like Wheeler Dealers presenter Mike Brewer, Fuzz Townshend, the musician-turned-mender who takes on seemingly impossible restorations for Car SOS – oh, and some bloke from Southport who rambles about cars for a living. That’d be me, then.
But I did encounter a thoroughly Alan Partridge-esque moment shortly after exiting the stage after taking part in a seminar on buying classic cars. Two showgoers approached me with an excited look in their eyes, and I got ready to have a chat with them about my favourite cars at the NEC and what it’s like writing for Classic Car Weekly. Yep, you guessed it - they walked straight past me and started chatting to Richard Hammond, who it turned out was stood behind me.
The star of The Grand Tour was at the show because his 1972 MGB GT – which, incidentally, was the very last car he drove on Top Gear before he, Jeremy Clarkson and James May departed the series – was being turned into a racing car for the next series of his show on classic car restorations. While Jeremy Clarkson’s traded TVRs for tractors and made a TV show about running a farm, Richard’s stuck firmly with cars, and last year set up a business, called The Smallest Cog, that specialises in classic restorations. What was obvious from listening to him at the NEC was that he just isn’t a car nut on the telly. He really, really loves his hobby, and he's an enthusiastic advocate for making sure the cars that you and I love stay on the road.
In particular, he’s very keen that more people are trained in the skills needed to keep them on the road, having now seen it first-hand. There is a chronic shortage of restorers as the generation that grew up fixing these cars retires – and the fewer people there are to do this work, the more the cost goes up if you want to get your classic car fixed. Richard couldn’t have put it better: ‘‘You can have all the money in the world and all the kit in the world, but it’s the hands that operate them where the value lies.’
He also reckons that looking after a classic car, making sure it’s set up properly and used sensibly is far greener than ordering a brand-new car – to borrow Richard’s analogy, is making do and mending your old jeans rather than getting children on the other side of the world to make a brand-new set for you. So is there a green argument for old cars – it just happens to be a British Racing Green one.
Well said, Mr Hammond – it’s good to have you on board.
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly