The latest SMMT figures show there was a record September in 2014, as the economy pulls itself out of the doldrums. All of which got me thinking about the good old days, when plates changed on August 1st…
The new registration period was always a great time in any new car dealership, the buzz and vibe in the air were as contagious as a common cold. Salesmen running around like worker ants, clutching paperwork, boasting to one another how many units they have going out on August 1st, or the workshop manager panicking trying to balance routine servicing with the good old pre delivery inspection (PDI). Before they introduced twice yearly registration periods, the best and most manic time in the dealership was August.
Someone asked me recently about cock-ups in the service bays and for sure, they used to happen. My own messes have included wrecking a driveshaft, caused by putting a nut into the air gun socket rather than spin it on a couple of turns, thus stripping the threads, and forgetting to re-fit an oil filter when servicing a Rover 800, causing an epic oil slick when I fired up the engine. Both incidents took place when I was just 16 years old but serious incidents in my experience have been thankfully rare. But to put a smile on your faces, my own personal ‘oops” involved a simple Saturday morning job that went rather wrong!
A used Sierra Sapphire was being prepped for sales delivery and I had noticed the rear dampers were weeping, the work was authorised and I set upon replacing them – how simple a job is that? Two bolts and an axle stand is all you need and a colleague was summoned to push the damper up the turret for me to pass the bolt through in the boot. Air gun and socket in hand, the trigger was pushed thinking the bolt had securely passed through the eyebush of the new damper. Wrong! All I succeeded in doing was to crush the turret inside the car like a coke can.
Eventually, after braying lengths of wood and some spirited prying with a crowbar, we got the damper fitted and hoped the new owner never lifted off the plastic cap on the top of the damper – it was not a pretty sight. The poor salesman (who I still know well to this day) almost passed a brick in horror as his punter was sat in the showroom sipping coffee just 100 yards away. I had the Mickey taken out me relentlessly afterwards and was invited in for tea and biscuits* with the Workshop Manager. When serious blunders did happen, they were certainly worth waiting for.
It may have been 1992 when we had one of our busiest times recorded. Rover were flying high with sales of the 200 and 400 R8 models being very strong, along with the Rover Metro and facelifted 800 also going great guns – good times to be a Rover dealer. One Monday morning in late July, we were all summoned to a meeting about the upcoming PDI period and to discuss workshop damage to customer and stock vehicles. We had one or two incidents happen in quick succession that included a bumper being ripped off a Metro in the compound and a Montego estate that fell off a jack, dropped on a toolbox and split the sump.
The powers that be decided that even though minor mis-haps did happen, if they didn’t decrease in regularity, bonus payments would be stopped and in serious cases – tea and biscuits* with Service Director would beckon. In happier times, it wouldn’t be unusual for workshops to work into the late evening to clear up any backlog of PDI’s with favourable overtime being the prize. Improved build quality of cars during production meant they could be done with lightning speed – only Mini, Maestro and Montego needed tweaking or fettling before signing the sheet off.
The PDI was a simple affair, you picked the car up from the compound, put it on a ramp and checked it over, fitted the wireless where required (remember the days when a radio was optional?), slapped on the wheel trims, removed the chocks from the springs, whizzed it round the block on road test, came back, fitted the plates and signed off the sheet. The car then joined the queue for the valeting bay and job done. The road test was a pre-set route. This way, if you conked out, should you not return, someone (hopefully) would notice and come to your rescue – I use the term hopefully very loosely, but these were the days before widespread mobile phone usage.
Around this time we had a new fitter called Vince, who joined us from the nearby Vauxhall dealer. I knew him reasonably well as we both attended the same college on day release. He was a nice lad but a bit of a speed freak, drove a (badly) customised Avenger and had been ‘nobbled” for his use of speed around the dealership once or twice in so many weeks. One of the late evening overtime sessions literally days before the plate change, he was given the task of a PDI on an 800 Vitesse. I recall it went without fuss and off he went for a road test up to a nearby industrial estate and back.
The road test lasted about 15 minutes point to point and after half an hour I mentioned to our workshop supervisor that Vince had gone AWOL. Grabbing the keys to one of the parts department’s Maestro Diesel Vans (Express Factors-liveried) I clattered off to find him. Upon arrival I was greeted with a Police traffic car blocking the road that looped round the estate. Telling him who I was, he let me by and I was greeted with the sight of Vince blowing into a bag and the glistening of broken glass on the road – but it got much better – or worse depending on your view.
Half on the footpath at a somewhat jaunty angle sat the 800 Vitty, and at an even more of an angle was a street lamp which was now leaning like a drunkard walking into a headwind. It turned out that poor old Vince had given the car a lungful while driving round the long bend in the road, lost traction, clipped two vehicles belonging to night shift workers of a brewery and launched up the kerb into the lamp post. The bobby released Vince from custody after taking his details and it was agreed that I would return to the dealership to arrange recovery.
I beckoned a fed up looking Vince into the van for a ride back to base, which he declined saying there was little point now. Inside, I had to agree, and he walked off into the early evening leaving myself and two others to clear up the mess and sort out the recovery. He was never seen again as he sent a family member in to collect his tool box and personal effects about a week later.
Sometimes, I still wish to have been a fly on the wall when the eagerly awaiting Vitesse owner received that phone call the day before he ought to have taken delivery.
*Tea & Biscuits = trade speak for an almighty private one-to-one bo*****ing or in special cases – THE SACK!