Technician’s Update : Mutton dressed as lamb

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Montego - Austin Rovers family saloon car for the Eighties. Younger drivers bought them too
Montego: Austin Rover’s family saloon car for the ’80s. Younger drivers bought them too

When I went from the busy world of High Street retail motor parts to a small and remote Rover dealer, the customer base couldn’t have been more different between he two. On one hand, the nature of the game involved selling audio systems and styling parts through to oil and brake pads for local taxi drivers, but on moving over into retail Rover dealer parts, it was all Unipart screenwash and popping new tail light bulbs into Metros. I can still remember the part number, GLB-380!

During office hours we would be stuffed to the gunwales with workshop activity servicing local company cars from nearby Milton Keynes or Northampton, but Saturday mornings were a different affair and the weekday havoc changed to a serene environment in very nice surroundings. A colleague used to say that Saturday mornings were the time when the ‘coffin lids would creak open’ and our Reception would throng to the sound of clicking walking sticks and the faint aroma of TCP and Murray Mints.

All the mature folk in the plethora of nearby villages would bimble down to us in their immaculate Maestros and Rover 800s and virtually all of them were lovely people. Sadly, thinking about it now, many of them will have probably moved on to a better world. For an early twenties lad, this was a strange place to be and the dealership’s steadfast refusal to diversify and really make a killing by just being a touch more aggressive was ultimately its eventual undoing… but that’s another story.

We had one old chap I can remember today with more clarity than the picture on a Ferguson TX television and his name was Jeffrey Lamb. To digress for a moment, I subsequently ended up working in the same group as his Grandson just a few years ago and only just recently found out he had sadly passed away at the ripe old age of 91. Jeff drove a simply showroom condition Montego LX diesel which, again looking back, quite possibly explains his shocking hearing.

Dealing with Jeff was akin to Mrs Richards in the ‘Fawlty Towers’ episode Communications Breakdown – if you have never seen this, do some You Tubing, it really is comedy of gold standard. Deaf as a post, he used to pop in every other week buying polish or washer fluid as well as having the car serviced, but again in hindsight I think he just came by for some company. Well, one day he ambled onto the forecourt and wombled into the Service/Parts Reception requiring assistance on his mint Monty.

However, this time we didn’t have to jump and scream to put our words across as he proudly tapped the side of his head to show the world that (mutton) Jeff now sported a hearing aid. His issue revolved around his brakes – they were squealing but having no one free on the ramps I offered him a coffee until one of the duty fitters was free. A short while later, the mechanic summoned my attention for a quiet word, ‘can’t get so much of a murmur from the brakes’ or something along those lines, he said.

He had though, taken off the front wheels, cleaned up the calipers and copper-slipped the pad backings as a precaution. This was was explained, a small sum was taken and Jeff bode us all a hearty farewell. Shortly before midday as we were winding down he came back with a face like a boiled lobster playing blue murder his car was no better if not worse. This time, I drove the car and, as the fitter had told me before, not even a grumble or a judder – the car anchored up foursquare and silently.

Jeff seemed confused as to why it wouldn’t play up for me and, with slight anger out of acute embarrassment on his part, he told me to swap seats and he would show me. Driving along the winding B-road that lead to the middle of nowhere, we swept round this fairly tight left hand bend. The Monty rolled into the bend and there was certainly a squeal – very faint it might have been, but there was most definitely a squeal. I wanted to laugh out load as right away I knew what the issue was.

When the car was thrown into the left hander, Jeff’s head would lean towards the driver’s window and, just as when you hold an electric guitar too close to the amplifier or a microphone to proximal to a loudspeaker, that caused feedback from the sound reproduction equipment – the suspected brake noise was Jeff’s hearing aid whistling. This was demonstrated when I told him to stop the car and hold his flat palm close to his right ear – he laughed so much he almost cried.

Heading back to the dealership, I  suggested that he should turn the volume control down on his aid when driving and, on our return, he shook my hand very firmly and greased it with a crispy £10 note – lovely stuff!

Jeffery Lamb 1922-2013

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

35 Comments

  1. Another great story Mike, from the days when family garages could still hold their own. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Ahahahahaaaa!! That’s a lovely story but I also like the fact that little dealerships like this could give people the time of day when the atmosphere might be a little less frentic. Large solus types (well, the usual suspects at least) with hard sell super aggressive targets wouldn’t give a toss, even if they had nothing to do all day.

  3. Fantastic, a smurk arose upon my face. When reading he took a left hand bend and the technician knew. my better half thinking what’s he upto! Great story.

  4. Lovely article, I’ve often wondered what the staff at the former Charles Clark/Hartwell garage in Stafford thought of my Nan who always bought her cars on August 1st, not at midnight ‘thats crazy’ but at 10.30am because ‘Barry makes the coffee at that time’…..

  5. My grandfather was no different.
    After getting a new hearing aid he commented about ‘excessive transmission noise’ when riding in my R8 214.
    ‘It used to be so quiet’ he added!

    Halcyon days.

  6. I can relate to this story. I started my career as a YTS apprentice at our local Rover, Jaguar and Daimler dealership in Hull a company called Cornelius Parish and son. I started there in 1983 and was assigned to a newly qualified mechanic Les, I worked hard and was moved around the departments to gain experience of the different roles in the dealership, i served my time there and when I finished the company was taken over by a company called TC Harrison and all the newly qualified lads like myself where laid off and they brought in a new batch of YTS (cheaper). After about a month I found a job in another local Garage Richmond Street Garage which had been founded in 1933, it was a family run business with the “Old man” running the business (accounts, wages etc) his bother running the stores, his son running the workshops and his friend from his RAF days Clive who worked part time and did body repair and painting and generally helped out. There was three workshops one next to the stores was a storage area and doubled as a showroom when selling customers cars, the next workshop had the office and the upstairs stores and office, the MOT bay and the service ramp and single post H design powered by compressed air. The next workshop was long and low ceiling and was where jobs where done that needed longer to complete. We sold petrol the pumps where inside the buildings so the doors had to be open all the time (bloody freezing in winter) we sold 2 star in one pump, 3 star in another pump and 4 star or premium as it was badged in another pump, there was a disused pump which was badged as 5 star or super premium. When a customer came for petrol you had to stop what you was doing and go to serve them and if they asked you checked oil, water, battery and tyre pressures for them one old lady who has now passed away Mrs steel had an old hillman with an engine that the breather system was shot and was vented through a valve to the atmosphere which needed cleaning out every month, when customers wanted their petrol on their account they simply signed a piece of headed paper which was then put in the till and was checked at the end of the day, the till itself was original it was simply a wooden draw with a bell that sounded when it was opened and you had to manually write on the till roll what you had sold, how much paid and change given and you where not allowed to go home until the till had been cashed up at the end of the day. Once a year every April the “old man” would come round with a brown envelope with your name on it, after he had worked on teh books and declared to the tax man that was your bonus, £50 first year £100 second year £150 third year etc up to 5 years then it stayed the same. Many happy memories of working in a small well run garage with some really decent people before the world went mad

  7. Wonderful story. Myself wearing a hearing aid and getting feedback in the form of this whistle amused me.

  8. We still have a dealership like this in Cumbria, Edgar and Son, Rover/ British Leyland/ BMC/ Morris since 1922 and now Nissan, Hyundai and Suzuki who are just like the dealership Mike was talking about. Yes they do have a shiny new showroom, but there is no way they would treat customers like numbers and the staff treat all their customers with respect.

  9. Glenn, You’re right, I went to edgars the other day just for a number plate. The lady behind the desk made me a cuppa (not from a machine) while I waited the short time it took. Excellent service.

  10. I fear that a glass-and-steel large dealer chain might have taken him for a ride, not in the passenger seat, but spinning tales of replacing calipers, discs, pads etc. etc.

  11. sorry, computer froze there, this sums up Edgars. They still treat everyone with respect rather than the alright, mate, approach of the big franhises.

  12. “A colleague used to say that Saturday mornings were the time when the ‘coffin lids would creak open’ and our Reception would throng to the sound of clicking walking sticks and the faint aroma of TCP and Murray Mints.”

    Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!! Thanks Mike for such a nicely-written, funny and heart-warming piece.

  13. Your original story reminds me of a chap who ran a garage in Easterton near Devizes in Wiltshire.
    I used to call on him between 69 and 71 in my professional capacity as a main dealer spares sales, and delivery service. I think the chap was about 70 and he ran the most time warp garage of all time – it would have made Scripps Garage in Heartbeat look like a glass and steel Beemer dealer.
    As I remember it had one pump (might have been two) and huge wooden sliding doors that he opened occasionally on a hot day. To the right was a 1940’s Humber Saloon that I believe had been put there in the late 40’s or early 50’s. He had enough room to get one car on the ramp and then get in and out of it – but only just! The rest of the workshop ( and it was quite big) you could barely walk around – it was just a hive of ‘old stuff’ that would probably fetch lots of money today.
    He was ex RAF and had many fine tails to tell but the one that fascinated me most was about when he was locking up one winter’s night at about ten o’clock. He was suddenly aware of a huge but silent vehicle pulling up by the pump. It was a lorry – he thought about a ten tonner – but he insisted it was totally silent. The driver got out and asked him the way to somewhere (I can’t remember where) but our friend quizzed him about the lorry. The driver ignored all his questions and having got the information he wanted drove off into the night – still without a sound except for rubber on Tarmac.
    I suggested that it might have been electric (don’t mention the Nissan Leaf) but he had other ideas. He insisted it left a thin trail of water on the road and started to draw pictures of how to make a steam engine totally silent. This was all very theoretical – he just thought he knew how they (whoever they were – there was no badge on the vehicle) had done it. If there are any locals reading this they might remember the garage and our friend – and remember more than me! We used to pop across to the pub for a drink of a lunchtime with none other than Alex Moulton who we used to play bar billiards with. Alex told me never to drink the last inch of Guinness as the weight of the Guinness above it had destroyed its molecular structure. Happy days!

  14. There are often many reasons to keep returning to AROnline, Mike Humble’s articles and accompanying letters are wonderful.

  15. I too enjoy these articles.

    One thing though. If you are going to dedicate the blog to this lovely old chap the least you can do is spell his name correctly.

    Is it Jeffrey or Jefferey?

  16. Reading these comments it’s nice to hear good service is still around.

    I ordered some discounted parts from the Lotus factory for my 23 year old Lotus and had them delvered to Formula 1 Lotus dealership in Newcastle Upon Tyne. After receving a polite phone call from F1 to say the parts had arrived I went to collect them. I was dealt with first by the receptionist and then the parts man and was treat as if I had come to buy a brand new £50k car and not to just collect £30 worth of NOS parts.

    Nice folk do still exist in the car trade

  17. Mike great story, reminded me of my early days in the local, BL garages where i worked in the late 70’s early 80’s

    Unipart part number’s GDP,GEX. Garages like Kennings,

    We also had a Hillman Garage, now that was basic, i remember that the parts man was also the service receptionist and car sales men.

    Whilst i worked in the parts department it was my job to bleed the petrol pumps on the forecourt when they played up.
    Best of all when we had a petrol delivery i had to climb up the back of the tanker, walk along the top and physically dip the tanks to measure the amount of fuel we recieved.

    A health and safety officer now a days would have a fit

  18. Can’t believe there are only a few hundred Montego’s left in the UK. They sold half a million over 10 years. The diesel estate was nice as was the Vanden Plas Efi and Efi estae with auto. I would love a mint one of those but any left?

  19. #20

    The ghost lorry (waggon) may well be a Sentinel S series from the 1930s.

    Their neat lines belie the true age, and in the correct circumstances they are virtually silent

  20. #20,

    do you any more Alex Moulton anecdotes? Dr Moulton was also steam engineer,very fond of the Sentinel, he served a pupilage at Sentinel of Shrewsbury at the same time that Abner Doble was engaged at Shrewsbury to develop the advanced steam lorry of which only two prototypes were constructed

  21. @27 – I don’t have anything more about Alex – sorry.
    I can tell you how a few years later my two partners and I went bust running a small back street garage. – if only to illustrate the changing times of commerce!
    We had a nice little business going doing really low priced work for those that in 1972 could just about buy a Cortina – but not actually run it!
    We did our very best and through a recommendation got the job of a total restoration on a Beach Buggy. We sunk everything into this project – we bought the best we could for it and laid out ( to us at the time) lots of money. We trick sprayed the bonnet by spraying through lace to get the desired affect – and it looked really good. We reckoned we spent about £350 on it ( a new Viva was about £800 to give you an idea of values).
    Unfortunately our garage only took one car at a time and we needed to get another car in straight away when the buggy was finished. We tried to get the owner to pick it up immediately but he didn’t and once the other car was immobilised in the garage, we left the Buggy in the yard. The owner did collect it but at 3 o’clock in the morning with his spare key and we never saw him again. False address etc.
    When we arrived to work later the same morning, we made ourselves a cup of coffee and one of us said “that’s it then – we’re bust!”
    Within an hour I had gone to local factory and got a job driving a fork lift truck – which I did for about 6 months. Another small business bit the dust in very Arthur Daily like times.

  22. @ The Wolselsey Man, your story is excellent as I’d expect, but mention of Arthur Daley type businesses reminds me of the type of car dealer, not your friendly family Austin Rover dealer, who sold cars on a sold as seen basis from a derelict plot of land. These Arthur Daley style dealerships were fairly common at least until 20 years ago where tired out cars were sold on a cash basis( probably for tax reasons) and once sold, should the car develop a problem, the dealer would always say” sold as seen”. While probably a lot of these guys were fairly honest, there were always tales of people being sold dangerous or clocked cars from these dealers.

  23. @29
    In the North Birmingham area back in the 80/90’s one particular Arthur Daley type dealer retailed his old knackered stock with his own 50/50 warranty.
    Customer buys an old nail and asks about a warranty. Arthur replies no worries, even though you are buying an old car I will pay for half of the repair costs if you pay the other half, for a 3 month period. Feeling reassured the customer completes the deal. Inevitably in a matter of hours, days, weeks something goes wrong. Customer is back on the forecourt wanting his car fixed. Arthur gets on the phone to the local main dealer they say it will cost £150 to fix the car. Arthur informs his customer who hands over £75. Arthur keeps the car to get the work done…. He sends his grease monkey down to the nearest scrapper, buys the part for a £5. Grease monkey fits the part (making it look new if necessary). Arthur makes a tidy profit. He reckoned he made more profit from his “warranty” work than from car sales. Arthur made a packet over the years

  24. Couldn’t get my head around the title “Mutton dressed as lamb” & the picture of a Montego.

    A Sierra with all its cutting edge design clothing what was essentially a Cortina with independent rear suspension yes but a car with newer engines & front wheel drive adorned by a body that was essentially designed seven before launch no. Lamb dressed as mutton maybe.

    Still a nice story all the same.

  25. I had a G reg 1.6SL as a daily driver and it was superb, loads of room too.

    When I used to do damaged repairable and stolen recovered in my spare time I bought three of them- C reg’s I think, jeez I could not give them away!

  26. @ Mike, G reg on, the Rover Montego was a sorted car. I had one of the last British Leyland era ones and it was terrible with oil leaks, overheating in traffic, water pump failure, rust,and finally the alternator blowing, which told me to get rid quickly. Had I had a bit more money at the time, I’d have gone for one made after 1989 as the quality was better, but prices were low due to the terrible rep the Austin one had.

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