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How do I find parts for my old car project?
The Austin / Morris / British Leyland / BLMC / Rover Group (!) Mini is a good case in point. The Mini was first produced in 1959, and soldiered on through the 1960s, 1970s (when joined by the Clubman), 1980s (when it was meant to be replaced by the miniMetro), 1990s (which saw the reincarnated Cooper go from strength to strength) through to recent times, when it was replaced by a totally new (BMW) Mini, sadly a Mini in name only. Interest and enthusiasm for the Mini has always been high, carrying it through potential threats to its existence from the Clubman and hatchback Metro, and on the surface little changed to the little car over 40+ years, yet delve a little deeper and very few, if any, parts found on the original Mk1 will fit an end-of-the-line fuel injected Mini Cooper. Many many changes were implemented, for instance the early cars had floor starter buttons, sliding windows, 'wet' or 'dry' suspension, exterior door hinges, different grilles, engine displacements (A series throughout mind you), smaller front and rear screens, interior trim, and so on. Therefore despite its popularity then, even for a Mini with a large industry still supplying spares for it, certain items can still be tricky to find depending on the year of car. If you run a Mk3 Mini, you can go and buy a brand new bodyshell, but if you have an earlier example, you can't. Likewise, if you have a Clubman (say a 1275GT), certain front end panelwork can be tricky to locate, as can certain interior trim pieces nowadays.
Many parts which on the surface look identical, can differ in detail ways. The point here is before attempting to source spare parts from anywhere other than a marque specialist, gen up on your subject and make sure you know what you're looking for before shelling out serious cash for parts that may or may not fit your car, or may fit but are not correct for that year's production.
One or two terms to look out for are OEM and NOS. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, ie this part is made by the same company as that which made the original piece on your car. NOS has a similar meaning, here standing for New Old Stock, which refers to original contemporary parts for your car, from the original supplier or manufacturer. NOS/OEM parts often command a price premium, as most enthusiasts strive to keep their car as original as possible, and for instance a replacement NOS front wing will always be preferable to a pattern (ie non OEM) part, which may well not fit or look 100% correct. However in the case of rare cars, pattern parts may be the only realistic option.
Autojumbles (or Swap Meets in the US) have always been prime hunting ground for many old car restorers, although in recent years there has been an influx of cheapo-quality tool vendors creeping into the autojumbles, often where at one time purveyors of proper old tools and spare parts would be found. Many vendors of autojumble don't know what they have, often selling on stock from garage clearance sales and the like. It is here that bargains can be found, so long as you know what you are doing. Years ago I picked up a new front wing for my E83W on an autojumblers stand, simply because he didn't know what the panel fitted, so couldn't sell it for what it would have been worth had he known what it was off. Really knowing your subject, and variations throughout your cars production, can net you a bargain, so long as you keep your eyes open. Some autojumblers do this as a business, can often identify rare parts, and price them up accordingly.
Quite often, especially in the case of rarer vehicles, you have no option but to pay a good price for something, although haggling is always worth a try - especially if the weather is poor and sales are down. Then there are enthusiasts having their annual clearout of surplus junk, trying to make room in their garages by selling on oily bits they no longer need. Here a buyer is in a strong position, as chances are the seller doesn't want to cart their old junk back home again, and active haggling can see you pick up some rare bits for a good price. I've grabbed some great buys over the years like this, like a pair of reskinned doors for a Mk3 Spitfire for £20 the pair, or a good as new steel front valance for a tenner, and probably best of all a very saveable (with minimal grot) Spitty steel bonnet for just £15 - ok carting it home proved a little awkward, but after throwing a rug on the roof of my trusty Volvo 120, the bonnet sat up top very well, held in place by a quantity of rope purchased from a tool supplier, the rope passing through all the (opened) windows, back around the boot handle, and forward around the front panel. It looked a little odd, but car and bonnet made it home from Newark in one piece, so the mission was successful.
Other 'steals' were a new A30 chrome bonnet plinth for a quid at Newark, new A40 window seals, runners, wheel bearings and recon suspension dampers for £30 at Beaulieu one year, a stack of Isle of Man TT (car) racing leaflets for £2 the lot, and many many more books and manuals, plus both secondhand and new spares.
The latest development at OldClassicCar is the new online Autojumble, where you can list any bits you need or have for sale free of charge so when you have finished here, why not have a look and see if there are any old car parts suitable for your motor?? (Old Car Parts Autojumble link).
Some of the old cars I've owned have come with surplus spare parts, and I've been able to fund the resurrection of the car itself by having an autojumble stand myself, selling on stuff that I'd not be needing. I well remember carting around a pair of twin cam Alfa Romeo heads to various autojumbles over 5 or so years, and nearly thought of skipping them, but eventually someone came along and bought them off me, so that worked out ok.
Scrapyards, or junkyards as they're known on the other side of the pond, can still yield some useful classic car finds, although here in the UK the ever increasing stranglehold of bureaucracy that seeps across the channel from Brussels, is making the traditional automotive recycling centre (which is what a scrapyard is after all) a thing of the past, and finding old car parts, especially for vintage cars, can be time consuming. Some of the motoring magazines still mention the remaining scrapyards that still contain proper old cars, although they are disappearing. Ten or so years ago there used to be a great scrapyard I'd go to on a regular basis, it was full of cars from the 1960s and before, with crumbling remains of Austin K9, SAAB 95 (got the back window out of that for my van), A30s, A35s, 6 or 7 A40s that I can remember, ancient Austins, Fords, Hillmans, Jaguars (lots of very early XJs, a MOD Mk2 plus more), FIATs, BMWs and so on, literally hundreds of cars still piled up as they had been for the previous 30+ years, a real gold mine.
Sadly, last time I went the whole yard had been cleared, probably for a new housing development. With the upwardly spiralling values of housing at the moment, land occupied by many old scrapyard or garage is being snaffled up by deep pocketed developers. Only last month my old MOT station, extant for 40+ years in a quaint little village, is moving out for housing developers to use the site. Its a shame but I suppose business is business.
Scrapyards are more and more moving to being dismantlers, where the parts removed are taken from the cars, cleaned, and stored in a warehouse. This makes life a lot easier, and cleaner, in many ways, although I'm still in favour of being able to clamber around piles of rotting hulks for illusive bits and pieces. With personal injury and compensation claims being very much in vogue nowadays for the smallest things, less and less yard owners are keen to allow the diehard enthusiast to hunt around the mouldering wrecks themselves, but some still do.
Preparation is the key to getting the most from a scrapyard visit. Draw up a list of what you want, and plan accordingly. Hoping to get a panel from an old car? they make sure you have a hammer, selection of stout tools including hacksaws and chisels, wirebrushes, WD40, possibly a blowlamp, and some overalls and gloves. Looking for oily bits, then don't forget to take the tools for the job either, probably including a sturdy jack and axle stand(s) - most yard owners won't lend out tools, so make sure you cover all the bases yourself. Read your workshop manual the evening before will refresh your memory or whats involved in removing the pieces you need. Its worth negotiating with the yard owner the cost of buying the part(s), as there doesn't seem to be much point struggling for hours to get the cylinder head of that Mk10 Jag if the owner wants too much money for it, especially as with most mechanical parts found in a yard, there's no way of proving the integrity or serviceability of such an item. Always take sturdy gloves with you in the yard, and overalls are worthwhile as yards are not renowned for being the cleanest of places, and you might need an extra layer of clothing if the traditional scabby alsatian decides to take a bite out of your leg. Cars if stacked more than 2 or 3 high are notoriously unstable, so clambering to the top of that pile of crusty Cortinas or disintegrating Datsuns is fraught with risk, and being inside or beneath a tower of toppling Toyotas is not to be recommended.
Of course, if crawling around in oily puddles whilst being gnawed at by a mangy mutt isn't your idea of fun, you could concentrate your search for classic car parts on the For Sale adverts to be found in any of the many many magazines, newspapers and owner club newsletters that are available on the subject. The key to success here is dedication, make the classifieds section of any magazine the first port of call, and scan it thoroughly. If you spot something, ring up there and then, don't dither else someone else could beat you to it.
Some of the best finds are those advertised by people who have no clue about old cars or their parts, scour noticeboards on your weekly run to ASDA, check out the adverts posted in your local newsagent window, and keep you ears and eyes open. Many interesting 'finds' can be acquired simply by people approaching you when you park up in your classic car, as many older people still have the rot encrusted remains of a distant motor car in their decrepit garage. I remember 2 or 3 years ago being tipped off about a farmer who still had a Fordson van parked up outside his farm, so off I scurried. After an afternoon's fruitless searching around the lanes of North Wales, I finally tracked down the correct farm .. I approached the farmer, asking about this mystical van, only to be pointed at an unusually shaped mound of grass near the entrance, approximately van-sized and nicely grassed over to match the scenery. It transpired that rather than go to the bother of scrapping it, he simply covered it over and grassed over the top instead.
As you've made it as far as my humble site, at the very least you'll have an idea of the power of the internet when it comes to hunting down rare bits for older vehicles. Probably the trickiest vehicle I own with regard to finding old parts is the Dodge, as so far I've found no other c 1940 3 ton US Dodge of this type in the UK, and even stateside they're significantly thinner on the ground than lighter-weight civilian and military examples. However, after having hunted high & low on the web I've made contact with lots of fellow Dodge fans, some of whom have been able to help me find good secondhand parts for my truck, plus I've made significant finds in researching the history of my particular vehicle too. Using a search engine such as google or lycos (try the search box at the foot of this page), you'll find all manner of websites, some good and some indifferent, for your chosen vehicle. Many allow you to contact the webmaster, some have chat forums where likeminded enthusiasts can get together and swap notes electronically, others have noticeboards where you can post your 'wants'. It is also well worth registering with an online auction company such as Ebay. I've used ebay for quite some time now and have found all manner of great items, from the furthest reaches of the globe.
Newsgroups are another avenue worth pursuing, as there are 100s to choose from, many specific to a particular make or model of car. And if you're really desperate, you can set up your own website and make contact with fellow nutters that way!
Another method for acquiring useful car spares, and one that can work well financially, is to buy a trashed example of your old car. For this you need the space to store a spares car, but it can be invaluable when you need parts urgently for a daily use classic, and with a bit of hunting (maybe on Ebay) you can often find a ragged example of a popular classic, perhaps beyond viable restoration, for £50 or so. I went through a phase of buying arthritic Amazons solely for their component parts, and it made running my car far more viable when I didn't have too much money to throw at my car. Any spares you don't need can always be sold on, usually covering your initial outlay for buying the complete car if you've bought wisely. As an example, I bought several Amazons over a few years for £50 a time .. one of them, a red 2 door in the last stages of disintegration, donated many parts including engine and box to my daily blue car, gave me a mountain of usable spares 'just in case', and the bonnet and bootlid I sold on to someone locally for £75.
There is of course a captive audience for most older cars nowadays, in the shape of the many owners clubs that have sprung up over the years. All have a common thread running through them, namely an interest in one or more particular makes and/or model of vehicle, and entering into this mysterious world of treasure hunts, classic car runs and camaradarie can lead you to all manner of available rare parts.
Other major benefits of being involved in a classic car club include cheaper insurance rates (the saving often exceeding the cost of annual club membership), and access to low volume remanufacturing of essential older parts. Whereas there is a blossoming market for anything MG for instance, and spares are by and large easy to find in or outside of a club, keen fans of say 40s Rileys must band together and support club-initiated production runs of any parts essential to keep the cars on the road, whether it be track rod ends, engine gaskets or engine components. owners club/word of mouth.
So as you can see, worrying about where you'll find old car parts needn't put you off running something a little unusual, it just takes a little more planning and dedication thats all!
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