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Forg's Dark Corner

23 May 2000

By Matt Cremer

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While searching around for parts, I recently decided that I'd really like to know how others decide upon the workshops that are going to do the work on their cars, whether they're restorations, modifications, or a combination of both. I mean, I'm spending a decent amount of cash here (and probably more importantly, spending a helluva lot of time both in doing work myself and in research) - so how do I choose the people who are going to do a good job? A lot of places claim to know what they're doing, yet you find out afterwards that it was all bluff and they really had no idea.

Take for example one guy I was talking to in the last month or so, and who I was vaguely considering for engine rebuilding. He's a Volvo mechanic, has been working on them for years. So I asked him about the differences between late model and early model 4-cylinder heads. Not wanting to go into specifics, there is allegedly a difference which made the waterjacket of the later ones better than the earlier ones. I'd read this in various places on the internet; and even though the people making the claims were allegedly experts themselves, you've also got to remember what Julian said a few weeks ago ("From The Editor - April 4, 2000") about taking info from the internet with a grain of salt.

So anyway, I asked this Volvo mechanic guy what the differences were; and he pretty much scoffed at my stupidity in believing that crap, and that I must've got that misinformation from the internet. So I figured he must know what he's talking about, but still asked other's opinions; and a totally independent guy in Brisbane told me that there definitely was a difference, and proceeded to tell me exactly the same thing as the people on the internet had said. He's an expert too, and had reason to know about those differences, so I fully believe him. Which means the first mechanic I spoke to got it wrong; in all the years of working on Volvos, this particular difference has obviously never been of concern to him, so he didn't realise it was there.

And this raised two issues. Firstly, the aforementioned comments of Julian's about the accuracy of information over the internet are true, but then you've got to evaluate the person who's doling out this info because there's also a good chance it could be correct. One of my sources of info works for a company that specialises in Volvo performance equipment (wipe that smirk off your gob! Right now!), and there have just been too many positive comments about that gear and about his opinions to totally dismiss them.

Sure, there are always a huge number of people who think they know what they're talking about but don't; but really, there are a lot of people with good, useful, free info too.

The second issue was, again; where the hell would I go to get the engine done? Apparently even experts that had been in the game for years could be quite wrong in an area that would affect my car in a big way. Where did that leave me?

As it happened, Lady Luck fired a big grin in my direction, and it turned out a good friend of one of my friends (incidentally, someone I met over the internet) builds Volvo engines for a living, and race engines (usually of other makes) for fun. It sounded like their workshop didn't usually deal with performance modifications (it's a Volvo workshop after all), but as he's well versed in what one generally needs to do to extract power, I feel a lot happier. Plus it feels like you're handing work to a mate; they're going to be a bit more interested in the outcome, and I'd rather give my money to someone I "know" than a random workshop somewhere.

And as it turned out, something similar happened with the bodywork and paintwork. Initially I picked a few local paint and panel places, and shopped around for a few quotes; some of them seemed ridiculous, others absurd, and yet other places just weren't interested when there was lots of juicy accident and insurance work to be had instead. Essentially, a lot of places aren't interested in having old cars sitting around and being restored, because there's a lot of work involved and they don't get paid until it's totally finished; they'd rather have four 2-week $2000 jobs than one 8-week $8000 job.

So I was getting a little disheartened; I'm aware that you get what you pay for, and if you don't pay enough you'll get a bodgy job that'll look pretty plain (or even rust through) in the next few years. However, I happened to ask my mechanic (a genuine "nice guy" as well as being quite knowledgeable about a particular Swedish make that he professes to have a wild aversion to); and again, he recommended a friend who'd just set-up shop in the local area. The problem is that there's nothing really special to recommend this panel-beater except that he comes across as a "nice guy" too, and I'd rather give my hard-earned to a friend-of-a-friend than just any workshop. And he'll hopefully have at least a mild interest in the finished product too.

So all that's really left is interior and suspension. They can be done when the car's on the road and running, but again I'll probably be going with recommendations from mates. There's always the danger of the car sitting around in the workshop for considerably longer than you'd expect, but I suppose that's a trade-off I'm willing to take.

Is there a moral to all this? Probably not, except maybe that I've had a big advantage in having quite a long time to plan everything out; and find out not only what has to be done, but who can do it. Obviously, the work has only just started, but things are looking like going the way I'd originally planned. And to tell the truth, I've met a few people I'm happy to call friends in the process, which has to be a good thing too!

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