Hammond’s Opel Kadett A is broken. Which may come as a bit of a surprise, because in the broiling African heat, “Oliver” survived a shotgun wound, a lake, and a Jeremy Clarkson. But weirdly, once it landed in Britain, it became a perennial shambles - the bodywork decayed like a soft pear, and its antiquated mechanicals ground themselves to a powder. Which is precisely why Richard decided to undertake a colossal once-and-for-all rebuild. And why photographer Rowan and I have just entered into negotiations with a German dressed like a 19th century Lord.
Allow us to explain. Hammond is in desperate need of parts so he can finish Oliver’s latest resurrection. And they’re excruciatingly rare. In a bid to gather up everything he needs, we’ve been sent to harvest the world’s biggest classic car show - Techno Classica in Essen, Germany - for the elusive bits.
Admittedly, driving through five countries to fetch some oily car parts seems a tad excessive. Largely because it is. But as Richard will testify, the bits he’s after (chromework, and infinitesimally small steering gubbins) are beyond rare. GM’s long since turned the parts presses into Zafiras, and the Rohan-trousered car club set’s drawn a blank too. So he’s left with one solitary option - rummaging through the murky world of autojumbles at classic car shows. Or rather sending us to do it for him.
Mercifully, the Techno Classica has a very big autojumble. There are 1,200 jumblists, and some of the vendors have even taken the trouble to separate the bits into era, marque and model. Which is a Good Thing, because it’s fiendishly easy to mistake an oily lump of iron that’ll make Oliver work for an oily lump of iron that’ll fix some pre-Byzantine contraption where you have to go outside to change gear.
Unmercifully, there are a number of distractions. Currywurst for one. And more than 15,000 classic cars. Whatever your poison - from Amphicar to Zundapp - you’ll find it at Essen. And nearly everything’s for sale, which provides the sort of temptation that’ll turn the red mist of excitement into a bruised credit card. Add to that the fact that even a perfunctory one-minute glance across each trestle table of tat wouldrequire an investment of 20 hours. Rather more than the morning we’d allotted to find what we needed.
Nevertheless, we traipsed through 12 colossal halls in search of the illusive chrome/steering gubbins. Past Steve McQueen’s very own slate-grey Porsche 911S. Past the bitter sight of a dozen original Minis on BMW’s stand. And a brace of pre-War Bentleys on VW’s. And past several profoundly odd car club displays, many of which featured mannequins dressed as if they’d recently escape from an erotic nightmare.
Grunting extravagantly, we arrived at a brochure vendor. Taking stock, we leafed through a selection of Dutch language marketing bumf that smelled of the elderly. To our surprise there was an Opel Kadett A pamphlet, announcing it as Economisch! Ruim! Pittig! Handig! Clearly a bargain at a piffling 10 Euros, we had it away and moved on.
We were (almost literally) miles from the shiny manufacturer displays and top-dollar classic car dealers, and very much in the heavy breathing area of Das Autojumble. This is a place where you have to duck under low-hung rocker covers and dustblown Mota Lita steering wheels, which lends the whole enterprise a sense of luck discovery. Even more so when you brush aside some Humber Hawk gudgeon pins and unearth a full set Opel Kadett A ball joints - the very bits we’d been sent to find. Then, just a few feet away, a mound of familiar chrome trim….
Trouble was, the shiny stuff wasn’t priced. And this stall - which also sold a Dinky toy Kadett for 140 Euros (no, really) - looked a bit high end. As did its proprietor. Wearing plus fours, waistcoat, tweed jacket and a red suede baker boy hat, he was a stunning demonstration that money and taste don’t always - or often - go together. But he did have the parts we needed and a good grasp of English, and eventually sold us the parts for what he described as “very good price”.
Unbelievably, our ambitious mission was uncharacteristically un-rubbish. And we’ll be presenting our findings to Hammond and his soon-to-be fixed Kadett in a few weeks. Stay tuned, and click through our Essen gallery in the interim. The next time you’ll hear from Oliver he’ll not be broken any more…