This is a copy of an article that was in the Fitchburg Sentinel, Thursday, February 3, 2005.
I spoke with the author, Gerry Martel, he assures me that the Bob’s Fix-it Shop in this story is not my Dad, or his business.
It certainly caught his essence though. I hope you enjoy.
Real mechanics are a dying breed:
When I think of auto repairs, please deliver me from those guys in the white frock coats who are as medicinal as a surgeon getting ready for a heart transplant.
You know the type I mean. They’re the rosy cheeked service managers in immaculate hospital garb, with clean fingernails and grease free hands.
I want a dirty, filthy pawed mechanic with permanent grease under his fingernails, who at least, looks like he’s on speaking terms with the inside of an automobile engine.
I’m not looking for a brain surgeon, I simply want one of those guys from a vanishing breed known as a “mechanic”.
Today, the new car industry calls them “technicians”. Most of them can’t ad lib out of a paper bag.
A few years ago, before self-service, these truly special motorheads who loved cars inside and out, lived at the local gas station. Yes, they were scruffy, but they were prepared to keep you going usually quickly and at a fair price.
But, I digress, let’s go back to the special guy in the white coat who started my phobia. The year was 1984, and as a young stud, I bought an “arrest me ” red Z-28 Camaro, customized as a convertible.
GM wasn’t building drop-heads in the mid-eighties. The 305 CID 190 HP V-8 featured duel exhaust and was to be my pride and joy. It didn’t take long for yours truly and the local police to get to know each other on a first name basis.
From day one, this car had a most disconcerting habit. When I started the Z-28 in the morning and the engine was still running rough, there was a horrendous banging underneath that sounded like a duo of rock drummers warming up for a concert at Yankee Stadium.
It scared the devil out of me, but miraculously, this noise would disappear as the engine warmed up. I can’t remember how many times I checked the undercarriage. Nothing was loose, twin exhaust pipes were secure.
I brought my pride and joy to the Chevy dealer and the rosy cheeked “doctor ” in the white coat and the clipboard met me at the service desk. I explained in detail about the horrible noises when the car was cold.
He took my name, address, phone number and started writing furiously, repeating out loud “banging from underneath car when cold, disappears when engine is warm.” I confirmed most vehemently. “That’s the problem, the car’s brand new and must be fixed.”
The look he gave me was as if I had made an indecent proposal. Undoubtedly, the thought of dirtying his surgeon’s coat must have unnerved him.
“We’ll have a machanic check it out and give you a call when it’s ready” all the while shoving the clipboard in my face for the usual signature.
Two days later, I got the fateful call. “Your car has been diagnosed, Mr. Martel, and I’m happy to say it’s not critical and you can pick it up anytime.”
I was smiling, for the first time since I bought the car. Finally, I was going to enjoy my new ride. Arriving at the dealership, there was my proud steed outside awaiting its master.
I jumped in the Z-28, found the keys over the visor and started it. The two drummers were as loud as ever. The ratatat brought our “Dr” Whitecoat doing the hundred yard dash.
“Hey, you can’t drive that car without taking the release form to the cashier”. At that moment I was no Mr. Charming.
“Listen Buddy, I’m not taking this clunker out of here till it’s been fixed. You heard the banging as well as I did. What have you been doing the last few days. I thought you said it was “nothing much.”
Icily, he told me that the problem had been diagnosed and it was “nothing much” but there’s nothing we can do about it. Of course there’s no charge for the diagnosis, it’s part of your GM Warranty.
I went ballistic. “Tell me what this “nothing much” is that you can’t fix.” Mr Whitecoat dramatically grabbed a piece of paper from his clipboard and drew an “X” brace in the Camaro’s frame.
“Unfortunately, in the assembly, something went wrong and the tailpipes were not properly centered. They are too close on one side causing the pipes to hit the frame when they are cold. As the engine warms up the vibration lessened so the pipes did not bang against the frame anymore.”
My ex friend, explained again that this might be an annoyance, but it would not hurt the performance. He even had the audacity to tell me he had graduated from GM’s Mechanics School, with honors, and that his word was gospel.
It was late and I was tired from my day’s work and disgusted by the badgering I had received from the dealership. Under my breath I uttered something close to “you arrogant S.O.B.,” signed the release and headed home in my “eight banger.”
The next day, I took the Camaro to Bob’s Fix-it Shop. Bob was the man. Sure he was dirty, he was greasy, but he also knew his way around cars. I explained my dilemma and, in a flash, he was under the car, grunted and slid out.
Next step, he grabbed his acetylene torch and his creeper. I heard a hissing sound and maybe 10 minutes work. Bob reappeared from the bowels of the Z-28, wiped his dirty nose with his own dirtier hand and said, “all fixed, that’ll be twenty bucks.”
What Bob did was to enlarge the holes around the pipes another one-half inch or so, for extra clearance. Simple as that.
To this day, when I visit a car store and I am greeted by a Mr. Whitecoat, my gonads tighten up. I know two things. I am probably going to pay more than the job is worth and probably be treated in a cavalier manner.
Real mechanics are a dying breed and are invariably dirty from doing an honest days work.
(Photo courtesy of Janice Packard Roy)
This was written by Gerry Martel, in the Fitchburg Sentinel, February 3, 2005.
It sounds like Dad… except Dad would have charged 10 bucks, not 20…
Thanks for the memories Gerry.