In Lincolnshire, England, you’ll find two men that go by the names of Alwyne Whittaker and Dave Herret. They spend most of their time in a garage at Whittaker’s home, renovating vintage cars and looking for future projects.
Alwyne Whittaker got into car renovation by accident. “I always had an interest in cars, not particularly Saabs, but Saabs turned up at reasonable intervals and my friend Mr. Herret introduced me to the finer sides of Saab cars, particularly the older ones, and it progressed from there“. On the other hand, it was more of a necessity for Dave Herret, “When you have a car, a house, small children and not much money, you end up fixing the car yourself, and then it just developed from there. We started messing about with older ones probably about 30 years ago. I think the first job we did together was a VW Beetle“. Whittaker informs that they’ve been renovating cars on a regular basis for about 25 years, “Being a farmer, I was always very busy and I didn’t have the sort of time I get now that I’ve retired. I have been accused of starting another profession, now that I’ve retired from farming, and I think my friend here, Mr. Herret, is in a similar situation“. (Wives!)
One of the main reasons as to why they spend their time renovating cars is for the challenge. Herret explains that, “One of the most interesting parts is fixing something that you were really stuck with. Some problems you just rectify, and they’re a 5 minute problem, but some things are a real headache and the challenge is to solve them without spending a shedload of money, and to do it with your own resources, and that’s the most satisfying bit“.
Video Credit: Emma-Marie B. Whittaker
They find their projects in sheds, lock-ups and on Ebay. Herret informs that, “It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes & ears open. One of the best projects we found was a car that a relative heard about in a lock-up in Newark, and we went to investigate. We didn’t really need another car at that point, but we decided that we had better go and look at it because it might be a good one. It was a little gem when we found it“. Whittaker adds that there is also a myriad of information for them to refer to on the internet and so, if they’re ever stuck, they can usually find someone with more expertise or some tips. Herret is a member of the online Saab owners club and they’ve been a helpful source of information over the years.
The amount of time they spend on each project varies. Whittaker informs that, “It can take 2-3 months, it can take 2-3 years. It depends on ones enthusiasm and if you buy something that needs that amount of work done on it then you’ve got to accept that, but basically nothing frightens us“. Herret adds that they’ve taken on more advanced projects as the years have gone by. They’ve gone from renovating cars that were running, but with some rusty bodywork, to saving cars from being sent to the scrap yard. When they finish one of their projects Whittaker says that they, “Drive around and have a bit of fun with them. Get them admired, take them to little shows and when we decide, or other people decide, that we’ve got to move a car or two on, basically to make room, then we move them on“.
In the time period that they have been renovating vintage cars, they have finished around 10 different projects. Whittaker explains that, “We don’t go for speed or breaking records. We tend to try and make a proper job rather than rushing them through like an assembly line, as there’s no need for that. We’ve become more selective as we’ve been at it and it’s putting in the workload that gives you the most satisfaction at the end of the day“. When asked about which car was the best one they’ve done up, they both agree that the Saab 900 Turbo was up there. They couldn’t believe that it was in such good condition, but it had been stood for 15 years with half a tank of petrol, so that needed fixing. Herret also enjoyed renovating the “VAN” (Saab 95), “The most entertaining must have been the van because it was just a wreck. It was a horrible colour, it had piles of rust and came out of the back of a lockup. It had to be dragged out and now it’s a working vehicle. It also causes the most amusement when we’re out in it. People look at it and say, “What the devil is that?”
They don’t find it particularly difficult to renovate cars. Any problems they face can usually be solved by some research on the internet and by patience. They also keep it reasonably cheap, as they have plenty of time to source cheaper parts and due to the fact that they renovate cars with few electronics, they don’t need to pay for specialist help. Whittaker has also been involved with mechanical work for around 50-60 years and doesn’t find 1960-70s cars daunting in any way. When it comes to the type of car they work on, Herret explains that, “The older Saabs are a very narrow market, so prices haven’t gone silly yet. The traditional Fords, and makes like that, demand silly prices, whereas there aren’t many people interested in V4s, so prices have stayed reasonable. We hope that the prices stay there so that we can get a decent project for sensible money and do something with it“.
Their current project is a Mazda MX5 sportscar. A young relative bought it, hoping to get into renovating, but it turned out to be too much for him, so Whittaker and Herret bought it and took it on themselves. They’re also working on a 95 Saab Estate that is without both an engine and a gearbox at the moment. It’s not always easy for them to stick to one project at a time. Herret explains, “The trouble is sometimes when you’re in the middle of a project, another project that you can’t resist comes along and you know there won’t be another one like that for maybe several years, so you buy it and then get side-tracked“. Herret explains that there is still a model that they are yet to find, “The one thing that we haven’t managed to get our hands on in the Saab market is a two stroke, which are becoming increasingly rare and to get one for reasonable money is becoming increasingly difficult. The later cars are all electronic so we have to start calling in specialists then and part of the interest then wanes, because you can’t do it all yourself, if you’re reliant on someone else“.