The Cellist Is Dead, Or, Your Car Is A Symphony

I’m sorry if this comes off as somewhat of a rant, but that’s because it is….

The act of diagnosing a running problem is not always simple; in fact, like a symphony it is most often NOT simple, and that very statement, “I’m sure it’s something simple,” made so many times by owners only serves to anger any mechanic.

This statement belittles us and, if you must know, makes us more than a little upset! Imagine having someone tell you your job is simple!

It’s like saying, “I could do this myself but I am taking pity on a wretch like you and will throw you a few sheckles from my lofty position, where I cannot be bothered with this trivial thing that is down at your level”… I am careful never to say this to anyone, not the computer guy, the electrician, the doctor, etc.

The very fact that I must enlist assistance means it is not simple.

SU Carburetor Diagram

Let’s have a look at the “simplicity” of diagnosis…

By example let’s think of our lovely car as a symphony and it’s just not right; out of tune, lacking harmony … something is amiss and we can’t get it in tune.

Sure, there is the possibility that only one thing is missing, would Simon Rattle put up with such?!, and we discover without much ado that, in fact, the cellist is dead! After having carried her out by a backstage door to the sad murmuring of the crowd, we replace her and the music is perfect. Except the flute player — he’s always been a bit off, hasn’t he?!

Fine, in this case all is well again.

Now let’s assume that the symphony is not a standard 40 to 115 players but instead thousands and that they are all aged and many have never had any care at all, cannot play well, and are hiding behind others and behind walls in places difficult to get to and have had years of other so-called “conductors,” competent and very much otherwise, trying to root them out and replace them with good players or worse, just patch them up to play a bit longer. Sow we have a clearer picture, don’t we?

So the string section has a few broken strings but still sounds rather nice; the drums however only strike when the mood strikes them.  I hope for a few more dead cellists for your sake, but give us the benefit of the doubt here: it could be much much more complex and in some cases not worth the effort.

“Not worth the effort!?”  Really ?

Yes, and here’s why… Let’s say you are called in to repair a long chain, and there is one broken link on an otherwise perfect shiny chain. You are, upon completion, the hero and all the crowd applauds you. But suppose the chain has been heavily worn and many links are suspect. So you change the worst one and shortly thereafter another link breaks. Then another. You are then a scoundrel, and the rumor mill will resonate with your failure!

So yes, “Not worth the effort,” as what will suffer here most is not the client with the rusty chain but the harmony of your reputation….

Rant over. It’s OK now.

Robert Morey
With over 40 years in the business, Robert Morey restores and maintains British cars. His restorations have won many awards and are in collections across the U.S., England, Japan and the Bahamas. Robert is compiling a book on owning British cars as both a business and a hobby. Robert and his wife Michele live in Charleston, South Carolina.


  1. I have been looking for an effective analogy to convey the multiple layers of problems we find in our clients British cars, shiny chain/rusted chain is perfect! Every one of the 50+ year old British babies out there has had a long period of storage, a hatchet mechanic and a Band-Aid mechanic in its` past, when they arrive on our doorstep, we must not only solve the current obvious problem, but the multiple hidden neglect and butcher problems. And then, every single car that has come in my shop has revealed a new and unrelated safety problem before it leaves…NO it is not simple! It takes skill, patience and perseverance to get these cars back to a symphony! (Another great analogy!)

    • Oh how I feel your pain! I have been a “Shop of last resort” ( due to the expense of an actual “mechanic”) for many years , as well as the “secret shop” where other shops have sent cars they couldn’t fix for many years! Your term ” hatchet” is often an understatement ! Many thanks Robert Morey

  2. I can’t express how well you summed up “it’s something simple”. As a retired cabinetmaker who still has a very well equipped shop, I get this all too often. Now that I’m old and cranky the offender usually leaves after being told that if it is so damn simple they can do it themselves. Keep up the good fight…Don

  3. I love the symphony analogy. Most of us own +/-50 year-old cars with untold numbers of PO’s and mechanics having worked on them. Even frame-off restorations don’t emerge “good as new”. I know… I bought one! Something as seemingly simple as the windshield wiper system was probably removed, shelved, and re-mounted without so much as being cleaned and re-greased. The unit on my 53 year-old Sunbeam Alpine went intermittent a year ago. Just try to take one of those out to repair it! You will have half the under dash stuff lying on the shop floor. Fortunately I was able to get at the motor by standing on my head and discovered all it needed was filing of the contacts of the thermal over-load switch. So for what it’s worth, if you ever do a frame off restoration or even remove isolated parts during normal repairs, please clean, inspect, lubricate, and repair anything and everything you remove in the process such that you can honestly say “It’s as good as new.”

  4. I am in the SU carb rebuilding business, I see lots of bad mechanics work as well as 50 year old repairs by well meaning school kits , I always laugh when a customer who is wanting to buy kits does not know which way is up on the carb he tells me he did a carb on his lawn mower once and they then mention that they have never done these but they look easy to do . I then want to tell them about the trained chimp I have in the back who does all the rebuilding work, but usually tell them to give me a call with questions.

    Actually Robert your title at first glance looked like a caption from a George Booth cartoon , he did great auto shop cartoons ( 5 Vets Garage was one of his) and had lots of quirky looking cats & dogs

  5. Well Hi Joe Curto! I have installed quite a few of your fantastic rebuilds over way too many years! You are indeed another ( slightly older) Wizard ! You are a treasure to our industry! Robert Morey

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