Confessions of a British Import Car Dealer

So you think your British sports car is absolutely, positively original, eh?! You think it’s just as it left those famous factories in Abingdon or Coventry?

Well, don’t bet on it.

I’m here after all these years to tell you why. Even if you witnessed your precious new automobile being delivered straight off the transporter at your local dealer, it more than likely did not leave the assembly line in that particular configuration, and likely would go through even more changes before it was sold to the customer by the dealer.

First, let’s clarify the difference between an import distributorship and a dealership. Just as in modern times, distributors bought the cars from the factory and then sold them to the various dealers within their designated districts. When a car left the factory gates, all the pertinent serial numbers, commission numbers, engine, gear box, color of upholstery, etc., were recorded and were probably correct. However, all is fair in love and war when it comes to getting that particular car into the hands of a retail customer.

“Get that car delivered” was the war cry, from the factory, from the distributor, from the dealer, from the sales manager, from the salesman: “I don’t care what it takes—move that car.” That last statement is what was likely to change the specification of your car from what was original, and which YOU still think IS original!

The British imported sports cars were transported by truck and train, then shipped across the ocean and were subject to all kinds of abuse from the elements and handling. The paint, upholstery—even mechanical parts—could be damaged long before the car reached its first stop: the distributor, who, at the height of the British car invasion, usually had many orders waiting to be fulfilled.

Let’s say to complete one shipment to a dealer, the distributor needs a black car with a black interior, but did not receive one in this particular shipment. However, he did receive a black car with a RED interior and a white car with a BLACK interior. Remember: “I don’t care what it takes!” A quick swap of interiors, and he has his order filled by fitting the black interior to the black car. The car is then delivered to the dealer who doesn’t know about the swap, and really doesn’t care. All he wants is to “deliver that car,” and he does! The customer, meanwhile, sees his nice new black car with black interior roll off the transporter at the dealer’s, and knows that it is fresh, and pristine, and totally original.

If my little homily has set you wondering, wait until the next installment! The particular scenario I’ve outlined above has only the distributorship involved. Wait until you get the truth about what happened when cars reached the dealership!

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