Never know when you might need one of these…story by Pete Vack
John sat there and looked at the strange, delta shaped piece of metal for a two or three minutes before it came to him. There was a hole in the top of the triangle, and the other two sides were shaped like a small fork, somewhat like the letter A. His mind sought desperately to connect it to some previous experience. Finally, it registered. “Of course, this is the dumb collar that keeps the distributor locked down on a Fiat 600!” The relief (for anytime one finally recalls something a euphoric moment follows) was also accompanied by further memories. “The first time I recall seeing this device in action was when my friend’s Abarth 750 was running erratically at Lime Rock, must have been 1984-85. He couldn’t get the collar to hold the distributor tight enough. There went his weekend.”
Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen
Sorting through years of spare parts is akin to turning the pages of a treasured family photo album. A long table was full of parts, bits and pieces of a life, tangled indicators of what went right and what went wrong. They were from what John called his Fiat years. “Of course there were alot of things I’d like to forget about those years,” he said. He once looked all over for a Weber repair kit for his daughter’s Fiat 1200. After months of searching, he found one and proudly gave it to her for her 16th birthday.
“Never heard the end of that.” Men are from Mars, women are….
Still, he knew he’d hang onto these absurd bits and pieces forever, just like the family albums.
Many of the parts were from garden variety Fiats, 500s, 600s, 850s, 1100s. “Got to be careful with Fiat parts,” said John. “Never know what they might fit. Abarth, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia. When in doubt, never throw anything out.” Ancient car parts tend to grow in number, crowding the shelves, waiting for a second chance of life.
On another table, downdraft Webers – nice carbs – once replaced the Solex on a Giulietta Normale. Looked great but never performed as well as the Solex. The jetting, no doubt was slightly off. Webers, so much a part and parcel of any pre-70 Italian car, are abundant in the parts stock. “The DCOE was the finest carburetor ever to feed an internal combustion engine, period,” said John. He recalled doing an emergency overhaul of two 40 DCOEs at his father-in-law’s house, on the kitchen table.
“There were tiny springs and valves and balls and jets all over the table. My father-in-law didn’t believe I’d get it all back together, but he was wrong.” What really amazed John’s father-in-law was the fantastic precision and workmanship of the Weber. “He was used to working on four barrel Rochesters. It was like comparing a Rolex to a Timex.”
Over a 35 year period, John had collected a lot of Weber parts, surprisingly, most were new. Where did they all come from? “Dealer buy outs, trades, some came with cars we bought. Here’s a new 40DCOE, but I haven’t a clue as to when or where I got it from.”
An original Weber box contained dozens of jets, bearings, filters, seals and screws. “Ok, so I can’t tell you where these came from, but I still know what each part is and where it goes. I guess that’s more important.”
Jewelietta valve shim box
Another sweet piece was the Alfa factory-made box designed specifically for Alfa valve shims, 750 variety. “I guess I really shouldn’t leave this out in the garage. It belongs inside, in a glass cabinet. I still find it hard to believe that this jewelry box was the tool provided to mechanics to store valve shims.” Would he sell it at any price? “Not on your life.”
Ricky don’t lose that number…
NOS (New Old Stock) items are equally interesting. Alfa packaging is colorful and the general date of the part can often be gauged by the style of the Alfa symbol on the box. “Nice to have NOS parts around. Never know when you’re going have to break down and actually use them.” But like old boxed car models, breaking the seal decreases the value.
In the corner, a NOS Alfa Duetto rear fender sat next to 105 steel wheels. It still had the Alfa parts sticker inside. “I thought I threw the wheels out. Come to find out, just the other day, that I needed them. The fender is a real find. I just wish I could get another one for the other side.”
From the fifties to the seventies, many Italian manufacturers used common lenses, primarily from Carello. Signal lights, running lights, license plate lights and brake lights were often interchangeable between Ferrari, Fiat, Alfa and Maserati. Find the Carello number and you are in business. Of course, many were unique as well. John pulled out a yellow tray with an odd assortment of side markers. “Today, you can find the more common ones remanufactured, but it’s the oddities that get you.”
We asked John what he had in mind to do with his spare parts. “Hell, this is a tiny collection. Bits and pieces. Doesn’t take up much space.” He’s got boxes of Giulietta parts, but no Giulietta. “Well, I keep thinking, I just might get another Giulietta one of these days. Never know.” What then, the Fiat 850 parts? Surely John is not considering an 850. “I once fixed a Ferrari 308 gas gauge by using one from a Fiat 850. Virtually identical. So should I throw that stuff out? I don’t think so. Never know when you might find something that’s interchangeable.”
Badges and script become decorative parts items, easy to make nice settings, even for those without any artistic abilities. “I don’t know crap about art, but putting old script on a board is easy enough to do and makes good use of a old badge,” said John. The Alfasud? “That script was the only part that didn’t rust right away to nothing.”
Til Death do us Part
And when you are gone to the great auto jumble in the sky, what will become of all the parts then?
He had no answer to that. But he told us a story about his late friend, ol’ Doc Purvis.
One day, shortly before Doc Purvis died, his wife called John. She asked what she should do with her husband’s dusty musty old parts which were cluttering the garage. “I’ve got to get rid of them,” she said. “They’re of no use to either him or me.”
Doc Purvis had been collecting car parts for the better part of 60 years, many of them pre-war Alfa and Fiat (he loved Balilla Sports and 8c2300s) and like most of us, would never part with a part as they might be useful someday.
“Sell the parts on Ebay,” John suggested, “or put them in Hemmings. I’ll give you a hand when the time is right.”
But John knew she’d never sit down, figure out the parts, take the photos, package them up, get them on Ebay and send them off in the mail to eager buyers. Even with the help of an intermediate, it was beyond her.
John was called away on long business trip. In the meantime, Doc Purvis passed away. Some months later, John ran into the Doc’s daughter Maria, at the grocery store.
“Sorry to hear about your father, we all admired him,” said John.
“Thank you–it was difficult. But we finally got that garage cleaned out,” said Maria, bowing her head slightly.
“And those old Alfa parts?” John held his breath.
“Oh, God, we just trashed them. What else could we do?”
After all, she reasoned, old Doc Purvis would never again find a need for those old parts.