“…It happens all the time. It’s not unusual to send the hired car back missing a mirror.”
–Fred Lynch, Director of Operations, Moss Europe
It’s my first trip abroad ever. I’m driving all over England getting to know the Moss Europe shops—there are four in the UK and a new location in France outside of Paris. I’m on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. The blood pressure is up and I’m determined to not make Fred’s statement any more true than it already is.
Modern vehicles do not belong on these tiny British roads. The curbs are low so cars can hop them and park half on the sidewalk—and there’s still no room on the street—Sheesh, I’m inches away from everything! Living in California I’m used to hearing people say, “These roads were made for British cars.” Now I’m finally clued in to the natural order of things: these cars were made for English roads. Oh how I wish I had a classic Mini to drive.
My boss, Shawn Carlberg, set up the trip. 25 years at Moss and it’s his first time to England, too. [Good things transpired; it won’t be his last.] While I make wrong turns on roundabouts, Shawn meets with the departments at the London headquarters and also visits several of our parts manufacturers. There is no substitute for face-time.
Moss Europe was a mystery to me. I knew that our US and UK facilities collaborate when developing parts and when working with suppliers. But it’s hard to feel connected to co-workers when you’ve never met them. Plus, this is England. This is where the fun all started. I’m giddy to get to know this place.
We miss Fred Lynch back in the states; he is very observant and has a remarkable way of making a point. Sitting in his office, moments after we arrive he says to Shawn and I, “What you have to understand is this: Imagine you are an autoworker in Flint, Michigan, and a group of Brits move into town and start selling GM parts. Think of how you would feel.” As this was sinking in he then says, “These guys don’t want anyone from California telling them how to do things. These are their cars.”
I take a breath and a step back. Coming into this trip my focus was: Find out how Moss Europe benefits customers in North America. Right from the start my vision was too narrow. We are all in this together. Anyone anywhere in the world can contribute to the hobby of British sports cars, but I need to pay special respect to the English. They have a right to have pride and ownership of a lion’s share of their automotive legacy. Love for little British cars is alive and well in England, likely more so than anywhere else.
Five Branches, Deep Roots
Moss Europe officially began in 1989, though the shops had been in the British spares business under the leadership of Pete Cox and Pete Buckles for more than a decade prior. Both Petes stayed with Moss and, though they are mostly retired, they are familiar faces in the office still today.
Each branch has unique personality and specialties based on its history, its location and the interests and experience of the employees. It’s really not that different from here at Moss in the US where you may end up speaking to certain people because of their specialized background. While on the one hand each of the branches serves their own communities, together they also work toward the good of the whole through shared resources, and communication…and they do it with unmistakable British humor.
Every day a food truck swings by the London warehouse and Bernie, the social hub and very sweet receptionist, makes a general announcement over the intercom: “sandwich man.” Ian, the barrel-chested warehouse manager, who is showing us around, rolls his eyes and says, “I hate when she calls me that.”
I grew up shy, sheltered in a safe, quiet community. But I love British humor—witty, sarcastic, self-deprecating and oftentimes crass. I could have used more of it early on. I’ll bet it’s good for the backbone.
In Their Own Words
I’m more than a little envious of Moss Europe’s set-up where customers have more opportunity to get the at-the-counter experience. It’s a strength they have the privilege to cultivate. At home in the States, both of our warehouses do have active sales counters, too, in case you weren’t aware. And, hey, our salespeople would appreciate a break from the phones. Come see us if you are in the area.
Prior to this trip I wrote an open email to the Moss Europe staff and introduced myself. Several people wrote back. Let me share one of them here.
Adam Chignell, Moss Salesman
I have worked at Moss for more than four years—although I started buying parts from what was Cox and Buckles 30 years ago. I own a few Triumphs and the Spitfire Mk3 belongs to my wife. It was her first car. My Vitesse was my first Triumph and it’s the reason my wife and I met—we got to chatting about cars.
Years ago my family took the Vitesse on holiday to The Lake District, Cumbria. Just after we arrived, there was a petrol tanker strike, so no fuel was being delivered. We set up the trailer tent, had a few beers and said “Oh well, we will just walk everywhere and save the fuel we have left.” We were camped in a village with five pubs and a shop for food, what more did we need? Then we heard there was a delivery of fuel in the next village. I shot up there in the Vitesse and promptly blew the head gasket.
I spent Saturday afternoon tuning the engine at the campsite much to the amusement of the other guests. I didn’t have my compression tester with me so I did what I can only describe as “stupid.” I took the plugs out, disconnected the coil, and stuck my thumb over the plug hole and turned the engine over. WOW there is compression on that one, the same for number 2, this is beginning to hurt. Number 3 however felt different as did number 4. By this time I had had enough, my thumb hurt. So, off to the pub. We didn’t use the car for the rest of the holiday and were unsure what to do to get home, but I had every faith in the old boy. We hooked up the trailer tent, loaded the car and it got us the 300 miles home. Now when we go away in the Vitesse I take a head gasket set and a torque wrench, just in case.
With owning the Vitesse for so long, having pulled it completely to pieces and rebuilt it twice now, I have learnt a lot that I am able to pass on to customers who may be doing the job for the first time.
Petrol Head Friends
England is roughly the size of Alabama, but what it lacks in area it more than makes up for in history, tradition and the diversity of its proud culture. Shawn, myself and a group of five sales guys from the various branches set up a Moss tent at the MG90 car show at the world-famous Silverstone Circuit for the weekend. Between the fellas representing their branches, good-humored, questionable-taste teasing is inescapable. I’m quite sure I should be feeling more of the brunt of it myself if only I could understand what they are saying—especially Steve from Moss Bradford in the north. That evening, when speaking with a local, I get caught saying, “I miss about 20% of your words because of your accent.” She shakes her head and replies, “You’re the one with the accent.” Oh yeah. We’re not in Goleta anymore, Toto.
At MG90 there are 1,200 MGs celebrating the marque’s 90th anniversary. An MG from every year of production lines up in a long row on display. Quite a sight. But my aim is to talk to people, and as soon as I spot two guys sitting in an MGTF pouring beer into proper glasses, I know I’m going to look back on the next moments as a highlight of my trip. Their names are John and Alan and I ask to take their picture. I have to—I can’t miss capturing this scene—the two of them look like two lifetimes of of friendship. “Can I get you a beer?” Alan asks. Speckled Hen—of course it is. I grin and nod.
John does most of the talking. It’s his car and the Formula 1 track we’re near is shimmering with his memories. Several times I plead with John to write his stories down some day soon. I ask Alan to remind him for me, too. John is 77 now, recently had a stroke and had a lot of skin cancer removed from his face. We talk for an hour about the cars he once raced on this very track and how he dreads the day he can no longer get under the car he loves to work on. His eyes reveal that the day is not too far away. When the time comes, though, friends like Alan and others will be his hands for as long as he needs them.
At night, Shawn, myself and our new Moss Europe co-worker friends find a lively Pub in Towcester (prounced “Toaster”)—with a live local band—just a few miles up the road from Silverstone. After what must have been an epic personal struggle, Shawn tries the teensiest bite of the blood pudding on the far corner of his plate and quickly washes it down with beer. We’re all so proud of him.
All told, Shawn and I savored only a small taste of life in England during our stay. But I will tell you this: anyone reading this story owes it to themselves to experience it, too. And if you’ve been there and have a Moss Motoring story to tell…send it my way!
By David Stuursma