Spare parts coming classic – Of bottlenecks and new opportunities

Spare Parts

Anyone interested in a classic car or motorbike should also consider how he or she can adequately maintain the vehicle before buying it. For very early models or even for relatively new ones, there are legitimate questions about the supply of spare parts. An inventory

Buyers of a Mercedes-Benz 123 series or a Volkswagen Beetle do not have to ask themselves some questions. The shelves are full of spare parts, original from the manufacturer and reproductions from secondary suppliers. But what about a rare pre-war car from England or a car from the 90s, where you don’t repair and maintain individual parts, but have to replace the whole unit?

spare part – First-hand quality from the manufacturer

At best, the manufacturer of the vehicle still exists and is aware of the importance of the aged brand representatives on the roads. Porsche, for example, communicates with a certain pride, and not without reason, the high percentage of all vehicles ever produced that are still doing well on the roads.

The FCA Group, which recently changed its name to Stellantis and is home to the illustrious Italian brands FIAT and Alfa Romeo, among others, has also opened two new “FCA Heritage Points” in Rome and Palermo. These locations for servicing Abarth, Alfa Romeo, FIAT and Lancia models already existed in Milan and Turin.

But also the French parts of the group and Opel, the only German brand in the portfolio, are more or less increasingly reflecting on their historical roots and trying to preserve their heritage with service offers and spare parts for the classics.

But of course the descendants of the inventor of the automobile at Mercedes-Benz also point, not without pride, to their expertise in restoring components that no longer exist. In 2019, for example, the replica of an SSKL with streamlined bodywork caused a sensation at Goodwood and Pebble Beach. The experts from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach rebuilt the successful racing car, which was victorious at the Berlin AVUS in 1932. On an existing SSK chassis and around an SS engine, they used photos and documents to produce a car that was very close to the specifications of the time.

Mercedes-Benz SSKL

Even though this example was built primarily for a grand appearance at prestigious events, it shows the possibilities that a manufacturer has when it is aware of its tradition and is prepared to keep it alive with a great deal of dedication and care.

This attitude, however, is not only for the gallery, it ultimately comes across to the end consumer who needs a wear part, which is actually almost out of stock. Thus, in the spare parts shops from Mercedes to Porsche, all kinds of spare parts can be found, from fabrics for seat covers to wear parts in the engine, transmission and brakes to switches and levers in the interior. With the quality promise and seal of the original manufacturer.

spare Parts from the specialist

Sometimes, however, some parts are no longer available directly from the manufacturer – either because he no longer exists or because he cannot ensure the supply of new, old spare parts. The classic car scene has found solutions for many things, and it is also a lucrative business for numerous two-line suppliers to bring out-of-print components back onto the market. For almost every make and most models, there are suppliers who sell components that are no longer available.

From the English roadster to the Italian coupé, with a little research you can usually find one or the other supplier offering the right part for sale in clubs or even on the Internet. Not original from the manufacturer, but close in quality and usually a little cheaper.

The 3D printer as a new opportunity for spare parts 

One method that is increasingly coming into focus is production in the 3D printer. For example, for plastic parts in the interior, this method is definitely an asset. With the traditional production of rarely needed and demanded components, the incentive for a supplier to reintroduce them into the product range was rather low. As a customer, the only option was to look for and purchase the components on the market as used or remanufactured parts.

Especially in these cases, replication from the printer is a solution to avoid the sometimes long – and sometimes futile – search for the rare part. Even though 3D printer manufacturing has not been established for too long, there are already some manufacturers who offer this service and the corresponding spare parts.

The pitfalls of electronics

One of the pressing issues for the upcoming classic car generation from the 1990s and onwards revolves around the electronics in the vehicle. It is often said – admittedly not entirely unjustifiably – that the future of classic cars has been sealed with the introduction of electronics into the vehicle.

As things stand, it must also be said that the control elements or hydraulic cylinders of an automatic soft top, for example, pose new challenges for owners and workshops. If the eleven or twelve hydraulic cylinders of the fabric soft top of a Mercedes-Benz SL of the R 129 series fail, depending on the year of manufacture, the open-top driving pleasure is over. In most cases, the only solution is a complete – and thus expensive – replacement.

But in this case, there are other suppliers who have the know-how to replace or completely renew individual or all cylinders. Mostly for a fraction of the sum that would be due for the complete replacement of the roof system.

The situation is similar with the increasingly complex control elements for all kinds of components in the vehicle. It is undoubtedly a challenge for a workshop to adapt to this technology. Nevertheless, with the demand for such repairs, the pressure to be able to react appropriately to the new issues is also increasing. In this context, too, there are already some suppliers on the market who can repair and solder faulty control elements.

Just as every new generation of vehicles offers new opportunities for numerous new classics, new challenges and questions concerning repairs and spare parts supply are always present. Even if it is sometimes unavoidable to have to search for one part or another for a long time, the picture does not emerge that the coming classics are incapable of being adequately maintained.

As the vehicles have developed, so too have the market for spare parts and the workshops, and they are facing up to the challenges posed by the potential collectors’ vehicles that are coming after them. So that the vehicles of the 1990s and 2000s will continue to live on as classics on the roads in the future.

Text Paolo Ollig Photos Daimler AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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