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Adventures in Autojumbling

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most of us have too much stuff. In my case, I also have limited space. The problem is mostly of my own making and is caused by two simple factors; firstly hoarding things which may come in useful one day and secondly, not having managed to attain suitable premises to accommodate them. The leftovers range from small boxes of fixings, half bottles of oil, pieces of interior trim, rusty body panels, engine parts, dismantled gearboxes, the odd propshaft and a wide range of worn out tyres, mainly for cars that I don’t own anymore and am unlikely to buy again. Quite why I have kept a cylinder head for a 1983 Corolla or a set of wheel trims for a Skoda Estelle is debatable, but if they will come in useful one day it’s probably not going to be with me.

I had already decided I needed to have a proper clear out, but life started to get in the way. Due to ongoing financial inconvenience, I still have to spend most days locked in an office building being told to do stuff whilst variously in turn telling other people to do other stuff. I also have domestic tasks to perform like going to the supermarket and making sure we don’t starve or eat undercooked food. On top of this, sometimes I get distracted by interesting dogs that walk past, there’s all that beer to drink and it’s just been so hot this summer. This was almost an acceptable state of affairs until we recently inherited a load more items at short notice. Time for action.

If we ignore the scammer’s paradise that eBay has become, there are broadly two ways to rapidly dispose of multiple low value items. The first is the car boot sale which involves getting up at 5am to lay your wares out in front of people who have a maximum budget of £1, but only for a genuine Ming vase rather than your Han dynasty one which isn’t quite what they’re looking for. This outlet is best suited to utter rubbish (of which I have a fine selection), but not for things that will very definitely come in useful one day, especially of the automotive kind. This brings us to the second method of disposing of multiple low value items; the autojumble. It is possible to make a decent return at an autojumble, but ideally you need a big event like the world-famous Beaulieu or one of the regular large regional jumbles such as Newark. However, we were keen to get started and heard that a local village fete with an established classic car show was looking to develop an autojumble on the side. Sensing an opportunity, we crammed as much as possible into the practical daily hatchback and set off to win big.

A key rule of selling is to identify your competition and this turned out to be very easy as there was a grand total of one other seller. With a large van they may have looked intimidating but as their product lines were purely carpets, rolls of tape and (for reasons unknown) padded envelopes, there would be no turf war here. With a large tarp forming our shopfront we set up and settled in for the rush of punters. Autojumble corner was sited next to the classic car display so our proximity to the main customer base was good, and with around 75 cars in attendance we would surely sell something. Back up the field was the rest of the fete which consisted of the usual family entertainment and stalls; general bric-a-brac, Police community speedwatch, a rather interestingly shaped bouncy castle, a local parrot rescue charity, and more of that sort of thing. Taking a prominent position was the live music stage which hosted bands ranging between electric, ukulele and brass. Colliery brass bands are a big part of community life in these parts although the collieries all closed long ago, but that’s a different political lecture for another day. The only disappointment was the beer tent not selling any proper beer, but perhaps that was for the best when I had to manage money and give out the right change. Counting isn’t my strong point and I almost sabotaged our efforts completely by proudly bagging up enough loose change for trading without realising most of it had been withdrawn from circulation. I had completely forgotten that paper £5 and £10 notes had been replaced by plasticised versions, and even the familiar £1 coin was now a 12-sided bimetallic thing. It turns out to be highly important to pay attention to using legal money.

Like moths to a flame, the temptation of our jumble was too much to resist and the early magpies soon descended. A small mid-century tin of brass shims brought in our first £3, “worth that for the tin alone m’duck” I claimed, enhancing my razor-sharp sales technique by using the local parlance; know your customers. “£2 for the long spanners, £1 for the small ones, imperial on the left and metric on the right, proper stuff this, none of your Chinese rubbish”, I said whilst laying out the Chinese spanners. The box of sockets caused a degree of excitement and a rummage through the extension bars proved to be a popular activity. Our selection of drill bits ranged from microscopic to monsters with a diameter of a couple of inches. Not surprisingly the latter didn’t shift but the smaller ones made some cash. I only hadn’t filched them myself because they were wood bits and I always insist my cars are made of metal. The early hubbub reached fever pitch with the arrival of a group of classic tractor owners who took the large clamps, an electric drill, the medium clamps, a set of circlip pliers, and the small clamps. We were in the money and things were looking good, which was just as well as the serious buyers clearly get their business done before lunch, leaving the afternoon clear for the timewasters. The pair of MGB brake servos were a star attraction, well priced and I did offer the mechanically dubious advice that “if you fit both of them you’ll stop twice as quickly”. They’re pretty much universal and were almost sold to the owners of an Escort, Herald, Rapier and Ginetta but each managed to talk themselves into and out of them for various reasons – my favourite being that they had walked a mile to the nearest cash machine, but it tried to charge them £1.75 to withdraw £40, so they returned empty-handed and enjoyed a moral victory over the bank rather than being able to buy the servo they wanted.

The tyre inflator made a fiver, but the comprehensive set of Allen keys proved controversial. A concerned looking gentleman regaled me at length with a warning of how cheap Allen keys are dangerous and can shatter with potentially lethal results, and how he would only trust quality Allen keys made of good quality metals like those made of Sheffield steel. I was inclined to agree, as he placed the Sheffield steel Allen keys back on the tarp and stalked away. More than one slack jawed shuffler let me into the secret that my stack of tyres would be good for the winter because of the tread pattern and special compound of the rubber, but I already knew this partially due to them bearing the name “Alaska” on the sidewall accompanied by five snowflake symbols, but mainly because they belonged to me in the first place. The few non-automotive items helped bump up the takings with one happy shopper walking away with a computer games console. Someone bartered on the dart board and was thrilled to tell his mate he’d agreed a “very good price” before walking off without actually buying it. With the sun well over the yardarm, we sensed that we’d gone past the point of peak activity so packed the remaining stock back into the car and made for home, pleasantly surprised to find we’d made £87 from things that would have eventually just been binned. Recycling items into new homes is good and I hate throwing things away (see top of article for evidence).

As a postscript to this tale, we did take a load of non-automotive items to a general car boot sale a couple of days later, which involved getting up at 5am to lay our wares out in front of people who had a maximum budget of £1, but only for a genuine Ming vase rather than our Han dynasty one which wasn’t quite what they were looking for.


3 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    Sounds like you had a cracking day out! :-)
    Perhaps I should join you for your next autojumble? 1) In order to have a bit of a clear out from my own garage, and 2) to give you a bit of competition…

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    Hilarious, Dave! And such an exact description of how such an event feels from the seller’s point of view. I did my first and only a few years ago and ended up so demotivated that I sold off all the remaining stuff to another seller: A professional jumbler who recognized the true value of my trailerload of spares. I.e. about 80 Euro.

    Job done. But an experience never to be repeated.

    Loved the Ming / Han-analogi. Know exactly what you mean.


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