Out of Stock, Out of Mind

Out of Stock, Out of Mind

out of stock, out of mind

Illustration by Dilek BaykaraCar and Driver

From the June 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

There was a time when “chip shortage” meant the party was running low on Doritos. These days we know it’s part of a global disruption in manufacturing and shipping. The dearth of new vehicles at dealerships has led to a spike in used-car prices. More people holding on to older cars longer means more repair work for mechanic shops. Busy shops mean nobody can paint my 1970 Nova.

My husband and I recently sat down to make a list of our projects and what they needed. The Challenger’s tires are mysteriously down to the cords. The Plymouth wagon needs pretty much everything, starting with the eviction of whatever rodent has taken up residence under the dash (I think it’s a capybara—it’s huge!). With all the to-dos in front of us, we did what any reasonable car owner would and bought a Nova SS that was in pieces. There’s nothing better for forgetting your problems than getting a new one.

When it came time to paint the Nova, nobody would. “We’re only doing insurance work,” said one shop. “Sure, we can do it,” said another, “in August.” It took eight tries to find a place that would take it on before summer. And it isn’t just body shops that have waiting lists. Tires, camshafts, intakes, paint—everything is on back order, and that’s affecting everyone from hobby builders to top-end restoration experts.

Playing Catch-Up

Robert Huber runs Vintage Lambo LLC, a one-man shop that works on rare Italian cars. Whether he’s reviving old Fiats or modernizing Espadas, Huber enjoys a challenge. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of one-off parts ordering when you’re turbocharging an ’85 Jalpa, but these days Huber orders in bulk. “I just ordered five sets of pistons. I only need one, but it’s at least 12 weeks, and by then I’ll need another set.” Machine shops cut back during the first year of the pandemic and were trying to catch up with big orders by the second, he says. “They’re running six days a week, and now they’re wearing out machines and tooling. And that’s on back order from their suppliers.”

Bruce Canepa builds a lot more cars than Huber. His 70,000-square-foot facility near Monterey, California, turns out many of the collector machines you see at Monterey Car Week. His scale may be bigger, but his problems are the same. “With our Porsche 959 builds, we used to try to keep parts enough for three on the shelf. Now we order 10 and hope three arrive in time.” While some supply issues are due to shortages—paint toner is suffering from a global mining issue that affects the minerals needed—many delays are in transport. “Stuff is just sitting. ‘Overnight’ shipping is now a week, and the cost is 10 times what it was.” Meanwhile, more customers are into collector cars. “We’re busier than ever. I could use another 20 people, but even people are in short supply. I don’t just need a Porsche mechanic, I need one who knows how to rebuild a distributor.”

Jay Leno Has a Better Idea

It seems all the distributor experts are down south at Jay Leno’s garage, which builds mostly very old cars and therefore should be immune to shortages of new parts. “We aren’t dealing with chip shortages, but getting things made takes longer,” says chief fabricator Jim Hall (not Chaparral’s Jim Hall). To re-create parts a century past warranty, the garage uses 3D-printing services. Before, a modeler might squeeze in a quirky one-off gear design on their lunch break, but now engineers have been laid off, people are working remotely, and Hall’s team is waiting in line behind much bigger orders.

Estimates for seeing recovery in the OEM sector range from late 2022 to mid-2023, which means that back-ordered intake manifold might be awhile, folks. If you’re stuck on a project car, I suggest you follow my lead and buy another. Surely something is in stock.

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