Book Review: It Came with Oil

I recently purchased an old British car, a 1960 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite. You can check the car out on its own blog here. It's nothing fancy, just a fun convertible sports car to take out for a Sunday drive. It's small, it doesn't go fast, Sprites were Austin-Healey's budget sports car, they didn't even put in windows, or a trunk.

Lil Red, 1960 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite

However, the Sprite is just a blast to drive maybe because it is so basic, no power steering, no power brakes, low to the road, and without windows or a roof, going 40mph feels like 80mph!

The thing is with old British sports cars, is they need TLC. Mine has already broke down and I needed my wife to tow me home. It drips oil constantly, my mechanic who got it back running after it broke down said "only worry when it stops dripping oil".

Even with all its foibles and flaws, or is it because of them, the Sprite is a car that you just have love. Plus the Bugeye and its distinct smile, it's hard to drive and not smile along.

In an attempt to understand the love of the faulty British car, I came across this book It Came with Oil: An Adventure into the art of British car repair by Alan Cowan. The author tells of his adventures driving classic British cars on various road trips—with all the subsequent side-of-the-road repairs—as well as tales from his British repair shop. The mechanic tells all.

His stories are wonderful, funny, and contain the same easy going attitude that is required owning a British car. I'm not sure why, but breaking down in the desert becomes a nostalgic event, that in this day in age would not really be tolerated if it happened in a new car.

It hearkens back to a time when everyone wasn't in such a hurry trying to get somewhere, and remembering half the fun is in the journey itself. Even if it means you're stranded overnight and have to sleep in your car.

Work Habits

Beyond the stories in his book, my biggest takeaway was Cowan's work habits and attitude running his shop. The pride in doing a great job and doing it right is something that can apply to any craftsmen; including myself who writes software for a living.

Always quality control your own work


With regards to work habits, Cowan's view is give it your 100% effort when doing a job, be thoughtful and considerate of what you are doing. I think applies to fixing cars, to writing software, or whatever it is you may do.

The book itself was quite enjoyable, but possible because I've already been afflicted to British cars. As to why we love them, I'm still not sure, it might just require driving one to experience for yourself.

May I suggest Bring a Trailer … be careful, it's a dangerous site.