Out of stock, out of mind

Artwork by Dilek BaykaraCar and driver

Excerpt from the June 2022 issue of Car and driver.

There was a time when “token shortage” meant the party ran out of Doritos. These days, we know it’s part of a global manufacturing and shipping disruption. The shortage of new vehicles at dealerships has led to soaring prices for used cars. More people are keeping older cars longer, which means more repair work for mechanic shops. Busy shops mean no one can paint my 1970 Nova.

My husband and I recently sat down to make a list of our plans and what they needed. The Challenger’s tires are mysteriously down to the ropes. The Plymouth wagon needs just about everything, starting with kicking out any rodents that have taken up residence under the dash (I think it’s a capybara, that’s huge!). With all the tasks ahead of us, we did what any reasonable car owner would do and bought a Nova SS that was in pieces. There is nothing better to forget your problems than to have a new one.

When it came time to paint the Nova, no one did. “We only do insurance work,” one outlet said. “Of course we can do that,” said another, “in August.” It took eight tries to find a place that would welcome him before the summer. And it’s not just body shops that have waiting lists. Tires, camshafts, intakes, paint – everything is out of stock, and it’s affecting everyone from hobby builders to high-end restoration experts.

Play catch-up

Robert Huber runs Vintage Lambo LLC, a one-man shop that works on rare Italian cars. Whether it’s reviving old Fiats or modernizing Espadas, Huber loves a challenge. As you can imagine, there are a lot of single part orders when you turbocharge a Jalpa 85, but these days Huber orders in bulk. “I’ve 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 scaled back business in the first year of the pandemic and tried to catch up with big orders in the second, he says. “They’re working six days a week, and now they’re wearing out machinery and tools. And it’s out of stock from their suppliers.”

Bruce Canepa builds far more cars than Huber. Its 70,000 square foot factory near Monterey, California produces many of the collectible machines you see at Monterey Car Week. Its scale may be greater, but its problems are the same. “With our Porsche 959 builds, we used to try to keep enough parts 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 is affecting needed minerals – many delays are in transportation. “Things just stick around. ‘Overnight’ shipping now takes a week, and the cost is 10 times what it used to be.” Meanwhile, more and more customers are turning to classic cars. “We are busier than ever. I could use 20 more people, but even people are missing. 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 that all the distribution experts are in the garage south of Jay Leno, who mainly builds very old cars and should therefore be safe from shortages of new parts. “We’re not facing chip shortages, but manufacturing is taking longer,” says chief fabricator Jim Hall (not Chaparral’s Jim Hall). To recreate parts under century-old warranty, the garage uses 3D printing services. It used to be that a modeler could incorporate a unique and original equipment design on their lunch break, but now engineers have been laid off, people are working remotely, and Hall’s team is lining up behind much larger orders.

OEM recovery estimates range from late 2022 to mid-2023, which means the out-of-stock intake manifold could take a while, folks. If you’re stuck on a project car, I suggest you follow my lead and buy another one. Surely there is something in stock.

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