SHE WAS booking a service for her old V6 Magna as I waited to pick up the trusty Hilux after a puncture repair. Then she remembered hubby saying that the Magna was well overdue for new sparkplugs. The receptionist stood up from his keyboard, leaned toward her and asked cautiously whether she was sure she wanted the plugs done. I was thinking, “Mate, you’re there to sign up work, not to talk customers out of it…”

He explained that the three plugs near the firewall were hard to get at, involving extra work including removing the intake manifold. He added that if they were going to go that far they should also check and perhaps replace other hard-to-access items while they’re at it – including plug leads, cam belt and the water pump. He suggested she budget for $1500 – $1700 for the ‘service’.

I thought, “Ye gods, plugs hidden under the manifold. And the Magna mightn’t be worth much more than $1500.” The customer said, “Alright. I’ll have to pay with my credit card.”

Clearly our individual life experiences shape our varied expectations of how stuff should be done. Most of my formative spanner time was spent on mechanic-friendly, pre-EFI, front-engine/reardrive vehicles. While VB/

VC Commodores with 253 or 308 V8s shoe-horned into a space intended for fours or sixes could be swearworthy knuckle-skinners at times, most of the stuff I worked on was pretty good. Triumph Heralds were simply amazing. So I expect easy access to consumable components.

Getting a spanner on to all the external engine components of fours and sixes was usually a piece of cake. I can recall working on a truck with enough room for me to sit under the bonnet on an inner-panel shelf with my legs dangling beside the engine. Too easy, and no back-pain from bending.

My teenage fondness for old ‘flathead’ V8 Fords was based on more than their lovely offbeat exhaust sound (and the fact that being a ‘Ford boy’ then attracted a bit of notoriety) – they were also pretty easy to work on.

One day my fine old Henry dropped back to seven pots as it delivered a mate and me and our girlfriends to a remote BBQ spot in the bush. When my ‘blown headgasket’ diagnosis alarmed my spanner-phobic mate I assured him there was no crisis and that I would have it done by the time he built a fire and sizzled the sausages. It was no challenge – I always carried a range of spares and tools and the task itself was simple enough. I finished in time for lunch, the last step being to fill the radiator from the nearby creek. Remember the days when water-cooled motors were cooled with water?

I shouldn’t have been caught totally unawares by the Magna sparkplug issue after my experience with my wife’s 205 GTI Pug in recent years. It needed a new water pump. With memories of taking about an hour to swap pumps on Holden and Falcon sixes back in the day,

I guessed the little French hot rod’s cramped engine compartment might stretch it out to two or three hours… Having to remove the cambelt to get to the pump, while working almost blind in a space between the engine and the inner panel, almost too tight for my fingers and a ring-spanner – and then put it all back where it came from – took me all flamin’ day. Zut alors!

Hoping to get a more objective take on the maintenance-access matter I turned to Dr Google. Who knew how tough this stuff can really get? – certainly not those US owners of V8-diesel-powered F250 pickups back in the early 2000s, until they discovered the trucks’ bodies had to be hoisted off completely to get at the cylinder-heads.