Hi, I’m Caroline. Below is some info about me and my career / life to date!
I have had a fascination with cars for as long as I can remember - well anything with wheels and an engine really – see the picture below of me ‘driving’ my brother around the garden on my fourth birthday present. (No in the 70’s a tractor and trailer wasn’t a traditional present for a girl but I’ve never conformed to any stereotypes and thankfully neither have my parents!)
My Dad always had old Triumphs and I used to love helping him tinker with them. We were far from well off so they were pretty much old bangers that were for ever breaking down. I hated the noise of an engine turning over and not starting – when I was little, it used to make me cry! My brother and I learned the art of pushing a car for a ‘bump start’ from a very young age, thankfully we had a fairly long driveway.
As a teenager, was more likely to be found reading What Car than Smash Hits. At 14 I could quote the 0-60 time of every production car available in the UK, how sad is that?! For my 16th birthday I was given a Triumph Dolomite (Dolly – not a very original name I know) as a minor restoration project and with Dad’s help and a Haynes manual, managed to get it on the road. It broke down on a monthly basis and its bodywork seemed to rust almost weekly (my first experience of rubbing down body filler and using a ‘rattle’ (aerosol) paint can.) But I LOVED that car!
However, a career in the garage trade wasn’t considered an option, in the eighties at my school, girls weren’t even allowed to play football or do metalwork etc. We were expected to do sewing, cooking and typing, I conformed to the cooking as I love food but insisted on taking two sciences. Even to be allowed to do that and drop the dreaded typing and sewing was a real battle - thank goodness in the 21st century, things have changed.
I left college with a diploma in social studies and a Psychology AS; qualifications I have never used to get a job but which have no doubt stood me in good stead for various challenges and encounters along the years! After college, I went into (fell into a job in) marketing. This was the late eighties and marketing was the ‘in thing. ’Funnily enough I proved to be rather good at it, perhaps the psychology and Social Studies helped. I was promoted quite quickly to a managerial role with my own company car – boy did I think I was cool!
Following the birth of my two sons, I wanted to be at home with them most of the time so I trained as a trampoline and gymnastics instructor. I started off just teaching one class a week and gradually increased my hours as the boys got older.I gave up teaching four years ago as 11 classes a week and running a garage was just too much. I competed for nearly 20 years too, see you tube video below of one of my set routines!
My passion for cars never left me, nor did the belief that the many aspects of the motor industry could be better run. Some freelance marketing work for a company who imported Japanese sports cars gave me my first ‘inside view’ of customer service within car sales and I was not impressed! Resolutely believing I could offer a much better service, I researched the market in detail and began importing to order.
Not satisfied that I had enough mechanical knowledge about the cars I was selling, I approached the owner of the garage that carried out my mechanical work and asked if I could spend time there to learn more. He agreed, commenting that “it would be a good laugh and upset the locals!” My hours gradually increased leading to paid employment there and my eventual qualification as an MoT tester – still a very rare occupation for a female and I believe that I was on the sixth woman in the country to qualify.
During the summer months I had the pleasure of testing many classic cars from the nearby Wensum Classics garage. Several discussions with its owner and the departure of his managing director led to him offering me the chance to run the whole outfit. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance! ‘Getting back to basics’ and working on the cars I had grown up with was a great thrill, as was the challenge of running a garage. Having full restoration facilities including a purpose built spray bay meant I was able to begin to learn about the bodywork side of the industry.
During the summer of 2004 my youngest son was run over by a car on his way home from school. Thankfully his injuries were not fatal but it was a life changing experience and I resigned from Wensum to stay at home nurse him back to health. I used the extra time now available to write a business plan and research opening my own garage. Thanks to the owners of a few local garages, I worked freelance and rented workshop space to provide services to my expanding customer base. Working within these different garages also allowed me to further increase my mechanical and bodywork knowledge. (Thanks guys, I owe you!)
When the owner of Wensum Classics decided to close the business and offered to let me rent the premises, it was perfect timing and Caroline’s Cars was ready to offer first class service in every aspect of the garage trade.
The garage and I have come a long way since opening the doors in June 2006.I have recently stepped back from running the garage to concentrate on writing, teaching vehicle maintenance, public speaking and other media commitments. I still pop in and help out from time to time though and love getting my hands dirty. I am also contemplating going back to teaching trampolining and gymnastics for a few hours a week, who knows, I might even compete again!