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The scrap man keeping ageing Volvos alive

lots of scrapped volvos
lots of scrapped volvos

There are scrapyards - and there's Lakes Autos. You can see it from the Al at Wyboston, a village in Bedfordshire, somewhere between Luton and Peterborough.

The road is hardly scenic, but Lakes' jumble of discarded motors is like a kind of ancient forest, albeit of rusting metal rather than trees. You don't see its like much. Not these days.

New rules intended to clean up the industry have forced the closure of many small and independent vehicle breakers and sent the dodgy ones off into the shadows. It leaves Lakes as one of the few remaining old-school breakers' yards. But it's one with a difference: it breaks only Volvos.

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Wandering the three acres of disintegrating motors (there are around 400 of them, probably more, and the site occupies 14 acres in all) is like taking a step back in time. 960s, 940s, 740s 850s, even an ancient 244 DL.

They're reminders of Volvo's golden age, and the discarded engines that litter the place recall a time when electric cars were just a glint in a politician's eye.

Lakes is owned by Barry Coppen. With his two brothers, sadly no longer with us, the 77-year-old inherited the petrol station and garage that was previously on the site, plus all the surrounding land, from his father.

Coppen was born in London and trained as an engineer, working first on early prototypes of Concorde and the Jaguar attack jet before going into industry. On the death of his parents 30 years ago, he relocated to his father's old business to work with his brothers, but ambition soon took hold.

"There were around 10 scrapyards operating around here, all competing for cars so they could sell spare parts from them," he says. "I decided to focus exclusively on one make and chose Volvos because they were tough and owners were keen to keep them running for as long as they could."

Coppen remembers the A1 then as a single carriageway. "We saw one lorry every 10 minutes but had a steady stream of customers for the parts we were salvaging and selling," he says.

"Business was good. Five years ago, after my brothers became ill, I closed the garage and forecourt to concentrate on buying a stripping Volvos for spares we could sell." We're interrupted by a phone call, one of many that Coppen takes during my visit.

"A rear wiper motor for a 2005 Volvo V70:" he confirms with the caller. "Which side does the arm park on? Left or right? Between 2000 and 2004 they parked on the left, but after that on the right, although some cars registered in 2005 were old stock that were parked on the left. I have a motor in stock.*

Call over, Coppen tells me he's blessed with an excellent memory for Volvo parts gained during the past 40 years: "I don't even need to catalogue the parts I stock; I know exactly what l have and Where it is, and I've spent thousands of hours learning Volvo faults and their cures."

Seconds later, he demonstrates his knowledge when another caller says he has tried everything but cannot start his 240. "You're getting fuel and you're getting a spark," Coppen repeats. "Perhaps the spark isn't big enough. Check the amplifier behind the headlight that boosts it."

Coppen reckons the average age of his Volvos is 12 years, but I've seen many around the place that are much older. He removes their lights, door mirrors, radios and parcel shelves for storage and resale.

"They're my biggest sellers," he says. "If I left them on the cars, they'd be stolen." He stocks rows upon rows of lights, none of them labelled, since he says he knows which model each of them fits.

We head outside to inspect the wrecks. I'm keen to locate the oldest, a 1973 144 that he's had for 30 years and claims to still be selling bits from.

However, picking our way through the twisted metal is heavy going (Coppen isn't in the best of health) and so it eludes us. No worries: it's enough simply to stumble among the remains of his magnificent 960s and 940s and the occasional 850 estate. Is that a 480 ES over there? Over there, an S80, and next to it a C70.

Coppen has huge respect for the cars. "The old Volvos could do 300,000 miles with ease. I once took in a V70 with 525,000 miles on the clock. The only reason many of them ended up here is when the cambelt went and it took the engine with it."

Loppen won't mind me saying he isn't exactly in the first flush of youth. Why not just sell up and retire? "My customers need me," he replies.

"Few people know old Volvos as well as I do." I'm willing to bet a stack of old headlights on that.

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