[Book] Tinker, smear and tear…

Edd China is a British engineer whose stories about machines, and particularly cars, are contagious. He tells his stories well on video, but he also does well on paper.

(Photo: pxhere)

For an optimistic book about a man who has turned his hobby into his work, Grease Junkie starts out small. At a certain point, Wheeler Dealers, the television show on Discovery Channel that made Edward John China famous, changed its format. More cheerful tearing around, less of those time consuming shots of China in his workshop explaining how he fixes up a rusty Cadillac.

China angrily closed the Wheeler Dealers door behind him – and then he has time to put his life story on paper. It starts in a way that many people at Delftware would recognise. Lego. An irrepressible tendency to unscrew screws. Buying a cheapo rust bucket with your brand new driver’s licence only to find out that you have to tinker at the assembly line yourself because you don’t have the money for a professional mechanic.

Living in a double-decker

Most people grow up after that episode. China doesn’t. When he went to study in London but didn’t qualify for student housing, he thought, you know what, I’ll buy one of those double-deckers and park it on a field near the university. The deal was quickly done, but he wasn’t allowed to drive it because he didn’t have a driver’s licence. He ripped the seats out so it wasn’t officially a bus anymore but a van. Then he was allowed to drive it, but still didn’t know how to drive. And the conversion from a bus to a mobile home hadn’t even started yet.

After that he didn’t stop tinkering. His first victory was the Casual Sofa, a sofa that reached a speed of 140 kilometres per hour (he subsequently lost that record, but he still holds the records for the fastest desk, bed and toilet). By the time he left university, he had 35 cars at various locations waiting for him to start tinkering.

His ingenuity and madness brought him to the attention of television producers. For his first performance at Top Gear, he built an ejector seat in a Rover 820i. The details are important. The anecdotes around it are funny (‘Sir, why do you think you would like the M3 with this danger?’), but you can feel everything that Edd China loves about technology and how he loves to talk about it. Readers will certainly enjoy the read.

(Illustration: Penguin books)
  • Edd China
  • Grease Junkie, a book of moving parts
  • Penguin, 2020
  • ISBN 978-0-7535-5356-5

Christian Jongeneel / Freelance redacteur

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