‘It’s very special what she can do’
Imagine bringing young talent into your garage and classic car restoration company. The majority prefer to keep their hands, fingers and nails clean. The boys and girls have a brother who is dying of grief. “They don’t know what they are missing,” says Marijke de Vos. “What’s nice about an office?” Marijke takes the bull by the horns and applies for a job at Garage De Basis in Leeuwarden. “A lottery ticket,” say owners Peter and Christina Commijs.
An application has been received for an internship,” Christina calls through the workshop as her husband Peter is busy wiring a classic car. “Just throw it away!” he shouts back. “You have to read this!”, he replies.
The Commijs couple are speaking. Peter and Christina Commijs have been running Garage De Basis in Leeuwarden-Oost for about sixteen years. The company has been around for much longer. The two took it over as youngsters from the second owners, who in turn took over in the 1970s. The couple remained childless. They consider a succession to be hopeless, passing the business on to a young person is their deepest wish, but that seems almost unfulfillable due to the scarcity on the labor market. Not that they have already reached retirement age. On the contrary, they still have about fourteen years to go. “There are moments when the thought passes: what will happen next? Should we close the doors or is there someone on this planet who wants to take over our well-run company under the right conditions?”
Just as they were talking about it again, Marijke’s email arrives. It is anything but a dime a dozen email and it comes from a girl. “I knew it straight away: we’ve got it,” says Peter. “That sounds a bit exaggerated, but this was a well-written email in almost correct Dutch and elaborated with enthusiasm and (basic) knowledge. This felt good. I immediately knew that I was no longer alone, because you cannot run a workshop like this on your own. Then you won’t cover the costs. Manpower is needed to keep this running.”
Previous experiences with interns were negative
Peter rightly avoids the usual ‘manpower’. “We were unlucky with the boys who presented themselves as internship candidates. There just wasn’t any talent there. Moreover, they were unmotivated and had no technical insight. I can spend a lot of time on it, but at some point it will stop. So when a girl writes an email like that and wants to do this work, I consider it pure passion,” he explains. Marijke has not yet spoken. Peter is so enthusiastic about her that he has not yet given Marijke the opportunity to explain why she sent the email to Garage De Basis.
After reading the email, the couple responds immediately and invites Marijke for a conversation. This ultimately results in her coveted internship position. “I still had wrinkles around my nails from a job on my Volkswagen bus the previous evening,” says Marijke. “I couldn’t get them completely clean anymore. Apparently that was a reason to hire me.”
Peter agrees. A week later, Marijke receives overalls with the Garage De Basis logo and is immediately allowed to work on installing the engine of a BMW 1602. “It felt like I was thrown in at the deep end,” she says. “I just don’t have cold feet. I’ve been tinkering since I was fourteen, so I know my way around the toolbox. Moreover, Peter is all ears when I encounter problems. He always takes a moment to discuss them. However, it is up to me to solve them.”
Film Herbie sparked a love for old cars
It is a complete coincidence how Marijke ended up in the cars. “I watched Herbie with my father and mother,” she says. “I was about thirteen years old and after seeing the film I shouted: ‘I want a Beetle too!’ With the help of my parents I was able to get one. A lot had to be done, but with my grandfather as a former car mechanic and my father as a general mechanic – so both emergency services – I got the Beetle running again and it turned out beautiful too,” she says. Thanks to Herbie, the love for cars and German cars in particular arises. “We still have an Audi 80 at home and I now have one too. After the Beetle, I also bought a Volkswagen T3 bus, which the three of us transformed into a camper,” she says, not without pride. In the meantime, Marijke is following a course at Friesland College. First three years in school, then out into the wide world for an internship. And then the email. How did Marijke come up with the idea to send Garage De Basis the email? Aren’t there more than enough companies that are all eager for people who know how to get things done? And maybe they are closer to home? “De Basis immediately appealed to me, the website, the Facebook page, but above all the fact that classics are being worked on. It is also a small company. This has the advantage that the lines of communication are short, so there is direct contact and more interaction. I can contact Peter immediately if I have a question. In a large company I feel more anonymous. The disadvantage could be that he can quickly look over my shoulders. So I could quickly feel controlled, but it works the other way around.”
Way she holds screwdriver or ratchet
Peter has had a firm belief in Marijke from the start. “She tinkers like the best, I can see that she has ‘it’ in her fingers. I recognize that by the way she holds a screwdriver or a ratchet. She will come up with solutions for all kinds of problems in no time on the classic cars that we restore here from top to bottom. We are now working on a BMW 2002 tii Touring as a restoration project. It’s up to us to get it tip-top again. Marijke contributes a very important amount to this. In fact, it is her project.”
But she was an intern, right? “As enthusiastic as we are about her, we were so afraid of losing her again,” says Peter. “We didn’t want to think about her going to work for a ‘normal’ garage company. We decided to make her an offer to work for us just a few weeks after she joined our ranks. That is now a fact,” he says. “I was shocked when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket on Sunday,” says Marijke. “Peter! Oh dear, wouldn’t I like them? Would I not be good enough? Will I lose my internship position?” The opposite turns out to be true: Marijke is offered a job as a BBL member, an offer she cannot refuse. “I felt so honored and at the same time felt quite a bit of pressure, because I had to make it happen, right? Moreover, I was and am in the middle of my schooling as a BBL student. That means one day of school and four days of work. Wednesday evening is study evening. I am behind in theory due to corona, but we are now catching up. This way I learn the location and function of the different parts.”
Parents tell how special daughter is
In the meantime, Peter has met Marijke’s parents. “I wanted to make it clear to them what their daughter can do,” he says. “I wondered if they even notice that. Marijke also communicates clearly. We have already been to various fairs to introduce her to and make her even more enthusiastic about the classic car world.”
“We immediately killed two birds with one stone, because we could combine the visits with buying parts,” Marijke adds. “A whole new world opened up for me, especially at the Techno Classica in Essen,” she says. As a thank you for the permanent job, Marijke has a surprise in store for Peter. “Under the guise of ‘I can leave an hour early so I can buy some parts for my bus’ I drove to Breda to buy a classic Hazet tool cart. I thought it fit so nicely in the workshop. Now still looking for suitable tools from Hazet. The blue cart contrasts nicely with my own pink tool cart. That is a present from Peter,” she jokes.
Sometimes difficult to move from one project to another
Although Marijke is working feverishly on the front suspension of the BMW 2002, she also divides her time between other projects. For example, the wiring harness of the DKW Monza is her responsibility. “It is sometimes quite difficult to switch from one project to another, but this way I learn to concentrate and empathize over and over again,” she says. “I also see that as a learning process. If I compare myself to last year there is a world of difference,” she notes. Marijke is not thinking about changing jobs. “I feel like a fish in water here. It is varied, small-scale and Peter and Christina are pleasant people to work with.”
Are there no disadvantages? “Even the long days are no obstacle. I’m used to getting up early. Of course it requires extreme discipline. Just like Peter, I always have to be there. It also raises expectations. As long as I deliver on that, I don’t feel any pressure. And if I can relax now and then by taking a long holiday trip with the Volkswagen camper or giving us a weekend trip to the Belgian Grand Prix, everything will be fine.”
Of course, it is still too early to talk about further career development. “As it stands now, I will remain a permanent employee at De Basis,” says Marijke. “One day I want to have my own company and then it would be obvious to take over De Basis. Of course, there will come a time to talk about that. The subject has been discussed before, but it is still far too early. I am still at the beginning, the basics.”
– Thanks for information from Autoweek.nl