I was there : Memories of Land Rover

Land Rover Discovery

Way back in 2004, I had the good fortune to be working with a chap at a now-defunct electrical retail chain. He moved onto better things after an altercation with the management and I soldiered on with the company, working my way higher up the ladder until I found myself a nice cushy office job – then the company went bust – which was nice of it…

Thoroughly disheartened by this, I used my redundancy pay to fund a three-month holiday to Australia and, liking their propensity for rear-wheel-drive cars with huge engines and manual gearboxes, decided to return home in December 2006 and begin the emigration process. However, while I set the wheels in motion, I had a problem. The mortgage still needed to be paid and the redundancy money had long gone.

After a couple of months of vainly trying different jobs, I ‘phoned my ex-workmate and asked him what he was doing: ‘Oh, I’m a Team Leader working on the logistics contract for Land Rover. I can give you a number if you’d like a job, they’re always taking on.’

Like a kid in a sweetshop

Land Rover? Land Rover? Hell’s Bells this was just what I needed! I’d built a Series 3 years back, rebuilt 101s for the Army and run a Range Rover until it ruined me. I’d got experience and the job was fairly well-paid so it would do while I waited for all my paperwork to go through. A couple of ‘phone calls, a rather hasty interview, a medical and a week or so later had me working on Deck 86 Defender Trim and final goods-in.

The staff on there seemed to spend their days either asleep, bickering or doing doughnuts on the Forklifts so I didn’t fit in too well, despite my ability to quote part numbers off the top of my head (having worked on ex-MoD Defenders some years previously). I wonder why…

After about three months there, I got myself transferred to T5 Body-in White. This is Range Rover Sport and Discovery Under Body and Cladding – in other words, where they make the shells. I also found myself working under my old mate… It wasn’t a problem and, as long as I did what needed to be done and he didn’t tell me what to do, we got along famously!

The job… was really easy

The work itself wasn’t a problem either. A part came up on the computerised line-feeding system, you pressed the screen to print a ticket out, the ticket told you which part to take, where it was, and where to take it to and all you had to you was bring the empty part container back and put in the correct place.

Dead easy, I mean really easy – as long as you were a quick enough driver not to cause the track to stop (which was fairly rare) you were OK. No, the problem was with some of the staff. You see Lode Lane has a mixture of staff: those who think they own the place and those who think they ought to own the place.

Time and time again I’d be driving down an aisle and I’d see an Associate (horrible word I know!) walking in the correct pathway, he’d then look over his shoulder, see me, and then promptly step out in front, causing me either to swerve or to brake sharply. The Logistics staff used to call it ‘Green Shirt Syndrome.’ I can only put it down to too many no win no fee claim ads on TV… Though I think part of the problem was that they were employees whilst we were only contractors.

But I digress…

Lode Lane Land Rovers

The grass is greener…

We also had a good few ex-Cowley and Longbridge staff there. They worked for Land Rover (and one on the Logistics side) but didn’t seem to have quite the same work ethic as the others. I’ve been regaled with stories about how everything was much better at Longbridge, about borrowing production cars to nip down the shops, roasting turkeys in the furnaces at Christmas and, above all, the necessity of having regular breaks. A little too regular with hindsight.

I can’t help but think when Lode Lane is gone, they’ll be talking about how everything was great there… but I suppose that’s human nature for you. Another good thing about the place was the overtime. I’d do 2¾ hours overtime everyday, 12 hours Saturday, and 12 hours Sunday.

This wasn’t as arduous as it seems. True to the spirit of cutting corners, the Team Leader (my ex-workmate) and I would come in, make sure there were enough parts on the track to keep it going, then disappear to the pub for several hours…. then come back, replenish as needed then head back out again. However, all this stopped with the takeover by Tata Motors.

Times are a-changing

Production was slashed, overtime was now non-existent and another company bought out the logistics contract. This didn’t make any difference apart from having a new uniform to wear and the HR Department being replaced. This struck fear into the hearts of a lot of the staff who had previously been on an easy ride as regards lateness etc. However, none of that really bothered me, as I was a temp and therefore outside the normal rules – I continued to wear my acquired Land Rover uniform and work as normal.

A few words about my Manager: he was ex-Longbridge and had, in fact, been the Paint Shop Manager. Totally by the book and straight-down-the-line? I can’t really say anything bad about him although, for some odd reason, he loved caravans. My Supervisor was much the same and even shared my Manager’s deep and abiding love of caravans… He ran a 1997 TDi Discovery to tow his disintegrating heap from site to site and was forever complaining that it cost too much to run….

I asked one of the Team Leaders about this and he said that, as the Supervisor worked at Land Rover, he thought should DRIVE a Land Rover. I poured scorn on that until… I bought a Discovery! Suffice to say, my Disco departed this vale of tears after six months of being thrashed, crashed, hammered up mountains, driven through rivers and being just about bent in every way imaginable.

And do I regret it?

Hell no…. I had fun in that thing!

Anyway, on with the story. Times had changed at Land Rover and we had 300 staff depart for Castle Bromwich to support the Jaguar XF build, which came as a surprise to the Lode Lane staff as we mostly viewed the XF as being a Mondeo in a pretty frock and a complete white elephant – much the same as the X-Type before. I suppose if you spend your day around the things you get somewhat blasé.

On the whole, though, I’m glad I took the chance to work there, even if it was such a lowly job (and it was!) and my commute involved a 50 mile a day round trip. I always wanted to work there and I’m oddly proud that I did…

Tom Yarnall
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  1. I have heard many anecdotes about ‘work’ at Lode Lane over the years. When the then new Solihull plant was building SD1s, an expat friend was heading home and decided to take a new Rover 3500 with him. He was invited to see the plant and recalls a worker asleep in the rear of one of the big hatchbacks as it inched along the trim line. Despite that, he had a good run with the car over many years.

  2. Another fascinating insight thanks. Sad to hear of the lax and pigheaded attitude amongst some of the shopfloor staff though, I thought that had disappeared in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

  3. Interesting to hear the ‘some thought they owned the place, and some thought they should own the place’ attitude.

    I started at Rover Group in 1993. To me it was one company making different vehicles across different factories.

    But one thing I noted, as an outsider at that point, was that Land Rover people seemed to be anti the rest of the company. There was an alloofness that they made all the profit, and the rest of the company drained it all away.

    What I saw was a company producing high end 4×4 vehicles that didn’t have a great reputation for reliability, had high warranty claims that probably drained away their own profits, and horrendous levels of end of line reworks – half finished WIP vehicles filling up the site ahead of extensive weekend overtime.

    But despite all that, there was this unbreakable Land Rover pride, and people seemed to keep buying the vehicles despite all the issues they might then have with them.
    Someone told me some time later that Land Rover staff were bitter that they lost profit share bonuses when the company was merged with the rest of the business, and that that bitter attitude was passed down to newer staff.

    That was all nearly 30 years ago now, and much has probably changed. Certainly there was an improvement in general build quality through the Ford era, with the T5 vehicle programes and beyond.

    Land Rover really has been what has been keeping JLR afloat for the last 20 years, with lucrative profitable products. If Ford hadn’t merged it with Jaguar, you have to question whether Jaguar would actually have survived as long as it has.

    But for all LR staff moaning back in the day as part of the old Rover Group, the employee car parks were full of Rover cars, at each of the company sites, including Lode Lane.
    The same cannot be said for Jag cars now, who seem to struggle to shift product to anyone, let alone employees…….

  4. I was fortunate to be took on a Land Rover Defender tour just before the production ended in 2015. The tales of the workforce being militant, argumentative and outright thieves were horrendous. I relayed this to my motortrade boss and he told me dreadful tales of SD1 and Rover V8 sabotage (he sold them from new until the end). The thing is, the build quality emulating from Solihull has been shite since the ’70s and remains so to this day. Disco 5 quality was significantly improved when production was shifted to Slovakia. Even the Disco 4, in build from 2004 to 2016 was badly assembled until the end. The brand carries a premium but that’s bound to end imminently. If you must buy a Jaguar or Land Rover, go for one coming from anywhere other than Solihull. Oh and for the doubters, there’s a Disco sat on my drive right now as I’ve not been without a LR product the last 20 years.

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