I was there : My first visit to Longbridge

In 1985, in my early twenties, I moved to a job at Cowley Body Engineering. I had completed an apprenticeship in heavy engineering – the mining industry, no less. I was thus quite streetwise, but I looked about 16 years old!

One of my first trips out of the office was to Longbridge. In the days before the M40, this was a long way, taking more than two hours. It was a long way from Cowley culturally, too – all the plants were different, but that’s another story. The length of journey was not helped by my ‘chaperone’ for the day.

John C went to Longbridge a lot, but he took a different route every time, taking in many places of interest along the way. We arrived just in time for lunch, then spent an hour or so in the Delamuir building investigating water leaks on Rover 200 with Bob Aston, one of the quality guys, who was a friendly and helpful man.

Time for the return tour back to Cowley!

Into the lion’s den

Austin Maestro

For my second visit a few weeks later, I was with a new starter who looked even younger than me! We set off in our 1300 base Austin Maestro fleet car – the Cotswolds route, I think!

We were both in office attire: smart jacket, shirt and tie, probably clipboards… our destination CAB 1 and CAB 2. After suitably hammering the Maestro, we arrived at Q Gate and parked-up late morning.

Entering CAB 1 it was a magical sight, Minis and gliding down the first of the elevated tracks, it all looked effortless, like they had been doing it for 30 years! The other two systems were Austin Metro (top of the page). Three production lines at 35 cars per hour. A hundred cars an hour, this place was hectic! People everywhere, the place was a tip, quite a chaotic atmosphere.

A sound sensation!

Then we noticed the noise, music blaring out – ever changing as you walked along the huge building. We noticed a noise that seemed to follow us! It was an alarm call from the people on the track. We had been spotted!

We were looking for Metro door assembly, we walked up onto the elevated track to find the Supervisor of the area. Our presence immediately attracted attention, one of the guys grabbed my hand and walked with me to his workmates great amusement and shouting.

Once we introduced ourselves to the Supervisor things calmed down a little… but not much!

We completed our task and went into CAB 2 next door.

From CAB 1 to CAB 2…

CAB 2 had recently started production of Rover 200 (SD3). No elevated tracks here, and it did seem more calm. The jungle drums started as soon as we got in!

I was investigating slow window operation, and quickly found the Supervisor. The people on door build (doors on build) were quite helpful and keen to tell us what they knew – still amused with our office attire though! This different attitude was probably due to these workers being carefully selected for the new model – this happened all the time, these were the best people they had.

I had to point out to the Supervisor that the glazing seals were actually handed! The glass sat towards the outside of the channel and the seal had been designed accordingly. The Operators were fitting any seal to any door. The process sheets were wrong.

Rover 213 (1984)

The track would stop and start – again 35 per hour. The track stopped at one stage, they carried on working ‘working back’, but I did notice them looking at me! In line with my head was a big red stop button, above this was a flashing red light!

I sort of moved away from the button. The Supervisor storms over. ‘Who the f*** are you?’ he boomed. I looked away innocently, the guys just laughed and didn’t let on it was me that had caused the disruption.

Back in the Maestro and the Banbury route back…

Lots of memories of Longbridge – a vast place, Issigonis’ workshop was still there near the General office block when I first visited. I also remember the families of cats that lived on the path up the hill between the Methods Bay and the Elephant House!

Happy days!

Top photo: Stuart Collins

If you were at the coalface and have a tale to share, please do get in touch!


    • Very interesting read. I’m sure these were Halcyon Days in hindsight. Hard to think it was nearly 30 years ago.

        • How about 66 years ago? Wanting to do some sort of apprenticeship in the car industry, in the early summer of 1956, about to finish school, I wrote to both BMC and Rootes to ask about their post-secondary-school apprenticeship schemes. BMC came first and I travelled down by train from Edinburgh, stayed overnight in a cut-rate hotel on Bristol Street in Birmingham, and got the bus out to Longbridge. Was given a quick tour of the shop assembling Nash Metropolitans then went for an interview with Mr Stan Yeal, the apprentice supervisor. Very pleasant person and the interview went well, but he stipulated that acceptance would depend on my school leaving certificate — exams over but results not yet available — including passes in both Higher Science and Higher Maths. (“Highers” were the Scottish equivalent of English “A Levels”). Not too sure about a pass in maths (I’d had a Morgan trike since I turned 16 and schoolwork had suffered — need I say more) I hedged my bets and a couple of weeks later took the overnight bus down to London for an interview — actually two interviews — at Rootes Devonshire House HQ. No exam result stipulations there and a couple of weeks later a letter of acceptance from Rootes. And around the same time Highers results were posted — passed Science but failed Maths — so the die was set. Off I went in September to Rootes in Coventry. The three-year “pupil” programme in which I was enrolled provided excellent training and subsequent career opportunity, so I never regretted it. And I worked hard at maths and eventually got an HNC. But I’d grown up in an “Austin” family so there was always that tinge of regret that I never made it back to Longbridge.

  1. I remember visiting Gaydon about 1986, I drove up from Pontypool as an overtime job after hours to urgently deliver a Maestro or Montego duplex (brake servo and master cylinder). I drove up in a Y reg Maestro, a total dog box with the rattly 2-piece dash. I spent the first 10 miles wedging things into the cracks in the dash to stop it rattling, everything from a 10p coin to a folded wedge of scrap paper. When I got there I was met by the AR engineer in his MG Maestro. At that time Jaguar and Rover were developing the XJ40 and XX respectively; as the ranges overlapped, I wondered whether the engineers knew what their “oppos” were doing. I saw that the two teams used opposed ends of a single large workshop area!
    I have never driven on the test track area, but in 1997 I got an interview for a brake development engineer position. At the end of the interview, they asked the standard question, “do you have any questions?” I said yes, were they interested in employing me – I had to know quickly as I was already holding an offer? The interview panel all looked like they had been connected to mains electricity, I don’t think they were expecting such a response. They made me an offer, but the salary was no higher than at their supplier. I went for the Birmingham job because I could get there by train if I had car trouble – that was not possible at Gaydon. I think I made the right choice.

    • I remember those XJ40s driving around in full camo. When they finally took the camo off the bonnet wasn’t stiff enough, they had to do a load of late mods to stop it vibrating! We knew exactly what they were doing because our Swindon office did the body engineering!

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