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
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.
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!
Top photo: Stuart Collins
If you were at the coalface and have a tale to share, please do get in touch!