Archive : Interview – Bernard Jackman

Expanding With Tradition

Philip Turner quizzes Rover-Triumph boss Bernard Jackman, the one time planning engineer who came back as production director and is now managing director.

Bernard Jackman
Bernard Jackman

One of the most treasured possessions of Rover-Triumph managing director Bernard Jackman is a photograph of the first four wheel Rover car being assembled in a Coventry Parkside backyard in 1904. The two seater body is already finished and propped against a convenient wall but two men are still working on the chassis. At the front of the car a fiery looking individual in his shirtsleeves and waistcoat spanned by a massive watch chain is bending down fiddling about with the front axle.

‘I can just imagine him getting there and saying for God’s sake haven’t you got that damned chassis ready yet. I’ve finished the body.’

Bernard Jackman should know, for that fiery individual was his father.

The Jackman’s had been watchmakers in Coventry since about 1750 and Mr Jackman senior had been apprenticed in 1892 to his grandfather as a clockmaker. But as soon as Jackman senior finished his seven year apprenticeship, he left clockmaking to join a firm called Hawkins and Peake in Bishop Street, Coventry who were coachbuilders to the horseless carriages. In 1903 Hawkins and Peake were acquired by Rover and became the Rover body division so that Jackman senior, who by then was foreman of the coachbuilding business, became head of the new Rover body division.

Bernard Jackman was born in 1914. His earliest Rover memories are of sitting in front of his mother in a sidecar propelled alongside a Rover motorcycle, but in 1922 the family acquired their first car, an air cooled two cylinder Rover 8, in which Bernard froze in the dickey seat. Later the family had a long succession of more conventional Rover’s from the Nine upwards. Despite this motoring background, when Bernard left school he was destined for university and training as a dentist. That was in 1931, however, when Rover fortunes were at a very low ebb after a period when the company tried a lot of new ideas and nearly went bust. In fact the company was largely saved only by Joseph Lucas and Glikstens the timber people not pressing for payment due, thereby helping Rover to ride through a bad period.

In the upheaval that followed the arrival of Howe Graham and Chris Peyton – firm of auditors to try and rescue the company, Jackman senior was one of the few members of the old management team to survive. He was also believed to be the only Rover man who refused to take a ten per cent cut in his salary at the time. So determined about this was he that the Jackman family had their bags ready packed to go to Australia about 1932. However, Father remained in charge of the body department, and was able to persuade the new management to abandon the cheap fabric covered Weymann bodies they had been building and to return to better quality with a coachbuilt body and later to a steel body. Together with Spencer Wilks, Maurice Wilks, Geoffrey Savage and the others who came to Rover from Hillman, Jackman senior played his part in restoring the splendid Rover image for quality which the company had enjoyed ever since its pre-war Twelve and its top quality bicycles and motorcycles.

All this Rover drama meant that when Bernard Jackman left school there was no money to pay for him to go to university to train as a dentist. So he went as an apprentice to GEC in Coventry on telephones and radio, staying for another year in the power drawing office after completing his apprenticeship. His first connection with the motor industry came when he joined Wilmot Breedon in 1937 as a technical sales engineer and at the end of two years he was running the technical sale department. Early in 1939 Rover’s chief planning engineer at that time, Olaf Poppe, invited him to join Rover as assistant planning engineer.

Bernard Jackman had some misgivings because his father was works manager at the time and he didn’t feel he ought to be in the same place as the old man. However, it worked out all right, and the job gave him his first insight into time study and manufacturing processes, subjects that were to fascinate him for many years to come. He was involved in the big change over to the wartime production of aero engines, airframes and other war material. When Poppe was moved up to Yorkshire to help the Whittle gas turbine through its birth pangs, Jackman took over took over as chief planning engineer in charge of all the Coventry works activities which excluded the shadow factories engaged on Bristol aero engines.

By 1943 Jackman felt he would like to see the other side of things and volunteered for REME, but was promptly stopped from so doing by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, who instead sent him to the Perfecta company to sort out of the mess they were making of producing cockpit canopies and bullet proof windscreens for 14 different types of aircraft.

He spent four years there, and when the war ended he helped to get the company back to its pre-war business of making car windscreens, body mouldings and other hardware. In 1947 he was invited to join the British Heat Resisting Glass Co. at Bilston as works director. During the eight years he spent there he expanded the company range from Phoenix ovenware to industrial glassware, including the big glass envelopes used for cathode ray tubes and mercury arc rectifier bulbs.

In 1956 he was offered of executive director and general manager of the Lockheed brake company at Automotive Products in Leamington, which brought him back into the motor industry. In most previous jobs he had been pitch-forked straight in, but Automotive Products were much more intelligent and he had six months looking at the whole activity before taking over as executive officer in charge of the brake company. Some very happy years followed.

In late 1963 Rover’s director and general manager, A.B. Smith, asked Bernard Jackman to come and talk about ‘breaks’. Wondering slightly about the spelling, Jackman drove to Solihull, and was offered the job of Rover production director. Jackman accepted.
‘From that moment on, I’ve been Rover hook, line and sinker. At least until the last two years when I’ve had to get used to being Rover-Triumph and not just Rover.

I am essentially a sort of fabricator and painter and trimmer. I am not a machining man at all. I don’t know all that much about engines and gearboxes and axles. But I think I do know what in the complete car appeals to the customer, and I have an eye for a good line. I inherited this from my father. I still have all his draughting instruments and tools-he had a magnificent set of equipment considering that most of it dates from the 1890’s. I suppose to some extent I have inherited from him my liking for cars and my ability to know what is a good style and what will appeal to the public. I am not as good at it as was Peter Wilks, who was quite brilliant in knowing what the market wanted.’

The Rover 2000 was already in production, somewhat haltingly, when Jackman went to Solihull in 1963 as production director.
‘I think it really went into production a year to soon. Certainly a lot of the body tooling wasn’t right and we were having to compromise. I think we were rather provoked into putting it into production in 1963 because the Triumph 2000 was appearing at the same time and there was this competitive pressure. Most people felt that we were a bit premature and we rushed it. Production was running at about 200 to 250 a week when I came here and had to be held at that level in order to get the vehicle right. Once it was right I had to engineer a very rapid increase in production, up to 600-650 a week by about 1965 on a single shift. Then Bill Martin-Hurst did the V8 engine deal and when we put that into the 2000 it increased the potential of the vehicle very considerably.

We went on to two shifts and production went up to 800-850 a week. So the £11.5 million invested at the time in the project has certainly paid off. It amazes me now to think that one could ever have done the new engine and gearbox and all the plant for the car assembly and finishing including the new buildings all for a mere £11.5 million.’

Bernard Jackman was responsible for putting the V8 engine into production.

‘It was one of the smoothest jobs we ever had, for it was a brilliantly designed engine from a manufacturing point of view. Its assembly costs are much less than for the four cylinder engine, and its material costs are not very much more. It was a bit of a squeeze to get the V8 into the 2000 frame, but because it was wide and short we could just do it, with a few modifications to the panels and a few bulges here and there in the underskin. It was really a stroke of genius on Martin-Hurst’s part to think of it. ‘
High quality is a constant pre-occupation in the building of Rover’s. Bernard Jackman says his time at Lockheed’s really crystallised his own philosophy on quality, namely that one must not let anything go out of the plant that is any way substandard. At Lockheed, quality was paramount because of the type of equipment they produce.

‘There was a tendency at one time for production and manufacturing considerations at Rover to override quality and things that we would stop going out now used to get out, but we have really clamped down on that over the past few years and stopped it.
We get rogue cars going out of course, everyone does, but we have a good reputation for quality. In fact, only this morning a high ranking army officer told me they regard army Land-Rovers as the acme of quality of British military vehicle manufacture. I find this rather touching. But we are not home and dry on this quality thing by any means. It is a constant battle, and rightly so for otherwise people get complacent and standards start to slip.

Quality and design are a completely integrated thing. If you have a poor design, no matter what you do on the line or how good your facilities are you will still turn out a poor product. It is not possible for fellows on the assembly line to make good the deficiencies of bad design. In the Rover organisation as a whole quality therefore begins in engineering. They do try very hard to give us the ability to produce a satisfactory job, and the facilities people try to make it almost impossible for an operator to do a job incorrectly. And in all our machining areas we build a lot of monitoring equipment into the plant that switches it off if things aren’t dimensionally correct. ‘

Talking of the future of Rover-Triumph, Mr Jackman said they had an enormous expansion programme over the next four years. They would be spending something like £200 million on Rover-Triumph, around ££50 million a year.

‘By 1978 we are due to be producing about 470,000 vehicles a year, compared with around 230,000 we built in 1973. If the present industrial crisis goes on for some time, obviously we”ll have to stretch our capital spending over six years instead of four to four and a half years because the money won’t be there in the quantity I have been talking about. But expand we shall. I am determined that when another upturn in sales comes in a years or two’s time when Britain should be in a much better position than we are now for energy we shall not at that time be caught without an outstanding range of models to sell, or without the means to build them in quantity. We are very flattered at Rover-Triumph that the British Leyland Corporation have the confidence in us to invest this amount of money. Certainly they have given us a far bigger share of the total cake than I dared hoped for a couple of years ago.’

At present Rover-Triumph have something like 14 plants in different locations which involves a lot of transport. But on the other hand the smaller plants are pretty efficient because the manager concerned can impress his personality on the labour force which is only 300-500 strong. At Solihull when the new plant comes into operation the total manufacturing complex will employ around 10000-10500.

Solihull was the only plant in Rover-Triumph where there was sufficient land to put the new million square feet assembly complex.
‘It is wonderful to begin in a green field site with a new assembly plant and a new paint shop, and we are determined it is going to be the best for our size of output. When the new plant comes into operation, we shall stop making cars in the north factory and move to these Range Rover assembly and some Land-Rover operations which will give us the elbow room to put up Land-Rover and Range Rover production very considerably.’

Other future plans include a new Rover-Triumph engineering centre. At present the engineers are split between the Rover plant at Solihull and the Triumph plant at Coventry but some time within the next three years it is hoped to build a common engineering centre away from the manufacturing plants so that the people concentrating on future models are not continually interrupted by production problems on current models. Ideally the new centre should have its own test track, even though only a short one with pave and other surfaces, rather than a high speed circuit.

At present the Rover-Triumph sales organisation is concentrated at Coventry under sales director John Carpenter and most of the planning departments are at Solihull.

‘But in the long term I want to get the top admin, the functional directors and people of this sort all here at Solihull, either in this block or in one we may have to build. ‘

At present, Bernard Jackman spends three days a week at Solihull and two at Coventry ‘which isn’t a very tidy arrangement.’

He arrives at his office at about ten to eight and leaves at about six thirty, chiefly because it is so much easier at these times driving to and from his house at Wellesbourne, near Stratford-upon-Avon. He is driving a Triumph Dolomite Sprint, his Rover 3.5 coupe being cocooned at the moment as it is to heavy on petrol.

‘The Dolomite Sprint I find a fascinating car. In overdrive at 50 mph I am doing over 40 mpg. It is a delightful car to handle. I am not at all sure that I shall go back to a big Rover. Well, I shall have to, I suppose, otherwise I shall be accused of disloyalty, but the Sprint is a very delightful vehicle and I like it a lot.’

Mr Jackman also owns a 1903 Phoenix Minerva tricar which he first took on the Brighton run in 1946. He has taken part in 16 altogether, with the three wheeler, arriving at the finish about 12 times. He has also done intervening runs on a tiller steered 1903 Oldsmobile, a 1904 Darracq (rather like Genevieve) and a 1904 Rover belonging to Bill Grosse of Northampton.

In years gone by he competed in the occasional Tulip Rally and also played cricket until about 10 years ago, but now he concentrates on shooting and fishing.

Talking of the current crisis, Mr Jackman said Rover-Triumph looked like having a difficult year. He did not see how anyone could make money out of a three day week, but even without this crisis, the immense sums now being spent on expansion would have an effect on profit figures.

‘But if we can get our new models out despite the energy crisis and the fuel economy drive we are really sitting on a pot of gold. We have got the right range of models in Rover-Triumph, the best range in any sector of the corporation. Austin Morris have much bigger outputs, but they cannot command the profit margins on their low priced cars that we can on a more specialist grade of car.

The opportunities are there if only I can persuade everybody, particularly those on the shop floor, that it is right and proper to stay at work. I see it as my job to make sure that there is no failure in communications. Product policy for the future, the vehicles you design and the associated problems are relatively easy to control for you are dealing with inanimate things, but people are a totally different subject. They are unpredictable. But I think the important thing is confidence. Everybody has got to feel that they are being told the truth, that they are not being conned and there is no ulterior motive. If I can’t succeed with that sort of philosophy then I don’t think anybody else can.’

Keith Adams

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