by Gar Cole
The date was Saturday 20th April, just 1 week before our first tour of the year and officially declared the hottest Easter Saturday on record. My spirits soared as I gave the Moggy a wash in the sunshine with the anticipation of more good weather to follow, and to be fair the following Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning were beautiful.
Then Storm Hannah decided to pay us a visit; I watched in almost disbelief as this monster headed right for the south coast of Wales and our tour destination predicted to hit it's peak on Friday evening.
Several of our regulars and a few locals wisely pulled out of the tour and I must confess I almost pulled the plug on the whole event. Spectactular as the scenery is, it's not much to look at in heavy rain and mist and those roads can be dangerous.
However the spirit of the weekend was revived by Brian, our 76 year-old Yorkshire sage who resides in Ireland with the following profound quote "I've paid fer them there ferry tickets and I'm going no matter what".
How could we ignore a call to battle like that? So I packed up the caravan with supplies in howling wind and rain on Thursday evening much to the amusement of neighbours; "Should have gone last week Gar, it was beautiful over Easter" they hollered. I don't think my muttered reply was very 'Christian'.
The drive down on Friday was interesting to say the least. After meeting up at the services with Ian 'Windy' Woodward and his son Jonathan 'Breezy' Woodward, we enjoyed a bucket-sized cup of Costa Coffee and I admired Ian's Zephyr and the matching caravan which looks great with the burgundy stripe and matching chrome script down the sides.
Once on the road however despite stabilizers both our caravans started swinging back and forth reminiscent of 2 fat bottoms in a hula hoop competition. Safety dictated a slow-down to 40 mph in places, which made us popular with other motorway users but thankfully after braving wind, the heads of the valleys roads and steep climbs we arrived on site some 3 hours later ( even if Ian overshot the entrance ) 😉
We were relieved to see the pitches were on a rock hard standing and not grass and quickly set about getting the caravans pitched, electric connected etc. The 3 of us then attempted to put the group Coleman shelter up, not easy in wind but we managed and took no chances, all 4 legs had 4 heavy duty pegs in them and extra guide ropes. We filled it with chairs, tables, lights and the all-important cooking stoves while cautiously watching the approaching black clouds and increasingly ominous whistling winds (and that was just the Woodward boys).
One of the things I most enjoy on our tours is cooking a basic evening supper for everyone, and one by one the weary travellers arrived:
These sensible folks had all booked hotels. Despite the shelter starting to flap a bit and the rain coming down fairly heavily we all remained dry inside enjoying home cooked choice of sausage n chicken cassoulet or sweet n sour chicken, followed by apple crumble n custard or chocolate brownies for desert. We're not exactly the Rolling Stones and after a few drinks we all retired to our abodes around 10pm to warm up and get a good nights sleep.
After a very rocky night for those of us on the campsite we awoke to a much calmer morning. The Coleman had survived the night with just a few guide ropes pulled out the ground. There was still a few hours to go before the tour started, so the smell of bacon cooking soon filled the air from several caravans.
At this point were were joined by the 'day trippers' - Mark Wilson and his father Keith in a stunning V12 E type Roadster and Phil Gunn and wife in a lovely mint green Triumph Stag. Printed directions handed out, I jumped in the Zephyr to be lead car with one walkie talkie and gave the other to Mike Peake who had unexpectedly turned up in his modern after originally saying he couldn't make it (he can't keep away really), so Mike was in Eric's Rover and I asked them to be last car so we could keep an eye on our convoy, but as with all the best laid plans they quickly go 'udders up'; the Zephyr pulled in for fuel within the first mile with us expecting the convoy to follow when they all sailed by one by one. So much for being the lead car! 😄.
I had picked Grawen campsite for its proximity to the National Park and within 5 minutes of leaving camp we were greeted with scenery that had us passengers taking shots out of the windows; the cultivated arable fields quickly giving way to much steeper wooded forests and narrower lanes with a canopy of trees giving that eerie dappled light.
Passing through several small hamlets with just a dozen or so houses, one shop and a pub we pushed on towards Sennybridge and the town of Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales' smallest town and home to the Heart of Wales micro brewery.
This award-winning stop was first on our list and was planned for group member Andy Perman (who likes his rare ales) but sadly couldn't make the trip due to oil seal failure on his Allegro driveshaft. We managed to catch up with the convoy as we arrived in the town and promptly parked (I suspect illegally) in front of the local fire station, ahem, but passing locals didn't seem to mind - it's the sort of small town where a cat stuck in a tree makes the local front page, so we created a bit of a stir.
The brewery proved harder to find than first thought with the satnav taking us to a car park behind some shops??? Turning on my best smile and trying not to frighten her, I accosted a local lady for directions to the elusive watering hole.
Lo and behold - it turns out the brewery is located inside the charmingly olde worlde 'Neuadd Arms Hotel'. Well it would have been rude not to go inside and sample what was on offer, however a few of the ladies had food on their minds and disappeared to a local shop only to return armed with bags of cakes, doughnuts and other assorted goodies.
We were so impressed with what they were munching that we all vowed to also join slimming world once we were home on Monday.
The Neuadd Arms is one of those places that almost hugs you as you enter, charming if slightly worn wooden bars and stairways, friendly collie dogs wandering around, soft leather sofas in front of huge open fires with logs cracking inside. Having been a hotel since the 1780s it has some amazing memorabilia on the walls and frame after frame of locals who had won the local 'Bog snorkelling ' championship (I kid you not ).
Now here's where fate intervened; the landlord had heard from a local that Nick's Jensen had just parked outside. By remarkable coincidence the landlord owned a Jensen CV8 and he and his wife welcomed us all with open arms.
Nick works for Everards brewery so he knows a good ale or 2. We were surprised at the strength of the brews on offer with most averaging at 6.5% with the toe curlers rated over 10%. Naturally we all sampled various brews (including me who doesn't drink at all), but their Brecon gold cider was beautiful and potent at 6.4%.
Nick pronounced it a good and balanced beer and everyone enjoyed their drinks except Ian Woodward who had a cup of tea in a china cup (because he's a big girls blouse). We had expected to maybe just see a small counter selling beers but our man Nick talked the owner into giving us a full tour of the micro brewery. It turns out to be located in a converted barn in the rear garden of the hotel with three holiday chalets above on the second floor. He proceeded to give us a very thorough and interesting talk on the brewing process; he didn't even flinch (much) when Jo our resident lawyer started questioning him on how he declared the tax on each batch ( can't take em anywhere 😂 )
Bidding our new friends farewell and dragging Nick and Jo out as they were tempted to forego the tour in order to stay and continue sampling what the Neuadd Arms had to offer, back on the road the satnav was programmed to take us to Lynn Brianne Dam via the infamous Devils Staircase road, which was voted one of the top 5 best driving roads in the UK. It's also in the top 5 most dangerous roads.
The satnav displayed lone unnamed roads with ominous warnings that they were not suitable for larger vehicles or caravans (yikes Scooby, let's turn back!). After taking the lead in the Zephyr the scenery increased in beauty at the same rate as the roads became more challenging. As we approached the tiny hamlet of Abergwesyn we were on single track roads with few passing places.
Large areas of the forest had been felled by the Forestry Commission but lots of trees had been upended by yesterday's storm Hannah. We gingerly avoided large puddles and fallen branches as we increased in height through a deep valley with breathtaking views, so good in fact we stopped and jumped out for photos. Braving the winds and steep cliff edges just a few feet from the roads edges, our convoy stopped for 15 minutes and we never saw another car approach in either direction. It felt very remote and being a city boy I loved it - no sign of other humans anywhere except our convoy. I even braved climbing a rocky outcrop to get good photos but soon discovered I'm no mountain goat after slipping twice.
Reluctantly we left this mountain that so resembled something out of a Tolkien novel. Soon we saw the signs for the descent I'd warned everyone about, "25% use first gear' it warned us. All the cars performed brilliantly down this twisting steep mountain road with no crash barriers and in places drops of over 100ft. Congrats to all the drivers for keeping a cool head; the road levelled out in the bottom of yet another picturesque valley, however in 3 places this one crossed the river we had been driving alongside.
The little bridges were barely above the water level normally, but following last night's storms they were in full flood with just the posts and metal pipes marking out the actual roadway over the bridge. Being the big kids we are we stopped and primed cameras and dashcams ready to record. The first one wasnt too daunting with maybe just over 4 inches of water flooding over the bridge deck.
We splashed through like extras from Jurassic Park, all cars through we made our way to the next one and promptly halted. The second crossing looked very foreboding and considerably deeper, much less of the bridge side markers were visible and nervous swearing could be heard muttering from the open windows of the cars. A modern 'soft roader' approaching from the other direction paused for several minutes before the driver braved the crossing. We estimated from the vehicles submerged wheels that it was at least a foot deep this time 😮
Feeling less cocky this time, we led the intrepid convoy through the water with it splashing up the sides of the doors in quite spectacular fashion. Things got very windy inside the Woodward vehicle but we made it through, rounded a corner and eyeballed crossing number 3.
This looked even deeper than the previous one; the water was flowing at a faster rate plus once you had made it across, the road almost immediately started the 25% opposite climb to the earlier descent. Having forewarned Ian the slope carried on for nearly a mile I told him to not lift off. Naturally Ian's a very good driver and the Zephyr was in first gear, flat out pulling 3 fat blokes up a 25% incline at 8 mph. Several minutes later we levelled out on the summit and stopped to see if everyone had made it.
We noticed at this point that 4 cars were missing including Brian's Triumph which Mike had jumped into and was acting as rear car. We had zero phone signal, so I grabbed the walkie talkie and tried to reach Mike 'come in fat bloke, everything ok at the back of the convoy?'. Eric who was standing by me then says in his gentle Scottish tone 'are ye tryin to reach Mike on that thing?' Yes I nodded, 'aye well you see, the thing is Mike is in Brian's car but he's left the walkie talkie in mine'. "#$£¥*&£#****!" clean translation "Oh bless my soul that's unfortunate").
As we pondered going back on a rescue mission Jo emerged from the Jensen with delicious goodies she had made and brought along. Nick informed us that much munching had been going on and the Jensen was basically a '7.2 litre mobile picnic'.
Luckily the missing 4 cars heroically arrived at the summit, despite making it through the last flood both the Ital and Triumph saloon couldn't make it up the mountain at first with clutch slip. We surmised some river water must have gotten into the clutch covers during the crossing. Happily after around 10 minutes of drying out in the increasingly warm sunshine all cars were fit to proceed as we hunted down the elusive dam - hey it's only 220ft of concrete wall so how hard could it be to find?
The unknown road that the satnav said it was on announced we had arrived but we saw nothing but forested hillsides full of beautiful bluebells and the odd sheep. Pleasant as this road was after 4 miles of nothing I declared we had missed it and ordered a full turnaround when I spotted a sign for Lynn Brianne back in the direction we had come - no indication of how far it was but we all managed to turn around one of those tiny triangle junctions you get in the country.
Not wanting to take any chances I spotted a pair of local ladies walking along the road and asked Ian to pull over. They appeared to be mother and daughter and may have felt slightly unnerved at a bunch of blokes in old cars pulling up beside them, so I adorned my best cheesy smile and asked the mom for directions.
The daughter was a very attractive country type in black jodhpur-style tight shorts and boots,. Just as I was about to take in the directions from the mother, Ian and Jonathan turned into Benny Hill and Frankie Howard 'phwoarrr look at that, oww stop it, corr Matron, get a photo quick'. It's not easy trying to listen to directions, not laugh and ignore the innuendo coming into my right ear all at once but somehow I managed while biting my lip. Directions got, we pulled away as I filled the car with language that shocked even Ian, before myself succumbing to childish laughter. I made the situation worse by saying she had 'paid £3 for those shorts but was chewing £1.50 worth with her bottom'. Ian's face turned red with laughter and I did fear for a second we were going over the cliff.
Fortunately Mike now was in possession of the second walkie talkie but unfortunately messaged me the following ' come in Fat Controller, we have a puncture and need assistance'. The Zephyr headed back to help as the rest carried on to the Dam. Breezy Woodward soon had the tyre swapped and we made the final trip to the Dam.
Iin our defence the tiny road leading to it has no sign posts and you can't see the Dam from the road. Once arrived we parked in line in the Dam car park and enjoyed the magnificent views while the wind nearly tore our eyebrows off, but we had made it through some very challenging terrain and it felt really good.
It was at this point the day trippers went their separate ways. The journey back to Merthyr passed without incident except for the rear tyre shredding itself in spectacular fashion on Darren's Ital. Luckily being in convoy a few folk stopped and we were on our way again within 15 mins.
A fabulous days driving and a big thank you to everyone who braved the forecast to join us. Afterwards we headed for a Chinese buffet and a few drinks to round off the day.
Normally I'd end the blog there as on Sunday we just visited the Brecon mountain railway, however while we were there another driving group arrived and turned the car park into an impromptu and quite impressive car show; it was a real bonus with lots of ooohs, ahhhs and misty-eyed looks.
Bring on the next tour in the Cotswold Hills on Whitsun weekend 😀
by Gar Cole
A short 2 minute ride on the minibus didn't give us much time to reflect on what we had just witnessed on the 'Spitfires' part of the tour, especially as Andy our tour guide kept pointing things out on the ride. "On your left is the plants own fire station, on your right is the cobblestone test track putting 2 XFs through their paces" etc.
We pulled up at a large shiny new building, the plants new press shop. We disembarked the minibus and followed Andy inside where we received ear plugs and a stern warning to stay within the yellow pedestrian walkways. Andy drily pointed out if something looks shiny in a press shop that means it's sharp, so don't touch!
The press shop represents a 100 million pound investment by parent group 'Tata' to future-proof the assembly plant; compare that for 1 building in 2016 to the 4 million the entire complex cost to build in 1938.
We rounded the first series of walkways to be greeted by the biggest reel of aluminium you ever did see. These are delivered to the plant from the supplier in Germany. In fact the majority of machinery and the presses themselves are built by German companies such as Schuler. Andy pointed out that during the war Allied bombers had heavily damaged Schuler's factories. When you consider what we had just seen below ground it shows the utter futility of war and hopefully it will never happen again.
Once the reels are delivered they are given 48 hrs to adjust to the ambient temperature of the building before passing through a series of rollers that straighten the sheet out and stop it recoiling into a roll.
The building houses 13 individual presses and 16 robots, the dies for pressing the panels can be changed around relatively quickly, making parts for the XK, XF, XJ and F type. It also presses parts for the Discovery and F pace that are built at Solihull.
Now these dies are enormous, 10ft by 6ft, ranging in weight from 18,000 KGs to 42,000 KGs. They are manoeuvred by huge ceiling-mounted cranes that use chains that look like they belong to the QE2 Ocean liner. One passed over our heads as we stood in the walkway; despite it being about 10ft in the air we all instinctively made a little duck as it passed over - large machinery has a habit of making you feel very small and vulnerable.
We made our way down another narrow walkway with the ground vibrating from the heavy machinery until we came across 'the Cathedral', the huge 30ft high, 5-stage central press. The scale of these moving parts is quite awe-inspiring and with my ear plugs firmly in, my imagination fired up with sound of Sergei Prokofiev's masterpiece 'Dance of the Knights '.
These 5 presses mounted in one large Cathedral press the same panel 5 times - first with lower pressure to cut and give the basic shape, then with gradually increasing pressure as it moves from press to press that forms more and more sharper edges and detailing without splitting the metal in one big punch.
These are ultra modern machines powered by electric servo motors, much quieter than hydraulic presses of the past and with a greater degree of control - truly a sight to behold if you're a fan of heavy engineering .
Jaws lifted off the floor, Andy hurried us out of the building back into the minibus. Now we headed off once again to D and E block, back int ma day lad these buildings were used for the S type saloon, which incidentally was the first Jaguar to be completely built at Castle Bromwich - but more of that later - they are now home to the production lines for the XF and XE models.
This is by far the most modern and the most automated part of the entire plant, an incredible 680 robots from start to finish, with 86% of all jobs on the cars performed by automation. You really could feel the transition here from traditional hand crafted jobs such as welding and riveting now done by hyper accurate robotics.
During our tour there was no actual production taking place due to a small number of 2019 models being tested on the line and in a change from my day, Jaguar no longer builds cars to stock - every car made is already bought and ordered to individual specification. In these times of declining diesel sales and Brexit uncertainty it seems a sensible business plan to follow.
Having seen the bread and butter cars a few of us were keen to cross over the road to A1 and A2 buildings in which the awesome F type is built. Andy obliged and we soon found ourselves in a different sort of place, much less modernised than the other buildings we had visited and far less automation.
Just 4% of jobs on the F type are done by robots, compare that to the XF's 86%. Some of the robots and staff were still working and we got to see several stages of body construction take place before the shells disappeared on a track through the ceiling before going to the paint shop.
Lots of ooos and ahhhs could be heard from our group as we progressed around the assembly line seeing the cars more and more completed. This car represents the closest thing you will get in 2018 to a traditionally built Jaguar with 96% of jobs done by hand while incorporating the latest technology. These models are available with far greater personalisation options than other models, from unique paint jobs, 40 different interior colour and materials to choosing the colour of the stitching on the seats and dashboard.
Andy looked hopeful there might be some wealthy folks amongst us and happily pointed out the F type started at ' just ' £49,800 , but naturally having pulled into the car park in a well worn Morris Minor he didn't look in my direction! He then took us over to a parked bevy of completed beauties awaiting the ' water test ' which looked like a 50ft long washing machine.
The entry level car has a 2.0 turbo engine; this didn't really impress us until we learned it kicks out 300bhp! Next up is a 3.0 V6 supercharged producing 380bhp and a lot more torque than the 4 cylinder. Moving up the range again is the 5.0 V8 Supercharged R model with a very tasty 500bhp, and for those playing 'Top Trumps' there is the SVR model boasting further engine mods to the V8 and a titanium exhaust that blasts out 550bhp. We wondered - is this car truly the successor to the legendary E type?
The tour wrapped up at this point and we headed back to the Heritage Centre for further refreshments before heading off for lunch, however I have a few other things to tell you before you go.
You may recall in the previous blog that I pointed out Castle Bromwich didn't feature in the Jaguar story until much later, 1977 to be exact. Following the war, the plant was purchased by Fisher and Ludlow, later to become Pressed Steel Fisher. This company supplied steel panels to a large number of manufacturers including BMC and later Leyland. Castle Bromwich has produced panels for the Morris Minor, the original Mini, some Imp panels for Hillman and Triumph, many Rover panels and later Jaguar.
The company became wholly owned by Jaguar in late 1977. From then until 2001 Jaguar had the unusual practice of building its body shells at Castle Brom, then loading XJS, XJ saloon and later XK sports bodies onto a fleet of arctic lorries to be driven the 13 miles to Browns Lane in Coventry for painting and final assembly.
In later years the zinc coated body shells were stored in heated storage sheds and covered in plastic until loaded onto the trucks, however through the 80s and 90s it wasn't uncommon to leave untreated bare shells out in the rain while awaiting a transporter. I even heard tales of whole bodies left outside from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. If you've ever wondered why many Jaguars of that era suffered with such bad structural rot well that's the answer. Often the metal was exposed before it was even primered and painted, amazingly this carried on until 2001 albeit with some improvements.
This was a costly and inefficient way of building cars. When the new S-Type was launched in 1998 it was completely assembled at Castle Bromwich using the new paint shop and renovated D block building. At this point we knew one of the Midlands plants was at risk. Being a Jaguar fan I believed Coventry deserved to stay open as it was the spiritual home of Jaguar, but Browns Lane was unfortunately surrounded by new housing developments whereas Castle Bromwich still had unused land, excellent access to the motorways and airport and it's own rail link. The writing was on the wall and Browns Lane had all it's production lines and 90% of its personnel transferred to Castle Brom by the end of 2003 just in time for the launch of the new Aluminium XJ350 model.
The Castle Bromwich plant is now home to Jaguar manufacturing but I hope the blogs have given you an idea of just what a fascinating place it was even before Jaguar entered it's history, I haven't been on the plant for almost 10 years and it was good to go back and relive some memories and make some new ones.
Just as I was about to leave I smiled at my Minor parked amongst what I estimated to be over a million pounds worth of machinery when the 2 young ladies who worked on the reception came outside and had their picture taken with my old moggy. Made my day that!
by Gar Cole
The day of our group tour of the Jaguar factory at Castle Bromwich had arrived. It was slightly bitter-sweet as it had originally been organised as part of "Head Admin" Paul Sweeney's visit to the UK from sunny New Zealand, but due to unforeseen personal circumstances the trip was called off. However we have said this is very much a postponement rather than a cancellation and we look forward to meeting Paul at some point in the future.
Living only 1 mile from the factory that I also worked at for 9 years I decided to take the moggy for a short trip, the tour guide greeted me at the gate with a beaming smile "Been many years since one of those drove through the gates" he enthused. I took my parking space amongst a plethora of F types, iPace's and other exotic machinery in the Heritage centre carpark.
I was greeted by group members Thilo Brill and his partner Eva who had flown in from Germany to enjoy the tour, with the arrival of the Brooks family we made our way into the modern glass and chrome building for breakfast refreshment and to meet our fellow tour explorers who had arrived well before 8.30am.
Introductions made, coffee and biscuits sampled the 14 of us were kitted out in 'V.I.P Visitor ' Hi-Viz vests and radio headphones so we could all hear Andy our tour guide, looking like the security crew for an 80s pop revival concert we headed off to our waiting tour minibus.
Now the spiritual home of Jaguar was and probably always will be the iconic Browns Lane plant in Coventry, Castle Bromwich did not feature in the Jaguar story until much later but it has a fascinating history in its own right and if you have read this far then make yourself comfy and I'll reveal what we learned on this fascinating tour.
The land adjacent to Castle Bromwich Aerodrome was aquired by the government in 1936, with construction starting in 1938 with an estimated build cost of £2 million pounds, the final cost would double to over £4 million, built as 1 of 12 'Shadow Factories' created to quickly change from automotive construction to military application should the political situation in Europe continue to deteriorate.
Castle Bromwich covers a vast 46 acres of ground, the buildings themselves are massively over-engineered using bridge construction methods, huge steel frames make up the roof sections which are supported by thin pillars giving maximum internal working space, this meant if a section was damaged by a falling bomb the hole could quickly be repaired with a new steel truss and the roof patched up, seeing it up close reminds one of a giant meccano set.
Getting comfy on our minibus we all stared a little open mouthed at the scale of these buildings that towered over our little bus, as we drove along the long narrow roadways between them and the exotic modern cars scattered all over the plant. The juxtaposition between new and old was quite stark. Andy our genial host started explaining how the factory built a total of 12,192 Super-marine Spitfires between 1940 - 45, hitting a maximum of 340 per month, mostly in the central C block in the middle of the plant, which happened to be the building I worked in and today serves as body construction for the XJ saloon.
The current workforce totals just over 4000; during the war it was 15000, I was fascinated to learn that 80% of the workforce was female, involved in all areas of construction. Today that figure has fallen to just 12% and JLR are working hard with local colleges and universities to recruit a higher proportion of female employees and to show them what a rewarding career can be had with the company.
In addiction to the 12k-plus Spitfires CB also constructed 200 Avro Lancaster bombers ordered in 1941, reaching a peak production of 25 a month that December. Just over 300 were produced by 1945, also 50 Seafire 45's. Once a plane was completed it was towed by tractor across the main Chester road onto the Aerodrome grounds, where each plane would be tested and delivered to the RAF all over the country by the members of the Air Transport Auxiliary headed by Chief Test Pilot Alex Henshaw. Listening intently to Andy and trying to absorb so much information on the war, we were brought back to 2018 as the minibus came to an abrupt halt and Andy jumped out the side door beckoning us to follow him.
We stood outside one of the various storeroom buildings on the grounds and one I had passed many times paying it no attention, only this time the aged pair of time-worn wooden doors that were always locked were now wide open and a dimly lit descending concrete walkway was just visible.
We followed Andy down the fairly steep ramp and you were immediately taken by the change in atmosphere, as the air cooled rapidly, that unique "old building" smell of damp, dust and rain water, which could be heard dripping onto small puddles on the ground. Rounding a corner at the bottom of the dimly-lit walkway we were greeted by another walkway that descended further underground, my imagination piqued as I felt we were in a John le Carre novel, about to trade some top secret microfilm with our agent in Moscow.
At the bottom of the second walkway a dim blue glow opening up into a larger room awaited us, as we arrived in this room I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of hospital beds. "What on earth?" I'm sure more than one of us thought, on the walls glass cases housing medical equipment and medicines of the era, plus large scale photos of the factory but showing obvious aerial bomb damage. It was quite sombre and we waited to hear Andy explain why a fully functioning hospital ward should be located under a factory.
On the 13th of August 1940 a squadron of Luftwaffe bombers dropped an estimated 118 tons of explosives and incendiary devices on the aerodrome and plant, causing significant damage to several main buildings and the surrounding road network. Tragically 6 workers were also killed during the raid; following this attack production was delayed for only 2 weeks and the buildings were quickly patched up. Tt was decided the plant also needed a hospital area to treat people for day-to-day injuries such as cuts or broken limbs. Health and Safety didn't exist at that time and they obviously expected more casualties from bombing raids as the underground hospital wing also houses a morgue (shown above).
Moving into another part of the underground rooms we glanced upon spotlighted photos of female pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary. A video showed film newsreel of the time capturing these brave ladies piloting Spitfires, Lancasters and other types of aircraft from the aerodrome to other RAF stations across the country.
Incredibly these pilots received no radio training or evasive flying tactics. They were required by the Air Ministry to fly as low as possible and always be visible from the ground; they had to navigate just using maps and a compass in the ever-changing British weather. Speaking as someone who never travels far without a Satnav my respect and admiration for these pilots is immense. The spirit of the workforce at Castle Brom working 24 hrs a day on 3 eight-hour shifts surely had a major influence on the war.
Chief Test Pilot Alex Henshaw tested over 80% of everything ever built during the war years and would treat the plant workers to amazing displays overhead, at times flying a Spitfire between the buildings upside down just metres off the ground and he remains to this day the only person to have ' barrel rolled ' a Lancaster bomber in front of a live audience at Castle Brom.
As we climbed our way back up the ramps to daylight I pondered my time at Jaguar between 2000 and 2009. I had always known about the underground cellars and often nagged Frank the security guard to show me one when we worked nights "more than my jobs worth young man" would be his reply. I knew some of the history of the plant and what had been built there but like my fellow 13 guests I had just learned about the human side of the story and it left me feeling a mixture of pride and awe.
Once again Andy crackled in our ears and said "Hope you all enjoyed that. Climb aboard the bus and we'll show you how we build cars now 😀"
Part 2 to follow soon. Please note all photos were obtained via a 3rd party on the Albanian border in exchange for lemon drizzle cake, and none of the photos shown inside the factory are in anyway affiliated with members of EBMVBB1985 😎
by Gar Cole
The tyres had barely cooled down on my little Fisher caravan following a blisteringly hot long weekend at the South Cerney steam show, just 3 days later I was packing up again ready for the 'Steam and Scrumpy' tour of Somerset, work has an annoying habit of getting in the way of our car hobby which dictated taking the caravan to the Cheddar campsite on the Thursday and setting up my pitch and the group banner, it did mean an additional 260 mile round trip but I didn't think my customers who I was driving to Southampton docks Friday morning would appreciate arriving at the luxurious Queen Mary cruise liner in a taxi pulling a 58yo caravan.
I've always loved Somerset and spent many happy family holidays around the Cheddar Gorge area and I always feel better once I've crossed the Avonmouth bridge , Petruth Paddocks campsite is a conrods throw away from Cheddar village and the owners are petrol heads and were very excited to be hosting our group, upon arrival I was greeted by Thomas Jenkins, his girlfriend Emily and their mate Thomos , thank goodness for the one letter difference or it could have been confusing, TJ's MK2 Granada looked as well polished as ever surrounded by 3 tiny pod tents. Having recently been given the moniker of 'Old Mother Cole ' I decided to fuss over the kids and make sure they had enough food and not just biscuits, I need not have worried, modern mobiles have something called 'App's and before I knew it fresh made hot pizzas were being delivered direct to the site, the wonders of modern tech, I bid the 3 intrepid campers farewell and headed home while tucking into my pre made Cornbeef sandwich, no Apps for this old dinosaur.
Arriving back at camp Friday afternoon I was pleased to see the expected biblical downpours had not arrived, also the campsite appeared to have entered a worm hole in the space time continuem, the front row was filled with classics from Jag XJS, Triumph Stag, Granada and Zephyr and gave the illusion of a campsite from at least 30 years ago, other campers were naturally admiring the cars and asking questions. Tragically I had arrived too late once again to help put up the Coleman shelter and it stood filled with table and chairs, we were still waiting on Mike Peake in Poppy the Herald and Last Minute Liam in the Rover P6 V8, the intrepid Debbie Fizz Berrimen had unfortunately suffered a mechanical issue on her Morris ambulance campervan and was awaiting recovery to Gloucester services.
Hungry faces started looking at me like a pride of lions looks at a steak so Old Mother Cole swung into action preparing a Chicken Chassuer for 12 people, Phil Allin was sceptical I could produce enough for everyone and in a reasonable time in my wee caravan, I shushed him up and set him to work chopping veg, which was soon taken over by wife Lorraine as he was making ' a pigs ear ' of it, just over an hour later a Cauldron full was bubbling and ready with more faces appearing at the door saying ' ooarr that smells noice ' in increasingly stronger and more bizarre Somerset accents, by the end of the night we all sounded more like Pirates ( Aharrrrr Jim Lad )
Arriving last was ummmm Last Minute Liam, with family in tow, we were all impressed watching their vintage 1960s inflatable tent being erected, way ahead of its time, in an effort to be helpful I pumped up the double airbed for them, it didn't occur to me it wouldn't fit through the narrow opening door into the tent, but the thought was there, as the evening drew on those of us in caravans looked eviously at Bernard and Ian's Caravan that was connected to the mains supply, and was boasting such luxuries as a working fridge and heater and lights, those in tents looked eviously at those of us in caravans that boasted such luxuries as a comfy bed, toilet and a waterproof roof ( but more of that later )
Poor Debbie had been messed around all day by the RAC and were now relaying her to Gloucester services where she would have to spend the night in the Morris camper until a suitable low loader could be sent first thing in the morning, having myself driven over 500 miles in 2 days I was the first to retire and left the others happily chatting around the campfire enjoying drinks and scrumptious gluten free cakes made by John's Ticehursts wife.
Saturday arrived in what seemed to me the blink of an eye , I slept a little too well and appeared to be the last to rise, lucky for me other cookers were making breakfast so I made myself a couple of cheeky bacon rolls and packed a bag of essentials for the tour (wine gums etc)
Word reached us from Debbie that she was expecting the lowloader at 9am so we made the decision to await her arrival so she could still join the tour riding shot gun in another car, as I was doing by riding in the back of Ian and Bernards Zephyr for the day. Sadly once again the RAC let Debbie down so she signalled for us to carry on without her, our climate changing convoy of V8s, V6s , Inline sixes and 1 four pot rumbled and thrummed our way out the campsite with that unforgettable smell of unburnt hydrocarbons, there had been concerns the annual Balloon Fiesta in Bristol would make it difficult to reach the SS Great Britain, however after a very pleasant 18 mile drive using the back roads into Bristol the traffic turned out to be remarkably quiet and we pulled in the ship's parking area.
We found a nice empty row and formed our own small classic car display, coach parties just arriving started taking photos before heading towards the ship, we were thrilled to be joined for the first time by 2 group members driving a stunning Austin Sprite, I'm hopeless remembering names sorry but I'm sure his name was Kevin , were always trying to encourage more local members to join us if a tour is passing by your town.
The SS Great Britain lived up to its reputation as one of the UKs best museums, you cannot fail to be impressed by the size of her and the engineering that went into building this ship 174 years ago, you are able to descend below the water line of the ship in its dry dock, a glass case encircles the ship with a thin layer of water on top which really creates the feel of being under water, huge dehumidifiers keep the fragile iron hull from rusting any further. The ship has been restored 1 area at a time in remarkable detail, we marvelled at how small the bunks and cabins were, even in 1st class it must have been quite the voyage on the 6 weeks trip to Australia, in contrast the first class dining room is a grand sight to behold, long banquet tables, gold gilded columns and paintings and even a piano. 1st class or not a tour of the galley kitchen complete with rats running around the cupboards was quite the eye opener, the whole ship is a fascinating glimpse into another time , for those of us who are admirers of Brunel's heavy engineering we found ourselves mesmerised at midships at the sight of the engine, a 4 cylinder monster taking up 3 decks in height, we estimated the stroke on the pistons to be over 12ft, seeing it all in motion again being driven now by electric motors was a real treat and we could only marvel at just how it must have looked in full steam with the pistons shooting up and down, steam hissing everywhere and the floors vibrating, you really must visit this ship if you get the chance.
We bid the SS farewell, after hearing the good news that Debbie was now safe at the campsite we decided to do the route in reverse so we could collect her from Cheddar, the convoy headed off to collect Debbie, however the ' 3 hoods ' in the Zephyr as we were described accidentally took a different road, knowing Debbie was being rescued by the rest of the party we trundled on our way towards the village of Priddy at the top of Cheddar Gorge and it was pure luck we arrived half hour before everyone else and were happily tucking into cheese n onion baguettes and pints before the rest turned up in what was now pouring rain, Bernard, Ian and myself practised our ' innocent smiles '.
Suitably refreshed we said our goodbyes to our new friends in the Sprite and the lovely olde world Victoria Inn and headed down the winding and twisting road that snakes its way through the Gorge, i was sat in the back of the Zephyr in total comfort and took the opportunity to film the steepest segment, as much as the rain, steamed windows and vacuum wipers would allow. Unfortunately at this point we lost Giles and John in the Stag after they suffered an overheating issue, which seemed strange as we were descending the Gorge not climbing it, being so close to the campsite they decided it was sensible to retire and limped back, it was later diagnosed as only being a water pipe not being tightened enough and they had slowly been losing all their water.
From here we drove through the picturesque countryside between Cheddar and Watchfield passing through several pretty but rain lashed villages, Watchfield is home to Richs Cider Farm, another place I've known about from childhood holidays, it has a lovely shop selling not only ciders but all manor of alcohol, exotic cheeses and jams and preserves, Debbie was more than happy to try a few samples of cider after her 24 hour ordeal at the hands of the RAC, the place also has it's own museum with 3 of the biggest oak barrels you've ever seen, one containing over 10,000 pints, plus a vintage tractor and restored delivery vehicle wearing the firm's livery, after helping swell their coffers we took a few photos in the rain and headed for ' Burnham on Mud ' as Lorraine 'Ooarrrr' Allin insisted on calling it. Let's be polite and say Burnham has passed it's heyday, the once impressive Victorian buildings along the sea front now looking faded and with peeling paint and green streaked plaster, in the gloomy rain filled skies it had a forlorn feel to it, undeterred we parked up along the front and headed for the fish and chip shop, the Battered Fryer produced a very decent meal from yet another tired shop front , the rain mercifully stopped long enough for us to enjoy our food and ice cream.
The drive back to Cheddar passed without incident and all cars performed faultlessly, however.... on returning to our campsite we found young Thomos tent had got soaked through, the same had happened to Liams inflatable tent soaking everything inside, living only 8 miles away and with an unhappy partner who doesn't really like camping he did the sensible thing and threw everything into the P6 and retired to a comfy warm home, we all sat in the Coleman shelter with rain drops forming on the roof poles and dripping on the table thinking Liam had the right idea, my reputation for inviting rain fall on our tours was well and truelly cemented, so nothing was left to do but crack open snacks, wine and other goodies and ignore the puddles building up all over the campsite.
Sunday drive out to Haynes museum.
Debbie had asked the more mechanically minded members of our group to have a look at her engine before we headed to the Haynes museum in Sparkford, now our regular blogger and admin Mike 'Fat Bloke ' Peake has recently had some success with the cars he's worked on, mine included, and in the absence of Gus Brooks A.K.A Super enthusiast man, he manfully offered his services, diagnosing the points as the cause of the loss of power and popping back through the carb, as the cover was removed from Debbies engine was removed we expected to see Mike fly past in a blaze or red and white, cape flapping in the Breeze, however Gus is a tad more slender than Mike and he ended up waddling past in star spangled hot pants and red boots, to the theme from Russ Abbots comedy show, all together now ' dun dun dun da dahhhhh, Blunder Woman ' .
I'll give you all a moment to delete that image from your mind 😎
Despite the tightness of the working area in the Morris engine bay and the chafing of the hot pants, Blunder Peake had the points changed in no time and the engine fired up and sounded sweet, a test drive showed Morris to be driving better but still down on power over 35mph, at this point myself and Tom Jenkins agreed it might have a blocked carb jet so I nipped out for a bottle of Redex, we put a whole bottle into only a quarter of a tank of fuel assuring Debbie that it might smoke a bit but would help clear any gunk out of the carb, as a final offer of advice Ian Woodward said the engine sounded retarded and Debbie should have the timing advanced at the first opportunity she had at a garage, feeling confident our convoy headed off on the scenic route through wells and Shelton Mallet to the museum, this time I was passenger in Andy Permans Allegro VDP auto and what a complete treat it was, I've not been in one of these for 36 years and usually when I get back into a car that we had in my childhood I'm always surprised how small they feel, my SD1 a prime example, but the VDP has great headroom and leg room galore, the wood and leather interior is a pleasant place to be and I can see why Andy loves it and is in the process of restoring a second VDP, Debbie's Morris camper seemed to be having no trouble keeping up at 50 mph so we pressed on to Sparkford.
You will not be surprised to hear it was raining at the museum, but now immune to the soggy feeling of wet clothes we lined the cars and camper up for some photos, the museum has been greatly extended since my last visit 7 years ago and is well worth a visit, something for everyone there and a great restaurant, a good place to meet up with friends on a cold winter's day.
At this point we had to say goodbye to a lot of our fellow campers who had to return home for that dreaded word 'WORK'
This left just the 5 of us, me with Bernard and Ian in the Zephyr and John and Giles in the V8 Stag, shortly after our friends departed the sunshine reappeared, not wanting to waste a minute we diverted into Wells, parking in the ancient square and enjoying a walk around the grounds of the Cathedral, I also showed the guys the filming locations used by the Film ' Hot Fuzz ' that was shot entirely on location in the city, Giles very kindly offered me a drive of the Stag back to the site but I politely said no but could I ride passenger, what an absolute treat being driven in this iconic car with it's V8 engine singing off the high stone walled roads, I loved it and can see why owners and enthusiasts hold these cars in such high regard, the evening was a real treat enjoying dinner at the excellent Brent Cross carvery and getting to know each other better as only spending quality time together can do.
A great weekend that triumphed over the weather with determination to enjoy it, oh and in case you wondered, Debbie did have her timing adjusted and made it all the way to Lands End, between 4 of us I think we sorted Morris motor home out 😀
by Gar Cole.
Part 3 of this blog picks up almost a full year from the last instalment (you can refresh your memory of the last part here - Ed).
As with all projects they have taken far longer than predicted, however perseverance has paid off and we're now on the home straight.
I know some of you have a soft spot for classic caravans and my 'Doris' an 8ft by 5ft Holivan Jnr certainly draws attention. Following on from the last blog the interior repairs have all been carried out, a new L shape seating area built and installed which allows for a single 6ft 4in bed to be made up at night. Period correct materials were used to refurbish the inside but it has been kept as basic as the day it left the Fisher workshop down in Surrey almost 60 years ago.
Now repainted in Goose wing grey with Trafalgar blue accents to match her tow car, for your £197.00 you got a bed, 3 cupboards, a sink and 1 gas lamp, but hey it beats tenting, and at just 260kg you could pull it with a small car, for example, a Morris Minor............😀
Nelson, my trusty but slightly tatty 4 door Moggy had been left in the care of the Brooks brothers in November of 2017. By New Year the original A series engine and gearbox had been removed and the replacement Triumph 1500TC engine installed. We even got to hear it running despite having no exhaust fitted and it fired up right away.
Speaking as someone with basic mechanical ability who can just manage an oil change or brake pads I watched in awe as Gus continued to somehow shoehorn vastly larger components into original spaces. The Borg Warner automatic gearbox is twice the size and 3 times the weight of the original, yet with careful fabrication of the original cradle it slotted up into the transmission tunnel without having to alter it at all.
From then on, the car started fighting back a bit. The steering column had to be moved slightly to clear the bell housing, with the carbs and exhaust being on the opposite side to the A series it required a custom made down pipe and exhaust system, all built in-house by Gus.
It's always the final details that are hardest and this was true of this conversion. A custom-built prop-shaft was made for it, and finding a suitable radiator that sat further forward of the new engine proved troublesome until a Peugeot 205 diesel radiator was suggested by a fellow Moggy owner. This worked and with some custom water pipes and a few other tricky jobs overcome he was ready to be collected early April.
Now my intention was never to create a "Hot Rod" - I simply wanted an automatic conversion with a tad more power to pull Doris the Caravan. However going from 48 bhp to 84 bhp was always going to be interesting in a 780 kg rear wheel drive car, so you ask, what's it like to drive?
The short answer is "Huge Fun"! It shoots off the line instantly, it has so much torque it barely uses 1st gear and goes for 2nd at 5 mph, what follows is a rorty and very rapid blast to 60 mph with very smooth changes. Between the twin carb induction noise and the large bore exhaust it's fairly loud, but in a good way; it keeps saying 'Go on ya wimp, push me some more".
Unfortunately I did just that and managed to get a speeding ticket in a 52 yo car, something I'm childishly proud of, and no doubt will be a source of amusement when I attend my speed awareness course - 53 mph in a 40 Your Honour.
During the Peak District tour of 11th to 14th May, the car covered 280 miles and it didn't miss a beat. On motorways, traffic jams and mountain roads it is more than capable of keeping up with far larger classic cars and I had a few fun white-knuckled blasts chasing the V8's on the tour with us. Gus's workmanship is top notch and everything he fitted and made worked flawlessly.
I now need to up rate the rest of the car to cope, number 1 being disc brakes on the front, closely followed by wider wheels and tyres. In my enthusiasm chasing aforementioned V8 Rovers, I hit the engine sump on a bouncy road and cracked it so that it started dripping, it's currently off being welded and I will be having the suspension raised by adjusting the torsion bars and fitting a sump guard.
It's a great fun car but possibly a little bit too powerful. I'm toying with swapping back to a single carb and adding a second exhaust box, this should detune it by around 10bhp and make him a less menacing-sounding brute. I'm now setting about improving his paintwork as he tours in rather exotic company 😀
by Gar Cole
I'd like to tell you about a man who - like you - I've never met, my Grandfather Charles (or Charlie as he was known) Young.
We have all heard stories about people who led quiet but often remarkable lives, touching the lives of many in their community with their actions. Yet with the passing of the decades their stories are somehow lost to all but a few surviving members of their family or friends. In case you were worried I'd started writing a blog for Readers Digest I can promise a pre 85 Brit vehicle features in this tale ... still with me?
Born the 4th of 11 children on Christmas day 1915 in the mining village of Penpedairheol, known locally as 'Cascade', like most mining communities they were extremely poor but close knit.
Everyone was willing to help out anyone else if they could, and as with most kids of the time Charlie left school at 14 going straight to work at the local mine at Penallta. He was rail thin and an extremely tall 6ft 5in by the time he was 16, definitely not an ideal height when you're digging out coal seams lying on your side at the coalface for hours on end.
Cars were an extremely rare sight in 1930s South Wales. What few taxis there were simply didn't go to these villages outside of Cardiff. Coal and milk were still delivered by horse and cart, and the only car one might see in a mining village belonged either to the Doctor or the Vicar. The steam train was the prefered mode of transport for those who could afford it, the once-yearly trip to the coast during the 'Miners Fortnight' holiday period.
Charlie had a very strong work ethic. He worked the standard 12 hour shift 6 days a week, often agreeing to work overtime to complete a 16 hour day, all powered by 8 jam sandwiches and a flask of tea. Being such a hard worker enabled him to financially care for his parents who could no longer work due to the effects of dust inhalation from years of working underground.
He also bought - after 7 years of saving - a Morris Minor fabric bodied saloon in 1936. Talking to my family all I know is it was built in the 20s and was a deep wine colour. As you can imagine this caused quite a stir in the village and tongues started wagging. "Who does that Charlie Young think he is? Driving himself to work every day like some of his betters. He's getting above his station if you ask me" and so on.
He was by all accounts quite the eccentric, often wearing a full length Swedish army trench coat and carrying a full size alarm clock in his pocket. The local kids naturally found this hilarious and would stop him often to ask the time just so he would take it out and set the alarm bell off. Charlie wasn't handsome, or a smooth talker, but he was kind, considerate and at 6ft 5 and with his own car he was someone you couldnt fail to notice.
Now the little Morris became a fixture of village life. Charlie would take people to hospital for operations, families to visit sick relatives and so on. In 20 years a total of 7 babies were born either in the car on the journey to the hospital or at the side of the road if there wasn't time to reach it. A knock at the door could come day or night.
The car also acted as the bridal car for nearly every marriage in the village, including his own when he married my grandmother Edith in 1939. Edith was the local 'Glamourpuss'. 5ft tall with a huge personality, head of the local choir and quite a successful singer in the local areas singing in town halls, dance halls and a few nightclubs in the city. They certainly made an odd couple but they were devoted and proved the old adage that sometimes opposites do attract.
With coal production being classed as an essential service, he wasn't called up for military service during WW2. Life continued as normal in the village with the arrival of my mother Julie in 1942. Like many others in the rural communities they also took in 3 evacuees from London and 2 from Bristol, from 1 to 6 children in as many months.
Mechanically gifted Charlie could fix most things and was in demand, especially with the growing popularity of cheap British motorcycles and sidecars that were starting to appear in the valleys. This included fixing a non-starting Royal Enfield 350 Bullitt owned by a 17 yo lad from the village called Gerry Cole.
I remember asking my Dad Gerry once what he thought of Charlie. Dad told me, "He came across as shy and simple, but was in fact probably the most gifted all round engineer / electrician in the village, yet he could barely write a sentence". With my mother being only 8 years old at the time I doubt she even registered with my Dad, however 11 years later when he left the RAF he certainly noticed her and they were engaged just 3 months later.
Unusually for the times my Mom was an only child by choice, in order to give her a better life; she had piano lessons and went to a private school. This raised more than a few eyebrows in the small community and her nickname of 'Princess Julie' was probably justified, so in 1958 devoted dad Charlie promised to buy Mom a new car the following year if she passed all the exams she was taking at the time.
Dutifully she did, and as 1959 rolled around she fell head over heels for the all new Austin/Morris/Seven/Mini that was being advertised in the press and all the fashion magazines that young girls devoured in the 50s. Mom passed her test in July 1959 aged 17 and fully expected to see a new Mini at Christmas, however.....
My grandparents announced the Mini would have to be delayed because a full 17 years after my mom was born, Nan was pregnant at 44 (this kept the village gossips going for months!). "WHAT?" shrieked my horrified mother, "you mean you and Dad still do that and your both in your 40s? errggghhhhhh"
Following my uncle Clive's arrival on New Years Day 1960, Charlie kept his word and in the summer of 1960 Mom got a nearly new Mini. She was also given strict orders not to drive it over 40mph, because as a grey haired Charlie said (and is now family legend) "Stay below 40 as those little 10" tyres will wear out too fast going around so quick, and I'm not made of money my girl, I have a baby to raise"..
Mining for 30 years between 1929 and 1959 it had taken its toll on his back and Charlie was now Head of Maintenance in the mine workshop. This job was physically less demanding but still kept him at the mine often for 14 hours a day, it also gave him the freedom to visit the pit ponies living at the mine.
It seems for most of his working life he had been sharing his 8 jam sandwiches with the horses/ponies, plus he used to buy them mints and other treats. In the days before animal welfare existed these ponies led a hard life underground, never seeing daylight. The men who cared for them looked after them fondly but all too often if one became sick or elderly it was often put down and a replacement brought in - something Charlie disapproved of.
He managed to rehome several of these ponies with local farmers' children and eventually adopting 3 himself, which grazed on the patch of ground behind my grandparents house. They could also wander off up the mountain with the wild mountain horses, which must have been heaven for them after years of living underground.
As the winter of 1966 approached, Charlie still owned the 1920s Minor Saloon. It had done him proud for 30 years, although in a similar way to 'Triggers Broom' it was on its 3rd gearbox, 2nd axle with many other parts 'knocked up by Charlie in the workshop. My parents were due to marry that November and encouraged him to get another car, but he wouldn't hear of it stating 'plenty of life in the old boy yet ' which proved to be an 'ironic' prediction.
Sometime in the late morning of 21st October, messages started flying around the mine that a landslide had buried a school in the village of Aberfan some 4 miles away. Immediately mining stopped and the workforce ascended to the surface to help with the rescue. A local transport firm brought in buses to help get the men to the disaster site, and Charlie managed to get 6 in the Minor plus a boot full of equipment.
He and hundreds of other miners and villagers spent the next 48 hours digging through the slurry and debris, with family bringing them food and drink to keep them going. Unfortunately no survivors were found after midday the first morning, and what followed was the slow recovery of the bodies of 116 children and 28 adults.
He returned home on the 3rd morning ashen faced, told his family he never wanted to talk about it again and it wasn't to be mentioned in the house. He retired to the spare room saying he needed some peace and quiet and to leave him be. My Grandmother took him some tea the following morning and found him barely conscious.
Charlie had suffered a heart attack in the night aged just 51. He was taken to East Glamorgan hospital where he spent 6 weeks recuperating, the longest time he'd done no work in 36 years and he drove the nurses mad. In the end they transferred him to the Miners Rest Convalescent Home (so they could have some peace no doubt).
Following my parents delayed wedding in December waiting for Charlie to be well enough to attend, he returned to work every day in his old war horse Morris Minor, but on restricted 6 hour days on light duties. He pottered away happily for several more years and looked after his now 5 adopted retired pit ponies.
He retired in 1970 aged 55; my parents were making plans to move to Birmingham over Christmas 1971 with my older brother and sister, and in one last selfless act, Charlie gave up driving and sold his Minor then gave the proceeds plus some extra he'd saved to my parents to put a deposit on their first non rented house in Birmingham.
The family moved to the Sparkhill area of Birmingham in January 72, Charlie passed away just a month later in February and a full 5 years before I was born. My grandmother kept 2 of the ponies after Charlie died and had the last one called ' Ginger right up to 1984. I used to have a sit on him when I was a little kid when we visited, different world back then.
I wish I could have met him. I find him interesting, and if you have read this far I hope you did too. Through hard work and being a generous person he improved the lives of his family and had a positive influence on nearly his whole community and circle of friends.
I find myself writing this some 46 years after he died, proud of him and also the proud owner of a Morris Minor 😀
by Gar Cole
After months of planning for and looking forward to this show, the morning of set up finally arrived. I was slightly on edge before setting off on the short drive to the NEC; we had made some last-minute changes to the design of the group banner and it still wasn't in my possession.
Also the day before, the 1931 Sunbeam motorcycle planned for our stand unfortunately had to withdraw from the show. From this point on events conspired to send my BP through the roof.
We have always met up in North Car Parks 9 or 12 an hour before the show so I can hand out all the relevant paperwork and passes (of which there are many).
Unbeknown to us, the organisers had changed the pre build up meeting point to South Car Park 5, which is fine if you know your way around the complex. Of course most of the guys didnt, so pretty soon my mobile was red hot with confused classic owners asking for directions. I flew over to S5 hoping to beat everyone there and direct them in, but failed as I was held up at the gate arguing with Security despite having all the relevant windscreen passes plus a disabled badge.
They insisted that rules had been changed and I'd have to pay a £50 deposit upon entry to the carpark which gives you an hour to unload your stand equipment and return the car or you lose your £50. We had so much equipment to unload and set up, I knew an hour wouldn't be enough. The security guy didn't endear himself to me by suggesting that if I had a disability maybe I shouldn't be there helping out...... not a good start.
Like Sir Gallahad on horseback, Phil Allin arrived in the Nick of time with our freshly printed 8ft banner. The wristbands and passes were handed out as we made our way to Hall 5. I don't know if you have ever seen several hundred over-protective classic owners descend on a building with only 4 doors, but it's a sure-fire recipe for chaos.
We told the door guard our pitch number. He gave me the sort of blank look a monkey has looking at its own reflection, then proceeded to load us into the wrong side of the building, telling us to drive between all the other folks - who were by now busy setting up their stands - in order to reach the other side. Their murderous looks quickly made me realise that a quick 'about turn' and retreat was the sensible option.
Upon reaching the correct side door of the building the second vacant-faced guard proceeded to halt us in our tracks as they had lost the keys and couldn't open it. The next 20 mins are something of a blur but I'm told it involved much moaning, whinging, shouting, swearing and arm waving (all done by me I must add ) until, appearing dramatically in a cloud of exhaust fumes the calming voice of our founder John Simpson told me to calm down and all would sort itself out - definitely the voice of experience.
From this point on, the gang started working like a well oiled machine. My modern was quickly emptied of carpet tiles, tables, banners etc and I shot back to the car park to get my £50 deposit back. I took my Chopper bicycle with me and had quite a laugh riding it back. Seeing a fat guy riding a kids chopper isn't something the NEC is used to and I got quite a few horn beeps and cheers.
By the time I got back to Hall 5, the stand was transformed. The carpet tiles were going down, the central carpet was in place, the poles and our new banner were already up and looking great! We decided to transfer the cool wall photos from a freestanding wall to the 'actual' wall of the building.
Finally the 6 vehicles were in place and it looked amazing, I knew it was good when people from other clubs left their own stands to come and look at ours. 'Proud as punch' is how I felt and for the guys too. The finishing touch was our displays of bikes at the front, 2 choppers and an Apollo with their baskets full of old style sweets, I had a feeling they would prove popular 😀.
We all set off for a well-deserved carvery lunch. Once I had made sure everyone was safely back at their hotels, my campsite/driveway or their own homes, I had to set off on the long drive to Southampton - I was working early on Friday morning, but I left Birmingham feeling happy & safe in the knowledge that we were in for a great weekend 😀
Mike Peake will pick up the story from here, as I was away in Southampton when the show opened the following morning.
by Gar Cole
The weekend of the Gloucester show was now upon me and I had failed miserably in my attempts to get both my booked display vehicles to the show. The Minor was off the road with a snapped leaf spring and burst tyre, despite my best efforts the classic 59 caravan I'm restoring also wasn't completed, needing a full repaint. I resigned myself to taking the modern car and caravan and our new Gazebo, but more of that later.
I arrived at RAF South Cerney around 7.30pm in howling wind and rain, the miserable and unhappy security officer with water droplets dripping off her nose refused to let me and others in as they were overwhelmed by new arrivals, but after half an hour of traffic chaos we were finally allowed into the car club camping area.
I set up pitch not far from Fat Bloke and organiser Mike Peake, Kev Thompson and a work mate of Mikes who had managed to pitch together. After pleasantries were exchanged we headed off for a circuit of the show arena to see what was there. It took the best part of an hour in the darkness but it soon dawned on us this was going to be a whopper of a show.
FREAKY FRIDAY 😱
Friday started off normal enough, I was awoken by a knock on the caravan door to say breakfast was cooking in Mikes abode. Very nice it was too, and the 4 of us made our way over to the group pitch to set up the gazebo and cars before the Muggles " sorry Public" started to arrive.
This was easier said than done as within 10 mins we were distracted by tractors, lorrys, military giants, vintage race cars and steam engines all heading for their respective areas. Finally we got our old 10ft smokey gazebo erected, but what of the posh new red 20ft gazebo I'd told you about before, I hear you ask? Well despite it being ordered from Germany 2 weeks beforehand, it's delivery date was between the Wednesday and Friday just before this show. It hadn't come by Thursday afternoon so I had to take our old one which isn't much good - in fact it was swaying ominously in the breeze from the start.
We had been joined by Mike's 2 daughters Sophie and Emily and we walked a tour of the show with them, via the bar tent of course, well it was 12pm at this point! Friday is the quietest day of the 3 and it became obvious with our extra members arriving that evening our wee gazebo wasn't upto the job. I'd received a text from my sister to say the new gazebo had been delivered that morning so with it only being just over an hour back to Birmingham I decided to go and fetch it while Mike and the others "manned the stand".
Did I say an hour? 3 hours later I arrived home after getting stuck in horrendous Friday afternoon M5 traffic. Pleased to be out of the car I bounded into the house to grab the gazebo before trying to get back to the show before others arrived around 6pm. My sister Sue then proceeds to hand me the box that had been delivered; it was no more than 20 inches square and weighed about the same as pair of shoes! I took a deep breath and exclaimed. "Are you seriously telling me you think this small box contains over 20ft of canvas and 16 metal poles, feet and pegs? " 'Hmmm' she replied, 'Have you ordered something else as well then?' " Does it matter if I've ordered 50 other items, it's pretty bloody obvious this isn't a full size gazebo" I wailed. Upon opening the box it turned out to be the small portable toilet I'd ordered for the 59 caravan.
Feeling my hands starting to form the "Strangle" position I contemplated 20 years in prison for murder on the grounds of temporary insanity, but instead I settled for calling her a 'Dozy mare ' and drove back to Gloucester in another 3 hours of traffic minus a gazebo and grinding my teeth the whole way. A 160 mile round trip for nowt! I arrived back on site and relayed my tale of woe several times to much laughter.
At this point Ian Woodward and Bernard Owen had arrived and my spirits were immediately lifted as Ian gave me a klaxton horn for my Moggy, then a drink was placed in my hand and I started to calm down as everything would be quiet now I was on site ... wouldnt it?
Now parked next to Mikes caravan were a couple in their tent, with a modern Mondeo with a trailer that was carrying their lovely blue MGB. They had unloaded it and parked it between the Mondeo and Mikes caravan. I had chatted briefly with them and they seemed nice enough, they jumped into the MGB and went for a ride to the local supermarket to get supplies.
No more than 5 mins later Phil Allin and Paul Cheetham arrived, Paul in his Mini and Phil pulling his modern caravan with his P5B, before I could say anything Phil pulled into the smallish gap left by the MGB, I pointed out to him and Mike that a car was there previously and the returning campers might not be happy. This was met with a coordinated shrug of shoulders so I piped down but I could hear that old song in my head " There may be trouble ahead, but while there's moonlight and music, and love and romance, lets face the music, and dance ".
just as the Merlot was starying to flow freely the MGB couple returned and the wife transformed into Cruella DeVille, saw Phils caravan and loudly shouted out the window " What T*** has parked in OUR space? " Now Phil is an easy going gent and calmly said it was his van but there was no need for unpleasantness as there was loads of room at the front or back of their tent to park the MG.
She was having none of it and continued to berate Phil for his selfishness at parking so close to their Mondeo that she couldnt even open the door to get in it (exaggeration ). Now at this point a remarkable transformation took place, even more impressive than Clark Kent into Superman. Mike lept to his feet and transformed into Jack Reagan. I've never seen Mike angry before but the Sarfff London accent came to the surface as he said " Oiiiiii, shut up, I'm a fat bloke and I can fit between the caravan and your Mondeo, give me the keys and I'll move it for you".
Now the husband who had remained quiet in the MG until now shouted out the window "You couldnt get a fag paper down that gap " to which Reagan ( sorry I mean Mike ) responded with a stern "Shut it!". The husband did as he was told and kept quiet, but not before Cruella rounded on Mike and got in his face saying " Dont underestimate me cause I'm a woman and small. I'll put you on your ar*e sunshine" somewhat bemused Mike walked off saying " anytime, I look forward to it " .
The rest of us watched all this drama unfold almost with our hands over our eyes, she stormed off to her tent loudly threatening to bash her car door into Phils caravan, after a few minutes an uneasy calm and silence decended as the adrenaline started to wear off. It seemed a good a time as any so I loudly exclaimed in a sarcastic voice to the rest of the guys, " I TOLD YOU SO ".
Cruella wasnt quite finished with us yet and continued to rant in a loud voice from her side of Phils caravan that we must be a car club and thats why they dont join them because its full of idiots, but her quote of the day was "They must be used to being crammed together in close proximity, bloody council estate scum". This reduced us to fits of laughter which rather took the wind out of her sails and she remained quiet for the rest of the evening, however her insult has now stuck with the group and we took great delight in calling each other Council estate scumbags at every opportunity. Her snobbery was so blatant you couldnt take the old battle axe seriously.
Part 2 " Slightly soggy Saturday and Superb Sunday " to follow soon.
by Gar Cole
You join me just after my 40th birthday in February, Nelson was an early present to myself, but with the weakness of his brakes I feared I'd not see 41, but more of that soon.........
Restoration continues at a pace in the little Holivan junior caravan, or ' Doris ' as she has been christened, the floor and roof structure have survived remarkably well, but the wooden frame below the window line was completely rotten due to the seals failing in the past, no choice but to chop it all out right back to the aluminium panels, a slow and boring task, but I'm winning the battle, frame is now done and new facia boards are going back on the walls
It is important to try and salvage as many parts as possible to preserve its originality, its tempting to rip everything out and replace it with modern items, with this in mind I spent hours gently cleaning the brittle 58yo plastic sink with a toothbrush and mild cleaning agents, also the road wheels which I had thought far too rusty to save had actually been given a new lease of life by Birmingham City Powder Coaters, very impressed with the results.
Mechanically the caravan now has new shocks, shoes and brake cylinders, cables freed and adjusted, 3 new tyres and the lights all rewired, wooden seat/bed frames are being made this week as are the custom made foam seats and coverings, curtains, carpet etc, its on schedule for its show debut on 4th August at our Gloucester steam show and I'll reveal the finished article close to that time on the website.
I had driven a few cars in the past with all drum brakes but they all had 'Servo's' , my brakes felt like somebody was holding their shoe against the tyre to slow you down, after 1 too many close calls and soiled underwear a full rebuild was done, the rear drums were full of oil, so it was only braking on the front only, new rear half shaft seals cured that problem with new shoes and cylinders all round plus the all important Servo kit installed, was it worth it?
Well on my first venture out to get some petrol a complete twerp in a high powered Audi ran a red light at the island and cut across my bonnet, both feet hit the brakes and the front end pitched down hard with a squeal from the tyres, I missed him by only a foot or 2, if this had been pre servo overhaul I've no doubt we would have collided in a nasty accident, the upgrade saved me but another pair of underwear was lost in the fear of the moment.
Everyone who has driven Nelson says how well it drives compared to other Minors they have tried, it does feel very solid and with it having a recon steering box, the trunions done and all bushes replaced with polyurethane items it does steer and corner well for a Mog, but I had been struggling to drive him far due to my arthritis, I feared selling was the only option and looking for a larger auto car, but I really like the Moggy and didnt want to part with him, I started putting the idea out about an automatic conversion, I wanted to keep the 1098cc engine for originality but those far cleverer than me said it wouldn't even be able to ' pull a toupee from Captain Picards baldy head '.
The 1275 A series engine and Borg Warner auto was suggested several times, although general opinion is that these are still sluggish and underpowered, besides when did you last see an auto Marina being broken for spares?
Then like a knight in shining armour ( or oily overalls ) group member Steve Boitoult came to my rescue, he offered me a fully running 1500cc twin carb engine and 3 speed auto from a Dolomite he's breaking, Steve did me the whole package including carbs, cables, sensors, oil coolers and mounting brackets for a very reasonable price, heard everything running prior to Steve removing it, arrangements were made to collect it a few weeks later, which happens to be today as I'm writing this.
Arriving at the Toy Shop owned by the Chuckle Brooks brothers I found myself in a rather charming country village, the sat nav said I had arrived at my destination, but I was sat outside a church, even more surreal were 2 cute donkeys eating the grass in the church grounds, now the Brooks toy shop does qualify as 'holy ground' for those of us less fortunate to have such a premises, but a church? A quick phone call to Tosh revealed I was in the right place and he would come and fetch me, I amused myself with the mental image of Tosh appearing on a Roman chariot, as it happens he arrived in the modern day equivalent, an Alfa GT in Bright red.
I followed Tosh down a wee side lane until we came across a foreboding looking iron gate, similar to the ones in Jurassic Park, with a deft wave of his hand the 20 ft wide beast creaked and rumbled sideways to allow us through, between there and the toy shop is the most fabulous private gravel track about 3/4 of a mile long, oh the fun that could be had if i was in Nelson.
The guys are storing the items for me until the winter time upon when the moggy will go to live at the toy shop while they make a start on him between other projects, for a start my 1098cc engine and box are going into their convertible Austin A30.
Big thanks to the Brooks for taking this on, no rush guys long as i have it back for march 2018.
Part 3 will pick this story up when the project gets underway.
by Gar Cole
I had been looking forward to this years Crich meet for some time. It had been such a success last year and I hoped for more of the same. I finished work at 3am Thursday night/Friday morning but struggled to sleep while buzzing about Crich.
Being a middle aged softy I had decided to abandon any form of canvas and take the family's 19ft caravan, leave it at the campfield, shoot home in the modern and return in the moggy, sounds a simple plan right..?
After returning to Brum I discovered my bank card was missing from my wallet, went into a complete panic looking for it, eventually retraced my steps to the petrol station who thankfully still had it in the kiosk. This however meant I wouldn't make the meeting point for our little convoy.
I phoned Paul Cheetham and Phil Allin and told them to carry on without me. It was at this point Phil pointed out his Rover P5b keys were in his works van and he wouldn't be able to leave until 5.30pm. I was starting to hear the Laurel & Hardy theme tune at this point ...
Nelson buzzed, popped and parped his way along the 58 miles to Crich without a hitch and i arrived at the camp field to see everyone set up and an impressive selection of classics ( including Phil and the P5b ).
'How did you beat me?' I enquired, he smirked and said "Well I may have touched 85 or 90 on occasion, and I have 4 more cylinders than you and more capacity". Nods of agreement came from the other 3 owners of V8 powered classics. Feeling like the guy with the smallest willy in the changing room i quietly parked Nelson consoling myself with his impressive 50 mpg and reliability.
After making some introductions to new members joining us including Ash with his cool Moke and Roger and Joan Tennyson in their beautifully restored Morris Oxford, it wasnt long before the BBQ and wood fire were alight under our communal gazebo.
I made my way to Tony Brooks latest toy, a Nash Metropolitan ripe for restoration. He mentioned repainting it, before he could say anymore I said "Hope its not that lurid turquoise and white you see them in?" He pursed his lips like he was sucking a lemon, realising I'd hit the nail on the head I back tracked by saying maybe a slightly darker green would suit it better. The lemon increased its bite on Tosh's lips before he said in his best yorkshire twang "It's turquoise or nowt".
Large amounts of cooked food, nibbles and alcohol followed in what was a very pleasant evening belatedly celebrating Phil Allin's birthday, ending around midnight.
My alarm woke me at 7am with the sound of heavy rain bouncing off the roof of the caravan. The air turned blue as I cursed our bad luck having heavy rain in June. As i looked outside I saw young Paul taking shelter under the gazebo, his tent having sprung a few leaks in the night.
Nevertheless as campers emerged from their tents, caravans and camper vans the show spirit kicked in. Engines were started, tables and chairs loaded, keys swapped to enjoy each others cars and we took off for the short drive over to the museum, deftly organised into order by Paul Cheetham we set up in our favourite spot around the band stand.
The weather started to improve and a better than expected 23 vehicles arrived. More of the general public arrived and soon started to appreciate the eclectic mix of vehicles our shows provide (including a Leyland coach ).
We all took full advantage of what Crich has to offer - trams, shops, restaurants and stunning scenery. At 1pm we were given permission to do a convoy up and down the village street; it was quite a sight seeing such a mix of vehicles together on a cobbled street. The gentle parp of exhausts and cheeky horns was shattered by Tosh Brooks revving up Lincoln Hunts monster Range Rover, can't take that bloke anywhere 😉.
The show drew to a close with Ian Woodward taking the prize for the 'members favourite car' with his stunning Zephyr.
All swapping keys again i found myself in Phils P5B, as our convoy made its way to the memorial located on the hillside next to the museum grounds. Once parked up it offered a truly amazing 360 panorama for photo opportunities .
Sunday presented itself in a much drier fashion but with considerably more wind than the previous day. Keen to get a good spot in the village Phil had one of the tram drivers open the main gates early for us.
We arranged ourselves around the main building near the entrance; the early birds who had been queuing in the side entrance were somewhat surprised to see our cars already set up as they arrived, but as the old saying goes ' its who you know that counts '.
A larger and more diverse selection of cars made up Sundays event, with some exceptional looking cars making an appearance, everything from an Alvis and a Traction Avant to a small coach that once belonged to the Queen Mother for transporting her staff between Royal residences.
Once again Crich showed itself to be an excellent venue for a car show as more and more visitors arrived and came to chat to us. Apollo the camper once again drawing attention from all quarters. My moggy, the Nash Metropolitan and the Moke made up a line of unrestored cars with heavy patina but still seemed to draw attention.
My final drive of the day was in the red XR3i owned by the Brooks and driven by Kurt Lawrence. He seemed to have fun in my Minor , slip sliding his way out of the field in a rear wheel drive car with only 145 tyres.
The XR3i was a treat to drive. It's been 20 years since I owned one and the memories came flooding back; low firm suspension, quick gearbox and whizzy and willing engine. There is something about those performance Fords that makes you feel good once you're behind the wheel.
My right hand man at these events, Mike Peake AKA Fat Bloke was sorely missed, but understandably was at home celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. The rest of the campers made it an easy weekend all helping out in different ways and of course special thanks to Paul Cheetham for all his hard work on both days.
Thank you Crich - we shall be back!
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