by Brian Allison
After I left Wimpenny's I didn't have much to do with the Cortina's, save the odd service on Anne's father's car. That is until we jump to 1975, which finds me a responsible?, married, mortgaged young man running a 2ltr.Triumph Vitesse, and working on fleet maintenance for a ready mix concrete company
Steetly had a large number of ready mix plants throughout England, plus quarries and chemical plants and later became part of what is now Redland.PLC. One could be forgiven for thinking that such a large thriving concern would have thoroughly modern facilities : not so! The garage at Brighouse was what I'd describe as functional but in no way luxurious. A large shed with a long pit, small office in one corner, even smaller canteen area in the other corner and the stores , compressor and generator in built on lean to's. There was mains electricity, the generator had been installed in 1973 due to the three day week imposed by the government.
Our younger readers who don't know what I'm talking about should Google it, they may find it gives them some insight into what life was like in the 70's, it wasn't all glam rock! One thing we did lack was mains water. Tea being an absolute necessity for the smooth running of any garage this meant we had to bring in fresh water on a daily basis. This was done from the local café along with the best bacon and tomato teacakes I've ever eaten. Before anyone starts casting aspersions about strange eating habits I should point out that contrary to most of England, in West Yorkshire a tea cake is a plain bread cake and does not contain currants. The washing facilities could only be described as primitive consisting of a 45 gallon drum which was outside so as to catch rainwater off the roof. Any other water needed came courtesy of the canal.
The site had originally provided access across a canal bridge to a gravel pit operation which was now flooded and used as a fishery stocked with trout. The ready mix plant was sited on the opposite bank of the canal and drew it's water directly from it. Above the ready mix plant was the garage, and directly across from that was a large barn with a pit that served as a overflow garage when needed. Also on the site was the regional lab facility where sample concrete cubes were tested. The area served by us covered West and North Yorkshire where we had about 6 ready mix plants and about the same number of quarries which supplied the aggregate for the concrete. The mixer fleet was mainly Leyland Reivers with a couple of Fodens and later on two Ford D1000's. The latter it must be said gave more trouble than any of the others. The tipper fleet again was mostly Foden. This was were I came to appreciate just how good Gardner engines were.
So you've got the background, now to the Cortina.
When I started at Steetly's I noticed a dust covered 1967 MK2 Cortina parked outside the Lab looking rather sorry for itself. When I'd been there a few months and settled in I found out that the Cortina belonged to one of the junior lab technicians called if I remember correctly his name was Mark. The body work had a fair few battle scars but nothing majorly wrong with it, and Mark said it had been stood for over a year after the front suspension struts had started knocking and ceased doing their job. He'd started using a motorbike as it was a lot cheaper and he preferred the bike anyway. I was definitely interested. Although he assured me that it had been running perfectly apart from the struts I wanted to be sure before buying it, so fitting a spare battery and checking the points, I tried the starter and was pleasantly surprised when after only a few cranks the engine spluttered into life.
It quickly settled down to a steady tick-over and when revved sounded perfect. When I tried to select a gear however all I got was a terrible clatter and a stalled engine. The clutch was obviously not working and a quick check of the release lever movement confirmed my suspicion that the centre plate was stuck to the flywheel. Starting it in gear I proceeded to drive it around the yard , all the time changing up and down gears to try shock the centre plate free. It did eventually break free and operated perfectly afterwards. This little exercise also confirmed that the gearbox synchro's were in excellent order. So I bought myself a Dark red 1600 super. I can't remember what I paid but it can't have been much knowing me.
The garage manager was called Jack Schofield and I'd got on really well with him from day one, probably in part due to a scrap of shared history that came to light when we were chatting after I'd accepted the job.
Somehow the conversation turned to his past career as a speedway rider for Belle Vue and his dalliance with the early days of stock car racing. I'd never been to a speedway meeting but I had been to one of the first stock car meetings at Odsal Stadium in Bradford. This was one of the very few times that my elder brother had actually taken me anywhere in his Austin 7. I told Jack about this, and also told him that my abiding memory of that outing was the sight of a large white car with a piece of corrugated iron where the sun roof had been filled in.
This amused Jack greatly, and he explained that that was quite likely him as the description fitted his car perfectly. He also explained that the terms of speedway driver's contracts prohibited them from taking part in any other motor sports, and if you look at any of the very early stock car programmes you will find quite a few obviously fictitious names used by speedway riders racing against orders. Anyway, as I said I got on well with Jack and he readily agreed to let me use the barn out of my work hours to do up the Cortina.
First job was the struts. Cheap enough and easily fitted, whilst also affording access to check over the steering which was all good. I then stripped the brakes, found nothing apart from cleaning was needed, so far so good. I was now at the point where I had to decide how far to go before actually putting the Cortina back on the road. The interior was in perfect shape and only needed a good cleaning. The body had, as I said before got a fair few dents and scrapes but was still good with no rust at all. I decided that with some minor repairs and a decent coat of paint I could have it looking good as new. Always assuming that the boss, Anne, agreed to splash out on the materials of course. In the event she agreed much more readily than I expected and the fate of many evenings and weekends was decided.
Having decided to repaint the car I thought I may as well do the job as well as possible and completely strip it of all external fittings. Then after beating out the dents and scrapes as well as possible I set to with filler. Bear in mind I had never even tried using filler before and you'll get some idea of the amount of time and quantity of filler it took before I was satisfied with the result. I swear some of those dents must have had 6 or more skims, and the bin was full of production paper and wet and dry.
Eventually I got to the stage where the whole body was actually all rubbed down nice and smooth ready for paint. This raised another problem: I'd never even held a spraygun let alone sprayed a full car. We had the spraygun and air supply courtesy of Steetly - all I needed was a tutor. This I found in the shape of Hubert. We ran a two shift system. The day shift, 8-00 to 6-00 did repairs and breakdowns and the night shift,10-00 to 8-00 did servicing and minor repairs as time allowed.
Hubert was the night foreman, who apart from saying good morning to,I hadn't really spoken to prior to starting work on the Cortina. I'm sure all of you who work on your own know how easy it is to lose track of time. So it was with me. No mobiles then, and the promise of just working a couple of hours after work led to a lot of ruined dinners. I was still working one night when Hubert arrived for work, saw the light on in the barn, and scared me out of my skin when he appeared apparently from nowhere. After I explained my plan he very generously offered to give me a few tips on how to spray. He even came in early to do so. He was quite a character was Hubert, full of fun and bad jokes. He once asked me if I fancied doing a bit of fishing. Turned out he was in the habit of going fishing at first light for a trout or two for breakfast.
A coat of primer. Rub down. Another coat. rub down. Same process with two top coats. Then get rid of all the orange peel with compound. The amount of time and effort put any idea of working in a bodyshop right out of my mind, but eventually a really good looking car emerged. A good layer of polish, refit all the chrome , handles, repainted wheels etc., and though I say so myself it really did look good as new.
Tax and insurance were soon started and at last I had my Cortina on the road.
Next time :- What happened next.
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