by Brian Allison
It's now 1968, Anne and myself are now engaged, and apart from the occasional drive in her father's Cortina I've not had a lot to do with them.
The garage I worked at had given up the Rootes agency and taken on not one, not even two, but four JF's :- Datsun, Alfa, Peugeot and NSU. All four had their strong points and the NSU Ro 80 in particular was quite a departure after the Rootes products. After changing one Ro 80 engine too many I developed a case of itchy feet and started looking round for a change of scenery which duly arrived in the form of fleet maintenance for a prominent local civil engineering company.( Posh way of saying builders that did a lot of work for the council.)
The new job was a long established family company with a fleet of everything from small petrol engined vibratory pokers through various company cars up to a couple of the new Ford D series tippers. So plenty of variety along with the better pay. Life at Wimpenny's promised to be interesting and educational.
The management set up was different to anything I'd come across before too. Harry ( the old man)was the son of one of two brothers who founded the firm and must have been in his 80's and was officially retired, though this did not stop him occasionally coming down and checking things out around the yard. One of his sons Harry junior looked after the quarry side of the firm.
The actual building side of things was under the control of Harry's other son Reg and their cousin Noel, each having their own projects and work gangs. The company secretary was Reg's son David who would have been in his mid 30's. The maintenance staff consisted of David, the fleet manager ( who I was glad to see didn't mind getting his hands dirty),Bert (older mechanic who'd been there years),and an apprentice, about 18 yrs. old called Patrick.
One morning shortly after I started David said he had a job for me. I was to perform what would be a regular monthly task for the rest of my time there. Not an unpleasant job at all. All I had to do was take the Land Rover up to old Harry's house then drive him in his Rover 105 down to the local barbers, wait while he had his hair cut , then take him back home. I found this little job was great fun, because whilst I was driving he would constantly be pumping me about what was going on in the yard. Any little bit of gossip I felt safe to pass on obviously made his day.
So many memories of Wimpenny's spring to mind I'm afraid I've almost forgotten what this is supposed to be about.
Ah, yes, the Ford Cortina.
The company secretary David, a thoroughly nice chap had a Cortina GT, which would have been about 18 mths. old. A light grey little beast that I'd coveted on sight. He drove the Cortina into the garage one day and went into the little office to talk to David. At one point I noticed him looking out of the office window directly at me but assumed he was just curious about what I was working on. Both Davids left the office together and headed right in my direction, causing me to wrack my brain for what I'd done wrong.
I needn't have worried - they had no complaints about my work. On the contrary they had a proposition for me. It turned out that David fancied trying his hand with the Cortina at a bit of hill climbing. He'd done his research, decided what needed to be done to make the car competitive, and wondered if I along with David would be interested in doing the work. He explained that he could not let us do it on the firm's time, but if we were willing to do it in the evenings or weekends we could use the garage and he'd pay us for any time we spent working on it. Would I? Too true! Any extra money was always welcome and I felt sure Anne would find a good use for it. No Victoria's Secret's in those days but even so..
The first job was to strip out the engine so it could be bored oversize. While the machine shop was doing that we turned our attention to the suspension, fitting shorter, stiffer springs and up rated shock absorbers. When we got the engine back we rebuilt it with a new uprated camshaft, exchange gas flowed head, and new inlet manifold and carb.( A Weber of some kind). Refitted it was completed with a beautifully constructed Abarth exhaust system which looked like it must have cost almost as much as my car ( a Morris Oxford by then).
The first time we started it up and revved it I thought for a moment that we'd forgotten to connect the exhaust manifold. Talk about loud. The road test we left to David. He left the yard in a shower of gravel and a roar from that exhaust fit to wake the dead. He's been gone so long we were starting to worry, when we heard him coming back down the main road. He arrived with the biggest grin on his face, you'd have thought he'd won the pools.
David and the Cortina were very Happy with each other and I was happy with the extra cash, so a good result all round.
Over the next two years or so I was fortunate enough to drive the GT on a fair number of occasions doing road tests and such, and can honestly say it was one of the most enjoyable cars I've been fortunate enough to drive. Though with that exhaust I think on any long run earplugs would have been required.
Next time :- The Mk 2's
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