by Brian Allison
Life at Atkinson's had settled into a nice routine by and large, although I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for Saturday mornings. I couldn't then and still can't imagine now, working in a tyre shop.
I found struggling with tyre levers, repairing inner tubes that at times resembled patchwork quilts and washing and polishing cars absolutely boring. The only occasional relief was the odd water fights , tolerated to a degree by Norman, but regarded as, "Absolutely outrageous behaviour" in the view of the afore mentioned pompous prig of a manager. In light of some of the things that went on a bit of a water fight was small beer indeed.
Anyone familiar with early Land Rovers will know how long the starting handle is for them. Now imagine a standard boiler suit of the kind we wore then, buttons up the front, though I imagine a zip fastened one would be just as effective. If you catch the loose fabric at the back of the suit with the starting handle and wind it up it becomes a very effective straight jacket. If you then clamp the other end in a bench vice the victim is completely helpless.
That was what happened to one apprentice who got a bit too lippy. Either Geoff or Brian was the mechanic who did this but I can't be sure which now. Left there for a few minutes it did wonders for your loose lip. On another occasion I was the victim of the other apprentices when they locked me in the toilet. They were amazed when I re-appeared Houdini like within a few minutes, they hadn't realised I had a screwdriver in my rule pocket, the hinges were off within 5 minutes.
All horseplay aside I was learning fast, especially on some of the earlier models we got to work on. One that sticks in my mind was an early Land Rover that we completely overhauled. Everything that could be checked was and any repairs needed were done. I made so many trips to the store on that job that for years afterward I could recite the chassis number at the drop of a hat.
Another was renovating the auto lube system fitted to a P3 Rover owned by the father of James Mason, the Huddersfield-born film star. For anyone who finds the auto lube reference baffling here's a pic to explain it.
If you imagine the number of grease nipples on the average pre war car, and then imagine a network of rigid and flexible small bore brass pipes running to each and every one of them, you get some idea of what the job entailed. Every pipe and union had to be removed, cleaned and in many cases unblocked then refitted or replaced.
When I asked Colin in the stores for replacement unions he was unable to help at all and passed me onto Arthur, the stores manager. He then called old Fred over. Fred normally did not serve in the stores but kept the stock records, none of which showed the parts I needed. "No problem" said Fred, "Come with me". He led me upstairs to the large second floor which extended over the showroom and stores. The general offices were at one end, then a large open space which was used to store a number of cars, located there by means of a lift from the showroom below.
I'd been amazed when I was told that this lift which had a large central ram was actually water powered. The wonders of hydraulics. Anyway, back to the job in hand. At the other end of the floor was a partioned off area That I'd never given any thought to. Turned out that this was where any parts taken off the stock lists were stored, and it seemed only Fred knew what or where said parts were located. He had me fixed up in no time, and amazed me by his recall of part numbers for them all. Prior to this, I'd always dismissed him as just a stock clerk and it taught me a valuable lesson; experience can't be bought and should be given the respect it deserves.
Talking of lubrication we also did two or three jobs relating to stiff steering, again on Rovers. The king pins on the Rover do not, unlike most kingpins require greasing. They are designed to be oil lubricated, and some owners seeing the plugs on the kingpin housing assumed they were blanking plugs in greasing points. Consequently they removed the plugs, fitted grease nipples and got to work with the grease gun, hence the stiff steering.
In September of that first year the Rover 3 Litre was launched! What a machine! The sight of this beauty had us all drooling. We'd thought the P4 was a magnificent car but this was even bigger and better, the interior was sumptuous, leather and wood, thick carpets, seats so big and comfy looking, and a thoroughly modern looking instrument binnacle. And it had an upgraded version of the engine that started it all. It was love at first sight for me. I've been fortunate enough to own and drive a multitude of different cars since then but the P5, in all it's versions is still my number one.
The first few P5's we got had drum brakes all round and after a short period this was changed to discs at the front. The early cars were brought in to be converted and apart from that I don't recall any problems with them from the word go.
Talking of drum brakes, why on more recent cars are the self adjusting mechanisms so complicated? Prior to discs the self adjustment on the Rovers was simplicity itself and never gave problems. This consisted of two friction washers, one either side of the brake shoe. The washers were on a boss that passed through a slotted hole in the shoe and engaged with a peg on the backplate. Press the brakes and the friction washers hold the shoe in that position; release the brake and the play allowed on the peg enables the shoe to retract enough to clear the drum. Simple.
The hand brake was rather novel too with a ramp, roller and tappet arrangement built into the rear wheel cyls. Another system that worked very well and provided the right grease was used was pretty trouble free.
Christmas 1958 proved to be another giant step in my education. I was now 16 and everyone at work knew it. This did not however stop them introducing me to a completely new pastime - the pub! Whether the landlord of the Sportsman's Arms directly across from the garage either knew or cared how old I was I don't know, but he never passed any comment when we all trooped in for a few drinks before the holiday.
The chap who worked the lube bay was called Mick, not as he'd been quick to tell me from the West Indies, he was from Grenada. I'd looked it up and found that it was officially a part of the West Indies but could understand his attitude. A bit like Yorkshiremen being called English. He was the one who bought me my first ever rum. I hated it, still do. Sticking to beer I managed to walk out unaided and made my way home to a knowing smile from my father, a few sharp words from my mother, and a very early night.
Next time :- 1989 and the launch of THAT car.
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