by Alan Warwick
It was my Dad, Fred, advising me to go into cars rather than motorbikes because the opportunities would be greater after finishing training. Dad tried to get me an apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Police in Hendon as well as Henley's, the famous Jaguar dealer at Henley's Corner on London's North Circular Road but neither organisation were able to take me. The Tottenham Youth Employment person knew Leslie Durdin, Managing Director of Capital Motors, Hornsey, a Vauxhall, Bedford ( trucks & vans ) and Scammell ( trucks and trailers) dealer.
I was interviewed by Mr Leslie Durdin and started my indentured apprenticeship in September 1965, having gained GCE 'O' levels in Maths, French , English Language, Physics and Technical Drawing at Tottenham County School, most of these 'O' levels coming in useful in my career.
Day one, 6th September 1965, was strange as they didn't seem to be expecting me and didn't know what to do with me so I was sent to work alongside a man in the Engine Shop rebuilding large truck engines, I remember fitting big end bearings.
Next day they seemed to have decided that I should be trained in the 'Stores' which was the motor trade expression for 'Parts department'. I was trained in using big, thick books to identify the part numbers for vehicle components and then finding and issuing the parts as well as helping unloading stock order deliveries and many menial jobs - being the youngest. I remember asking if we had Fire Alarm drill and was told 'you're not at school now, sonny' , how times change.
During the lunch times and whenever possible, I spent time in the workshop looking at the cars, vans and trucks and discovering more about the technical side of them, one colleague was Brian Stevens a former schoolfriend who taught me a great deal.
After several months in the stores, I went to the management and asked if they'd forgotten about me and they relocated me 'out' into the workshop. The first placement was a six months with the Electrician - Dick Marchant - from whom I gained good experience and several catch phrases including 'use your 'ead, save your 'ands' , which was good advice. I learned a great deal about workshop practice and vehicle electrics as well as going out on breakdowns which was always an adventure. One of my favourite jobs was fitting radios as that gave me the opportunity to listen to pop songs broadcast by the many 'Pirate' stations to the London area.
After the six months working alongside Dick, having started my tool purchasing, I was then placed with Fred Leif, the heavy commercial mechanic specialising in Diesel engines. I was NOT looking forward to that, away from cars, getting really oily and Fred was so OLD! Looking back, he was probably in his late fifties and chock-full of vehicle experience which he generously shared with me. Also, he always wore a tie, no health & safety, then!
Fred rarely referred to the manuals - he just knew what to do. We regularly removed Bedford TK truck engines, having first to disconnect the wiring etc and lifting the cab entirely off the vehicle, we didn't have a crane - just a couple of scaffold poles and several strong mechanic helpers! Fred dismantled the engine, throwing all the small parts, nuts and bolts into a large tray and then reassembled it, sometimes days later after waiting for parts, and knew where everything went-without any bits left over.
As an Indentured Apprentice, my Dad had signed a contract for me to complete the apprenticeship including my attendance at technical college on a “day release and evening” basis. The company paid for my training, probably with government grant assistance, and I had one day away from work ( on full pay ) to learn how to become a mechanic. I also had to return in the evening for other classes.
I quickly became best friends with two Peters, Cody and Lawson or Pete with a beard and Pete without a beard to family and friends. We used to take it in turns for our mums to give us dinner before returning for the evening, so we were friends with their families, too.
Initially we were in the “mechanics” stream but we soon were put in the higher grade of “technicians”, I passed Motor Vehicle Mechanics, City & Guilds examinations, with distinction and Technicians with credit as well as being presented with “Technician of the Year” award from The Institute of Road Transport Engineers in 1970. I went on to complete an additional 5th year for the management training involved to join the Institute of the Motor Industry (I.M.I. ) as an Associate Member in 1971. Subsequently, I became a Full member of the I.M.I
( Alan Warwick M.I.M.I. on my business cards )
During my time with Fred I was given one of my 'initiations’ to the Motor Trade, new de-greasing tanks had been delivered but (fortunately for me) not yet filled with a paraffin-like fluid. Several of my workmates grabbed hold of me and put me in a tank, closed the lid, sat on it and banged the side with hammers - could this have affected my hearing, subsequently?
Another time, I was put into a tube of 'mutton cloth’ or stockinette which was used to polish cars, then pushed in a wheelbarrow and deposited outside the Managing Director's office. One of the other apprentices was similarly mutton-clothed, put on a 6 foot canteen table and carried across Tottenham Lane outside and placed on the pavement. A passing lady told him “they're going to leave you here”
Because Fred had so many years experience, we got sent on a lot of breakdowns. Once we were repairing a Bedford TK truck on the M1 which involved getting inside hatches at the side of the cab, whilst under there Fred told me not to step back and admire my work - 'elf 'n' safety!
On another occasion, we were on the Southend Arterial Road stopped at traffic lights in our Breakdown Land Rover - now remember there's not much Fred didn't know about trucks - a lorry driver shouted over 'do you know anything about trucks?' Fred replied 'a bit, what's your trouble?' He had run out of diesel and wanted it bleeding having put more in but it wouldn't go because it had an air-lock in the fuel system. Even I could have bled it, never mind guru Fred. We got him going in minutes and got some 'beer money' which we used for non-alcoholic refreshments.
I ought to move on from Fred, now, as there were many other stories because I held him in high esteem. I think it was during this period that I bought my big socket set which I still have. It was about £20, and bearing in mind my weekly wages were around £6 10 shillings, the company bought the tools and deducted money weekly from our wages until they were paid for. Another deduction was the cost of overall cleaning which I remember REALLY resenting - they were essential for all workshop staff so WHY should we pay towards a company overhead!
After Fred and heavy truck experience, they put me with Goodwin Boodagee who came from an island off Africa, called Mauritius It just seemed from another planet to a boy from Tottenham. Boogy ( as he was known) was highly skilled on cars, getting all the complicated jobs including automatic transmissions ( gearboxes ) which we dismantled and had to wait a couple of weeks for parts to come from DETROIT, Michigan, USA! Remembering how to put this 3D jigsaw back together again was quite a feat, the owners patiently awaiting our efforts.
About the time I worked with Boogy, the overhead camshaft Vauxhall “slant 4” engine was introduced which was very advanced for its time but suffered from oil leaks which involved engine dismantling to put right. I appeared to be quite good at this job which required patience and attention to detail so Boogy left me to work on my own whilst he carried out other jobs which earned him bonus.
Ah! Bonus. This is how it worked and probably accounts for why we got a bad name as motor mechanics. ( I much prefer the word 'technician' which is used in the 21st century, I usually refer to myself as a 'motor engineer' ). Each 'job' carried a manufacturer's ' standard time' , say an hour to complete the job. If a mechanic amassed, say, 60 hours worth of tasks in a 40 hour week, then he was paid an extra 20 hours at the bonus rate. I never earned much bonus, partly because I wasn't very fast and partly because I would rather do the more interesting jobs that took longer than standard time. The best bonus jobs were routine servicing partly because you did them so regularly and got fast at them and partly because the apprentices could do them leaving mechanics free to do other, more complex jobs knowing that the apprentice was earning the bonus. Unofficially, the apprentices were given cash by the mechanics if they had earned well that week.
It was about this time that Vauxhall Dealers were involved with converting ordinary HB Vivas to Brabham Vivas by adding an extra carburettor, special exhaust system, other customer requirements and stripes across the bonnet and down the front wings sides. I enjoyed carrying these out as they were the sporty side of the job before the two litre Viva GT was released by the factory.
After Boogy I worked for Brian Inns for a short while carrying out general car repairs and servicing. Brian was three or four years older than me and quite a good mechanic as well as keeping me in line with my attitude and thinking both towards the job and socially. One memorable occurrence was the time he let me carry out the engine tune, spark plugs, contact breaker points, air filter and carburettor settings while he overhauled the brakes on a Victor 101.
He told me to let it back onto the floor and take it out into the yard, as I reversed (not slowly) across the 'shop, the brake pedal went straight to the floor and BOINNNNGG! I hit an iron support holding up the mezzanine floor. After replacing brake pads, the first press of the pedal brings them against the brake disc and the next press they start working - a lesson for my lifetime in cars. I can't remember if I was in trouble or whether Brian was because he ought to have pumped the brake pedal before letting the car onto the floor, I probably ought to have checked anyway.
Every now and then during apprenticeships we boys were used in the Cost Office where the charges for each job were worked out and the mechanics’ bonus calculated. I think this was when other staff were on holiday or times of staff vacancies. I was also drafted into Service Reception occasionally, which was my first experience of dealing with customers and I found that this was something I liked.
After working with Brian I was experienced enough to work 'on my own’ as it was termed, and I had passed out as an apprentice with the Managing Director noting on my “papers” …..an excellent student... deserves every success in his future career…... After a few months my friend Alan Potifer had left the company to move to Kent where housing was cheaper as he'd got married.
Alan had been one of three Service Receptionists and, as I'd had experience working in Reception, I approached the Service Manager and asked if I could have Alan's job - and I got it! One of the other service receptionists was called “Bill Bodger” - yes, really! Would you leave your car with Bill Bodger for service and repair?
The vehicles I had regularly worked on were Viva HA & HB Models, Victors ( FB & FC )
Cresta PA to PC ( including Viscount ) Bedford trucks, mainly TK, lots of Bedford CA vans and Scammell three wheel mini-tractor units which had to be split in half to replace clutches. Also I had to dismantle crashed cars prior to the paintshop doing their bit and then “fitting up” with grilles, bumpers and pieces of trim after painting.
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