Towards the end of 1960, big changes came about; the Rally-Racing Department at the Allesley Service Division was closed down, and Ken Richardson and a small number of people were transferred to a small workshop within the Radford factory. We were back where we started, working within the Works Service Division, mainly on problem cars sent to us by main dealers. People would say that these were Friday afternoon cars, put together by a man waiting for the bell to knock off work.
Other work we carried out was on personal export handover cars, mainly TRs, but later Spits [Spitfires]. I remember on one occasion I had worked on a TR6, done the prep check, fitted some of the extras, finished the car, and driven it down to the reception area where this American guy and his wife were sitting around waiting in a Ford Thunderbird. They loved it but there was a problem – the American had never driven a car with a stick gear change or clutch, only autos.
Clearing a four foot hedge
We spent the next hour teaching him how to drive the TR6 around the car park; it did all click into place after a while. That is not the end of the story however; I went back to the workshop only to be told to get back to reception as something had gone wrong. On my return I found all the reception staff looking out across the A45, into the fields opposite.
The American had kissed his wife, said “see you later, honey”, jumped in the TR6, and taken off. Joe, the gate policeman, stepped out of his office to take the guy’s vehicle pass off him, and car and driver shot past him, out of the gate, across the southbound carriageway, hit the grass verge, cleared a four foot hedge and ended up at the bottom of a field. The car was a write-off, but he was OK and apparently went back into reception and ordered another car.
During the 1960s Standard-Triumph were building thousands of cars, TRs and Spits, mainly for export to the USA. Home market cars – Heralds, Vanguards, Spits, TRs etc. were selling well, but occasionally there was a surplus of these and they were stored on disused airfields, quarries, and open fields, some were there for months or even years. We would load the van with batteries, cans of petrol, tools etc. and then head off to Church Lawford airfield.
There are many horror stories I could relate about what we found, such as cars with footwells full of water (mainly Heralds, which had carpets bonded to the underfelt with fish based glue – you can imagine what they smelled like). On another occasion I opened the door of a TR3A to find a cat with three little kittens. She had torn the front seat cushion to shreds to make a bed. Rest assured, we left her alone and kept her well fed for the rest of the week.
When I think back to my early days in Coventry as an apprentice at Daimler (1950-1956) there have been so many changes. As young lads we had the finest training in the machine shops and assembly shops in the main Daimler factory at Radford. Also, we did around a year at the Daimler Browns Lane factory, which later in 1958-1959 was taken over by jaguar, Daimler servicing moving to the north end of the Daimler Radford plant, namely ‘Barkers’, the body plant for Daimler. Around 1960 the north end of the Daimler factory became the Standard-Triumph axle plant and training school.
This is part four of an abridged version of an article that appeared in TR Action, the TR Register magazine, in 2007-2008. Further information can be found on their website. For the full article, please contact them.