Rootes Memories: An Eventful Test Drive

The Rootes factory at Ryton, 1960s.
Photo by John P. Webster, Avionics Engineer. Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH970/57

My earliest memory of Rootes was the annual visit to the pantomime at the Coventry Hippodrome with the other kids of Rootes workers. We all got a Christmas stocking of chocolates as a present. A fond memory and I was about five at the time, so it must have made an impression on me. We also went on a trip every summer, sometimes to Drayton Manor and others to Wicksteed Park. It is amazing that I still recall these trips organised for the kids by the Group, but I had fun and I really appreciate the efforts the adults made for us.

A Commer test run

Another more exciting memory was that of my father taking a Commer Van on a test run. My father was a planning engineer and we regularly had roll cars or new models to “test” with trips to the seaside etc. The most exciting of these being the trip with the Commer Van to the Malvern Hills to test – this time really test – the brake system.

A major fail as it happens. Dad, Mum and Gran (sitting over the engine in the middle) and three kids in the back (playing on the sand bags provided as ballast for the test) set out on a Sunday for a test run in the country. What we didn’t know is that the fitter who fitted the trial system had failed to tighten the joints. Every brake manoeuvre resulted in a few drops of fluid being forced out. Coming down a steep hill into a village, my father pressed the brake to slow our descent which forced the remaining fluid out. From then on we were in mega trouble and had no brakes at all.

My father tried to stop the Commer by rolling against a house wall, taking out a part of an entrance to a butcher’s shop and trapping two old ladies in the doorway, scaring the life out of them. That didn’t work and so we tried to use the brand new lamp posts in front of us as potential “brakes”. Three lamp posts later, and just before a petrol pump, we came to a stop.

The vicar was livid!

The local vicar (whose house was opposite us) was livid, as was his son. The lamp posts were one week old at the time and the product of years of lobbying. As kids, we got to see Sooty and Sweep accompanied by ice cream in the vicar’s house, which we thought was a great end to an exciting day. Today there would have been a major inquest, but my father’s boss sent a secretary in a company car to bring us home – on a Sunday.

Years later my dad got me a used roll car for a super price. A Talbot Horizon. My first nearly new car. So, as a Rootes kid, I can’t complain about how they treated me and the rest of us.

My father goes back a long way with Rootes, having started at Humber and later having worked on the Imp design team.

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