Interviews with Gordon Barton on the acoustics at the Coten End site, Paul Stanforth on the conditions in the experimental building and modifying a Healey 3000 to form the Healey 4000, David Burton on the Parts Department and moving cars around the site, Paul Hunt on working in experimental and Roger Beard on a memorable sale.
Gordon Barton worked in the stores at the Cape Works of the DHMC and later at the Coten End site, Paul Stanforth was an apprentice mechanic and part of Healey Le Mans team and David Burton was an apprentice mechanic. Paul Hunt was a mechanic at the Coten End site and Roger Beard was an apprentice mechanic and and worked in the sales department at the Coten End site.
Gordon Barton: It was a converted cinema, you’d got a showroom on the front and the Stores were basically on the balcony at the top and you’ve got the acoustics in there were quite loud. You had got Bill Buckingham, the chap who used to hammer the body panels. They had got these wooden bucks on the stage and he was hammering away and they were doing the Sprite prototypes for Le Mans and they were hammering away all the time and you had to shut the office door if you wanted to phone because being a cinema of course it was the acoustics. It used to really come back at you
Paul Stanforth: Working conditions were brilliant. Bear in mind, this was a brand new building, they had moved up from the Cape and they put this brand new experimental building behind the cinema there so it was clean – you could eat your dinner off the floor, and very often did sometimes, but, no, it was good conditions. Good conditions, the people were great, I mean the whole team was good. When I think back, it was a great time, it was an exciting time for me.
David Burton: We used to have to go up to the Parts Department which was up some stairs to a mezzanine floor that was built with all the parts and that was an absolute treasure trove, really. If you got the opportunity to go round that Parts Department, which we did a lot, there was just amazing things. Aluminium wings, aluminium doors for 3000s, Sprites, Le Mans cylinder heads, blocks, engines, wheels, all just up in the Parts Department, just waiting to be used, if they were ever going to be used. And, of course, everybody there who usually had something BMC related, so, Austin related, and so there was a, we were always on the scrounge for Experimental for parts and bits and pieces that they didn’t want, that they weren’t going to use, that wasn’t practical and so, most of us at some point in time had a car that was contributed to by Donald Healey.
David Burton: Now the Workshop, we had a wooden staircase that went up to the mezzanine and all the normal pranks, “Go and get me a long way, go and get me a box of tappet clearances” all of those sorts of things went on and I was quite happy to get out of my first year’s apprenticeship so that somebody else could take all the stick, really.
Paul Stanforth: they were looking to produce a Healey 4000, the big brother to the Healey 3000 and they were doing that with a Rolls Royce four litre engine. I think BMC at that moment in time had a quantity of Rolls Royce four litre engines they wanted to find a home for, so they thought they’d produce a super-duper luxurious sports car. Now what that entailed was actually cutting a Healey 3000 chassis and body down the middle, and jigging it up and widening it by six inches before they put the new Rolls Royce engine in there. I was given the job purely and solely, and it’s only me did it, of hand cutting that car right down the middle with a pad saw and hacksaw. It took me two whole weeks, every day for two weeks and in the end, we got there. And that car still exists I believe, with a six-inch gusset runs right the way through it.
Paul Hunt: And so, anyway, Stan and Geoff Price came to see me and said “Geoff Healey wants to see you, can you go up to his office?” and then he gave me the opportunity to go into Experimental. …I started in there and then the first job was, we were started making brackets and stuff for the SR. And then when the car was eventually was built and the body, Bill Buckingham and Terry Westwood did the body on the car.
Interviewer: Right. Who actually styled it? Who designed it? Was it Geoff, Geoff Healey, do you think?
Paul Hunt: I’m sure Barry Bilbie and Geoff Healey and also Derek Westwood had a lot of input into the car.
Paul Hunt: Because the original car, it had a big snout on it, you know? It was totally different to that it was, yes. So, anyway, the car was built and also, we used to, along with Clive Hendry and Mick Guest, we were doing the Le Mans Sprites and they were being worked on as well.
David Burton: But it was a great environment and, of course, in Coten End it was, the cattle market was around Coten End as well, so, that was quite interesting. It was a bit fresh sometimes when the cattle market was on. And all the cars used to come up the one side and go and walk into the workshop entrance and straight into the office and inevitably, getting them from the entrance into the workshop, from there to the entrance of the workshop, involved going round the whole U-shape of the building, which was a bit of a cinder track, really and, of course, that just ended up as a bit of a high-speed track and there were a few people, and I can remember Geoff Price screaming at people because they were going too quickly and he was trying to get from one side to the other and by the time he set off to get hold of them and tell them, they’d got round the other side, the car was in the workshop and there was no driver to be seen and he didn’t know who it was.
Roger Beard: we were locking up one Saturday when a gentleman wearing wellington boots with a lot of tarmac stuck to them came in through the front door carrying a supermarket type carrier bag to which there was a lot of bemoaning because everybody was just going, so I said I’ll speak to him and I’ll come over to the pub when I’ve finished with him. They all said ‘you won’t do any good with him, he has just come in here to have a look.’ So I spoke to the gentleman and he said that the Jensen Interceptor parked over on the one side of the showroom, which I think was about £8200 brand new at the time, he said ‘is that particular one for sale?’ I said ‘Yes’. He said ‘right’ and he said ‘the Jensen Healey’ (parked on the other side) ‘is that one for sale?’ I said yes. He said ‘could I have them both ready for next Saturday, one for myself and the other one for my wife?’ I said ‘Are you sure sir?’ he said ‘yes, can I pay a deposit now?’ and he produced £5,000 from his carrier bag which took me a long time to count, and I did the paperwork and everything. I then arrived at the pub some three-quarters of an hour late, to announce to Mr Hodges that, what should I do with the £5,000 I had and the two cars in the showroom are now sold…