A Legend Remembered – Again
A few months ago, I published a snippet from the autobiography of that legend of the British Motor Industry, the Chief Engineer of Victory Cars, Len Brik. Since then I have had a request for a further extract, but I must admit that a small amount of the late Len Brik’s odd grammar goes a long way. However, I can offer you some alternative Brik related information.
First, and relevant to last month’s theme, is the reason for Len Brik’s choice of engine for Victory’s flagship saloon, the Magistratum. His desire was to trump all the 6 cylinder competition and his brief to a group of gifted young engineers at Victory was “let’s go one up on all those six cylinder jobbies lads!”. They went to work and, in record time, they had created a compact, light alloy, single OHC, fuel injected 4 litre V8 which demonstrated a world beating bhp/litre as well as a fantastically flexible torque curve. This was in the early 60s remember. Brik took the Magistratum prototype equipped with this engine for a two minute drive round the Victory works car park, pronounced that ”it sounds too Yankified” Then he looked under the bonnet. Furious, he towered over the group and screamed “I said go bloody one up, not two”. It transpired that his desire was for a world first, a straight 7 engine.
He ordered all the prototype engines to be scrapped and the drawings destroyed. It was now too late to develop his engine from scratch so he instructed his welders to go to work on a pair of four cylinder 1500 cc Diva blocks, cutting each fourth cylinder in half and joining them to make a straight 7 pushrod engine. For the whole of its production , each engine had to be made in this way and, at 2.6 litres, the power output was well below its class. Some years later, when news reached Brik of Rover’s V8, he ordered work to be started on a V9 but, by then, Victory Cars had merged with Empire Motors, and Lord Rimms put a firm stop to it.
The Magistratum was not a great sales success and neither was it well received by the press. However, Brik ensured that it continued to be produced year after year and the final Series Five, still with a proud chrome ‘7′ on the grille, was greeted by Car’s Doug Blain with “Oh Lord, not another Brik ****house!”. The only dissenting voice was the Daily Express’s Maurice Spigot (“Weld Done Lenny!”) but I happen to know that this was a pseudonym Archie Vicar wrote under. However, Brik loved it and, indeed, owned the whole production of Series 5 models …. One.
My second offering is an extract from a more readable tome, ‘The Fall of Empire’ by Yasmin Vicar. The founder of Empire Motors, Lord (Frank) Rimms was notorious for being the foulest-mouthed member of a not particularly clean-mouthed industry. He was also very paranoid and recorded practically all the meetings in his office, leaving behind thousand of hours of reel-to-reel tape for the hard working Professor Vicar to sort through. Although the original book prints Lord Rimms’ words in their unexpurgated form, in order not to alienate too many of our new subscribers, I have replaced his many expletives with random words taken from a 1977 Empire Motors parts list.
The ‘merger’ of Empire Motors with Victory Cars was, in essence, a takeover of the latter. Victory was the result of the acquisition of three small car manufacturers after the Second World War by the Victory Air & Sea Manufacturing Company. It seems that Victory had realised that diversification into car manufacture was a wise path in the post war era but, in truth, their hearts were never in it. For that reason, Victory Cars was not controlled by a single paternalistic figure, like Empire’s Frank Rimms, but by an annually rotating triumvirate of directors taken from the various board members of the mother company. These men took no day to day interest in the car firm and control was effectively left in the hands of the Chief Engineer, the opportunistic Len Brik.
Brik’s stewardship was eccentric to say the least. The main thing that can be said in his favour was that, in a world desperate for new cars, he got ‘em built in abundance. He had no formal training and his knowledge of engineering seems to have been firmly fixed in the pre-war era. His Diva was, even by the standards of the time, a pretty dreadful car, but the public seemed to love it. For this reason, when Victory finally succumbed to Empire’s suiting, Lord Rimms felt that he had got just the man to produce the sort of bread and butter cars that Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule steadfastly refused to come up with.
Over the years Brik has been accused of many things, being branded both a bully and a bigot. I think the truth is simpler and that his main failing was that he trusted no-one who had not been born within ten miles of Tyneside. The only two exceptions were the journalist, Archie Vicar and Lord Rimms, the latter being the only man who he ever seemed to speak to in terms of deference. The respect was not, however, reciprocated. For all his various failings, Frank Rimms was no fool and he soon recognised that Brik was, in his words, ‘as crooked as my fanbelt“. The following extract from a meeting in the early 70s is illuminating,
“And what about the Monte-linkage-Carlo-sidelamp-Rally then Brik?”
“Well, Your Lordship, we shall be making the apposite annual entry again once more this year”
“And do you think you’ll dipswitch win driving that Magistratum piece of circlip?”
“Excuse me Lord Rimms, but that is not the point ..”
“Of course it’s not the seatbelt point. The headlining point is for you to breeze straight down to sparkplug Monte with a couple of dolly birds, fill the tappet adjuster boot up with wine on the way, get propshaft disqualifed, then shack up in a five gearknob star hotel for two wiper blade weeks to recuperate”
“Sire, I bitterly resent ….”
“Look you Geordie floormat, you can resent till sparks come out your wheelarch, but I know a rocker cover crook when I see one!”
“Your Honour I cannot be ….”
“Oh sprocket it Brik. I’ve got your timing chain number. You’re bent as a circlip circlip …!
“Me bent! If we’re talking bent now, that Sir Basil of yours ….”
“Watch your mouth you grommet. You’re talking about a trunnion genius matey. You’re not fit to lick his shims. You know what I’m talking about. You’re on the washer jet take. Look at these wheel nut invoices. This is enough bonnet catch welding gear to keep us going until the twenty rotor arm second century. And as for your layshaft expenses. I didn’t even dome head nut know that anyone could buy lifetime membership of the valve spring Playboy Club!”
“Your Earlship, I need to oil the wheels to lubricate the doors so to speak vis-a-vis a suitable opening in a manner of speaking. You know how it is in the business world in the upper echelons. We’ve both risen ourselves upwards from humble and modest backgrounds by our bootstraps. I’m an old cycle man just like you”
“Don’t give me that sump tray matey. You, a breather tube cycle man? I gave you my grandson’s Sturmey Archer to fix and you had it welded up seat runner solid.”
“Whae Aye, that’ll give the young sprog some leg muscles like. Otherwise he’ll end up a nancy-boy like Sir Basil”
“I told you to watch your filthy mouth you crankshaft spacer – and don’t give me that Awa’ The Lads Geordie oil seal you two-faced needle-roller. And where’s my lock nut Marina competitor”
“Well Your Nobility, the lads got hold of a Marina and stripped it down to the bare bones. Whae Aye .. Sorry Gaff .. er Lord, I mean well it’s got just too much complex complexity. Why I can’t see how that Lord Stokes can make a penny from it. It’s a ridiculous fantasy. Blooming foolish advanced engineering. It’s all pie in the trees. Do you know, it’s got torsion bars? That’s ….. that’s foreign. That’s even European that is”
“Of course it’s got spring seat torsion bars, they came off the pinion bearing Minor”
“Pah, there’s another poncey fairy’s car”
“Well I’m having none of that. I’m doing a simple reskin of the old Diva with a few added basic simplifications I’ve got in mind, and that should do you fine to your acceptable satisfaction Sir Lordship”
“The stud nut Diva? Are you pulling my side rod? That heap of spool valve. I’d rather put my yoke adjuster in a vice than put my end seal name to that.”
Shortly after this, the meeting came to a close. Brik worked out his contract but the two never met again. Rimms ordered all the Diva based prototypes to be scrapped but the task proved impossible. The bodies were loaded onto reinforced trailers, then taken out to sea and sunk. They remain a danger to shipping to this day.
Last, as a postscript, following Brik’s untimely death he was flown back to England from Spain and laid to rest in Heddon-on-the Wall. The funeral was quite an event and I was just one of many attendees. Lord Rimms allowed the only prototype Magistratum Grandiloquence Estate to be released to carry him in state, on the proviso that “you don’t bring the footwell piece of scrap-iron back”. The eulogy was read by Archie Vicar but, rather uniquely, had been written by Brik himself “in prescience of future events that might occur to unfurl”. It was not modest, and was rather long, lasting 35 minutes, but only the first 10 minutes were read in the church. Vicar realised that some of the funereal meats were of the roast variety, so suggested that they proceeded with a speedy burial and that he would complete the reading in the more convivial atmosphere of The Swan. The music, too, had been chosen by Len and a brass band struggled rather with Morricone’s theme from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ before settling into the more predictable strains of ‘My Way’ accompanied by an all girl choir. As a crane lowered the coffin, which was made from ship hull grade steel and welded shut with a welding mask and gauntlets placed on top, hardened Geordies were seen to shed copious tears. There was an unfortunate altercation between Brik’s wife, his secretary and a lady from Paddington, all of whom thought they were his widows. Memorably, Lord Rimms was heard to ask if anyone possessed a tin-opener, “so we can make sure the slippery clutch-plate really is in there”. To this day, no-one is really sure.