Ghost Stories

Today we examine the UK motor industry prospects for the 1963 automotive graduate, and ponder what we’ve lost along the way.

All images – the author

Reading and being able to write are a huge staple in life. Do you remember when it all suddenly became clearer? I’m suspecting many of you (including me) out there don’t; though what you will remember is how wonderful it was to pick up a book and start to enjoy those words and pictures.

Sadly, as life in general often delivers at the most opportune moments, someone then told me ‘Don’t believe everything you read.’ Memories of being disappointed, deflated and downright angry spring to mind. But you read on and find subjects of interest. From stories to the storied. This reading lark began to become fun.

As being a part of the motor industry, in that I own a car and take a great interest in its broad umbrella, I recently acquired a wee tome whose title of ‘The Motor Industry as a Career’ caught my eye. Rodney L Walkerley was the author of this book, first published in 1963 (and sold for 13/6, whatever that is) when Britain was still at the forefront of said industry.

The book offers sound and plentiful advice for the youngster of the early ‘60s with addresses for names now long gone or under completely different owners: Alvis, Bristol, Hillman, Humber, Singer, Standard, Triumph, Wolseley, amongst others. The Rootes Group is highlighted for operations in 24 countries, spare parts availability in 163 and over a thousand dealers. Devonshire House, Piccadilly was their headquarters and previous to their ownership, Citroën’s. Brings a tear to the eye. 

Walkerley guides the hopeful young buck through the many processes of building a car, the layers of the production cake, the component suppliers, the management, the shop floor. 

He introduces us to Louis Coatalen, the French engineer who joined Humber as an engineer in 1901 then moved to Sunbeam and helped them to motor racing glory and founded the rather unfortunate acronym of STD Racing, that is a collective of Sunbeam, Clement-Talbot and Darracq. 

BMC is of course strongly mentioned being the powerhouse of British manufacturing back then. Before Herbert Austin and William Morris brought the behemoth to life, consider their humble beginnings. Austin began his career with Wolseley and a three-wheeled car made in 1895. By 1908 his aspirations were coming to fruition with quality engines and a dozen or more Austin’s available for purchase; Austin was on the up.

Morris, or as anyone over the age of 50 knows him as Lord Nuffield, initially made bicycles aged 16 with a capital of £4. He swiftly understood the need to bring prices down, make more items people wanted at an affordable price. Inherently simple and effective. Cars soon followed and who doesn’t know of the Minor miracle? One million Morris cars made just before the Second World War.

Another million Morris Minors by 1961. He realised buying companies who made the parts his cars required made things even cheaper. Then go out and buy car makers: Riley, Wolseley and of course, MG. BMC formed in 1952 and there is no need to dwell on its fortunes here for much has been said. What they did achieve was consistent and progressive apprenticeships with staggering amounts of youngsters taken and moulded into whatever course they chose within the industry. 

Thousands of young men must have passed through the BMC training doors and Walkerley adds some early 1960’s monetary values to these; boys from outside the Birmingham area could live in approved lodgings and weekly allowance for this lasted until aged 23. Weekly rates of pay started at aged 16 were £3 and 15 shillings, rising to £11 and 15 shillings aged 22.

Allowances ranged from ten to thirty shillings. Apprentices were highly encouraged to continue further up the educational ladder, certification, degrees and the chance to live and work in some of their foreign establishments. Can you Imagine today’s Jaguar “Young-un’s” with no iPhone, digs or pathway to follow? 

Before their apprenticeship ended, a weeks ‘pass-out’ course was held at Hasely Manor near Warwick where these avenues could be discussed, then chosen. 

At this time it was still possible to work for Ford, not just at Dagenham but also Cork. With similar schemes to those of BMC, many a young lad (or lass) was indoctrinated to the Blue Oval, or indeed the Viking Rover of Solihull, maker of vehicles with a fine reputation and at this juncture, fifteen years into the Land Rover. They only made the one style and like every manufacturer mentioned here, exported heavily. Should you wish to work for Rover, please apply to the Apprentice Supervisor, Meteor Works, Solihull. Notice no postcode.

Dunlop had over 35 branches one could apply to work for in the UK alone. The Owen Organisation a similar amount. Investment in the car and engineering sector was massive.

But the section of the book that perhaps relates more to the DTW bent is that of the Technical Press. I’ll let Mr Walkerley take it from here. 

No other country in the world is so well provided with an impartial and authoritative technical press dealing with all aspects of the motor industry, with weekly and monthly journals. Working for such a periodical keeps one in close touch with developments, long before being aired to the public. Articles from outsiders are always needed and whilst no apprenticeship as such exists, vacancies do occur from time to time. A good command of English, writing swiftly and legibly with a little bias toward the technical. 

One May get to work testing a car, visiting factories, arranging release dates, attending races and functions connected with but the price will be hard work. Accuracy, deadlines, no mishaps or excuses. He must deliver his copy by telephone if need be, whether he has had a meal in the last twelve hours or not.

If covering a hill climb or race, one should make the article imaginative and descriptive. Don’t enrol the dull monotony of who passed who on which lap. A routine road test should avoid the sameness of phrasing’s and avoid clichés like ‘steering light but positive’ or ‘the controls fell readily to hand.’ Just because a journal deals with matters technical mean it need not be dull.

Brian: “Should we have fins, rocket power or seductively named colours”? Jeremy: “I’m more concerned by ash tray mechanisms, rear armrests angles and bang-on shut-lines, personally.”

With staff on some of the leading journals, openings for photographers, draughtsmen, map drawing and lettering specialists and those very rare artists who can draw ‘exploded’ or cut-away views of cars, revealing all their mechanisms and wonders in a single perspective, unrivalled anywhere in the world can crop up from time to time.

Being given this book to read back then must have been sensational to the car mad teenager of the 1960’s with Britain’s car industry still growing and showing no signs of foreign imports, strikes or the inevitable demise. I’m not purporting the whole she-bang to be a bowl of cherries; far from it but sixty years on this book reveals just how many ghosts still haunt us now.

The Batsford Press who published this book also covered subjects in nursing, farming, horses, dentistry and the Merchant Navy. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

4 thoughts on “Ghost Stories”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. 67 1/2 pence, since you ask. Jeremy sounds like a thoroughly decent, DTW kind of guy.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Daniel, although I must note that I am not the author of this piece.

    2. Oh, my apologies to you and Andrew. I had an early start to catch a flight, and the caffeine hadn’t kicked in. Greetings from NYC, by the way.

  2. Superb article. What we have lost is a ready path for ordinary working people to acquire skills and a meaningful career. A degree is all very well and good, but for those of a practical bent there is no substitute for learning on the job, and earning a pay packet while you’re at it.

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