Jensen Motors Chief Engineer | Day In The Life
Michael (Mike) Jones came to work at Jensen Motors from Rootes in February 1964, initially working in the Drawing Office as Chassis Project Engineer. Within the drawing office, Jones was working mainly on the Sunbeam Tiger. Later he became Assistant Chief Engineer under Beattie, and was involved in development work on the Jensen Interceptor and FF, before leaving in December 1967 to join Ford. Jones only spent three months with Ford, then going back to Rootes until 1972.
In October 1972, Jones rejoined Jensen Motors as Chief Designer, and after four months was given the position of Chief Engineer, when Beattie became Managing Director. Beattie relinquished his position as Managing Director in late 1974, to become Director of Engineering. Jones retained his position as Chief Engineer until he left Jensen Motors in June 1975.
Job Description – Mike Jones, Chief Designer, then Chief Engineer (from February 1973), Jensen Motors, 1972 to 1975
1-Design and Development of Jensen Products to meet customer requirements and legislative requirements in territories in which the Products are sold.
2-Release to Manufacturing and Suppliers of Drawings, Jigs, Fixtures, and Patterns for Interceptor Convertible, Jensen GT, Interceptor Coupe, F model, and G Model.
3-Management of the Engineering Department, comprising the Drawing Office and Experimental Department
4-Resolution of design related problems in Manufacturing and Service.
5-Liaison with Parts Suppliers for design.
6-Control of product costs related to component design.
7-Control of administrative costs related to the Engineering Department.
8-Project Management, cost and timing.
The following is my Day In The Life of a Chief Engineer.I have picked a very precise day, in the summer of 1975. It is the day that stands out during my time at Jensen Motors. It is the day I finally said goodbye to Kevin Beattie, when he was in hospital awaiting surgery for a kidney transplant
10th June 1975
Today, 10 June 1975, I decided that I would like to see Kevin Beattie, who was now waiting in hospital for a kidney transplant operation. I wanted to wish him well for the operation, but also to say good-bye to him before I was to leave the UK a few days later. I was about to travel with my family to South Africa for a job with Ford Engineering in Port Elizabeth. About a month earlier I had submitted my written resignation to Kevin.
I phoned the hospital to find out which room Kevin was in, and established a time when visitors were allowed to see him.
For the past year, Jensen had been winding down, and as I had lunch with the Directors every day, it was obvious to me that Jensen was in a bad financial state and was therefore going to close very soon.
I had spent the early part of the year sounding out the possibility of my getting a job elsewhere in the UK car industry, but it soon became clear that Jensen was not the only car company winding down. I had an interview with Georg Turnbull (originally of British Leyland) ,who was looking for five engineers to join him with Hyundai in South Korea. I found myself on the short list, but was eventually turned down, since it was thought that schooling for my five children would be a problem. In the end, he employed only single men.
Shortly afterwards I had a long phone interview with Spencer King at Land Rover, but he said that even he was not sure if he would continue to have a job. That aside, apparently the Company had a no-recruiting policy at the time.
Bob Knight of Jaguar agreed to see me face to face, but I think he only wanted to have a chat about the Ferguson AWD system, with no intention of employing anyone. As with Land Rover, Jaguar apparently also had a no-recruiting policy at the time. So no job offer for me there.
It became clear, that if I wanted to continue to have a sufficient income to support my wife and children, I would have to seriously think of leaving the UK. I might have been able to get a low paid job in the UK outside the car industry, but then my family would suffer in many ways.
I wrote to the major car companies in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. I received only one reply – it was an immediate and positive response from Ford in South Africa, offering me (subject to a successful phone interview and background check), about the same salary that I had been getting at Jensen as Chief Engineer; a job which was then fairly well paid by UK standards. I took quite a long time before deciding to accept the Ford offer, since neither my wife nor I really wanted to leave the UK. That was in spite of the country’s many problems, as we were very fond of the UK and its way of life. But, importantly, I needed an income, so after a long distance phone interview with Ford, I reluctantly accepted the job offer. In the back of my mind I was hoping I would be able to return with my family to the UK if and when the economy picked up again.
When Kevin Beattie’s wife later heard that I was going to work and live with my family in South Africa, she tried to persuade me to stay put in the UK. She expected the Apartheid system to eventually blow up into a civil war. Mandela was still in prison then, and the USA government was placing stiff embargos with the banks and large companies operating in South Africa,. Their intention was to break up the white man’s regime there.
I fully undertood the problems facing South Africa, but I still needed an income. So, all seven of us eventually sailed on a slow boat to South Africa, all paid for by Ford. The Company also paid us for a month’s stay, in a nice hotel by the beach at Port Elizabeth.
Thereafter, everything went surprisingly well. Amazingly we only saw crime and violence in the newspapers, and the work at Ford turned out to be far more interesting than I had expected. After a year with Ford, I landed a better job with Leyland in Cape Town, which was a beautiful city.
South Africa wasn’t so bad after all, and we stayed there for 9 years. The schools there were excellent. The South Africans took education particularly seriously. All five of my children ended up with university degrees there, my eldest daughter eventually getting a PhD in the UK.
A week after we had arrived in South Africa, Eileen Beattie telephoned me to tell me that Kevin had suddenly died. The kidney transplant operation had gone well, but while he was recovering, Kevin had caught a bug. The bug quickly killed him, no doubt partly caused by the anti- rejection drugs lowering his immune system.
A few weeks earlier, when I had seen Kevin sitting up in bed in hospital, he looked fine and evidently in good spirits. He was looking forward to being without the dialysis machine that he had had to use at regular intervals. The machine had really changed his life, and he had to time his activities to keep to his schedule for sessions with the machine (which was permanently based in his home).
I sometimes visited his home and watched him while he was attached to the machine. My visits were mainly to keep him up to date with what was going on at Jensen. I well remember him saying that he was scared stiff of the machine going on the blink. As an engineer he was well aware that machines can, and do, go wrong. Evidently if any air had entered his bloodstream he would probably have had a heart attack or stroke.
When he felt fit enough, I drove him to work and back for a few hours, which was not what the doctor ordered, but Kevin being Kevin, felt he had a job to do at Kelvin Way (Jensen Motors), as well as sitting on the phone at home. He was, after all, still Director of Engineering, until Qvale later fired him at the time when he was in hospital. How about that for heartless treatment by the boss? !
Before I left Kevin at the hospital, he told me that the doctors had given him a 50/50 chance for a full recovery from the kidney transplant. He felt the risk was worth taking, because the dialysis machine was driving him mad.
I said my good-byes and wished him the best of luck, and I tried not to even consider that I might never see him again. I wanted to think that he would soon be back on his feet again and making a useful contribution to the engineering community. Probably not at Jensen, since the Company was then clearly going downhill fast, but somewhere else where his considerable talents could be used. Sadly I was very wrong
Although it was still a work day for me, I was in no mood to go back to Jensen to finally clear my desk. That would have to wait.
In the evening I had a long chat with my wife about Kevin and the relationship I had with him. In the early years it was simply a boss to subordinate relationship. It now seems a long time ago, but back then I had a little Fiat 500, which was ideal for my commute between Kenilworth and West Bromwich. When I was leaving Kenilworth for work in the Fiat ( at a pathetically slow speed), my boss would often come storming past me in an engineering CV8, officially ‘on test’. Kevin would choose the ‘faster’ main suburban roads to get to West Bromwich, and I would choose a ‘rat run’ through the middle of Birmingham. On many occasions I would get to Kelvin Way a few minutes before my ‘boss’. He never once made a comment to me about our different arrival times, but I got the impression that it was not always a good start to his day!
Later, particularly in the last year, Kevin had become a friend. I guess we had both been through a lot together whilst at Jensen, and we ended up knowing each other very well.
He wasn’t perfect, no one is, but he had that rare quality amongst engineers of being both a good leader and a good engineer. The good engineers I have come across in my lifetime were often quite brilliant with ‘things’, but hopeless at managing people. On the other hand, I have seen good leaders in the car industry with not a clue about the basics of engineering.
I never saw Kevin lose his temper, although I knew what irritated him. I only heard him swear once at someone who deserved to be fired, but who was given another chance. Kevin led by example and by persuasion. He also had the gift of kicking someone’s back side for poor work, without that someone realizing later, that he had been kicked! Kevin was a true gentleman in every way. He also had a delightfully subtle sense of humour.
On reflection, although it had not really occurred to me when I working at Jensen , I have since realized that Kevin and I had quite a few things in common. We both lived in Kenilworth. We were both ex-Rootes Pupils, although at different times. We both had engineering degrees. We were both educated in boarding schools. We both had five children. We both enjoyed classical music. We were both fascinated with Motor Sport. We had both keenly participated in sport in our youth – he in cricket and I in Rowing and Rugby. So for most of the time we were almost on the same wavelength. Perhaps the biggest difference was our age. He was born in 1927 and I was born in 1936. We had even both lived in Cape Town, South Africa, although he was born there, and I much later, lived and worked there for a few years.
As my wife reminded me during our chat that evening, working at Jensen had been the best time of my life, and I have Kevin to thank for that.
I did not sleep well that night.
NOTES: Shortly after the death of Beattie in summer 1975, a Reciever / Manager was appointed. By May 1976 Jensen Motors ceased trading.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Mike Jones, Chief Designer (later Chief Engineer) at Jensen Motors.
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Mike Jones.
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