Jensen Motors Quality Engineer | Recollections
Paul Turner was brought into Jensen Motors as a Quality Engineer. It was his job to solve any quality related issues on the Interceptor before it went through to Sales. His was not going to be an easy job by any stretch of the imagination, but winning the respect of the assembly track foremen and workers was going to be key to his success. Turner worked as a Quality Engineer from 1971 to 1973.
My working life started at The Austin Motor Company in Longbridge, Birmingham, in 1962 at the age of 16. In those days there were less opportunities for university education, and for many therefore, an apprenticeship was the usual way of gaining a trade or work place skills. At Austin there were three levels of entry, Student – those with A levels, Technical – those with O levels, and Craft for those without either.
Having left school with O levels, an offer was given, to complete a five year technical apprenticeship with the chance to obtain an HND in engineering by way of block release at Bromsgrove Technical College.
After around three years one could choose where one wanted to specialise, and I chose to join the experimental / development areas. The next few years were spent in C cell which was where the ADO 16 – Austin 1100 and it’s various variants was developed.
With a reorganisation, Alex Issigonis was given his own Cell, which removed him from the main development area. The brief was to look at future projects and innovations. Members of C cell were moved into this new Cell.
Various ideas were worked on, and included the X series engine that never saw production, hydrostatic drive and even a steam powered mini. However Alex Issigonis was not the easiest ‘boss’ for a young engineer to work for, and we had a few technical disagreements (I learnt that one should not disagree with Alex Issigonis even if one is right!).
I moved back to mainstream development, but then itchy feet and a wish to see pastures new, meant that an application to Rolls Royce aero engines in Derby was successful.
This was completely different, changing the nuts and bolts of development for a drawing board and pencil as a designer of instrumentation installation on prototype engines.
The RB211 was in progress and that resulted in the failure of Rolls Royce in early 1971. The engine cost was greater than the selling price due to the Hyfil carbon fibre fan blade failing and having to be replaced with titanium at great extra cost.
Using the last in first out principle, I became unemployed after just under two years with Rolls Royce. I was paid three months’ pay in lieu of notice.
Many new positions were applied for but most never even resulted in a reply never mind an interview. Engineering jobs had dried up somewhat. In those days unemployment pay was for a maximum of six months and then nothing for a single person.
The months clicked by and finally a small advertisement appeared in The Birmingham Mail for Quality Engineers at Jensen Motors in Kelvin Way. Now living back in Birmingham once more, this sounded promising.
A letter was received to go for an interview. On the due date I presented myself at the police hut [Gate House]. Security rang to inform the personnel department that I had arrived and the reply was not what I needed. They said I had come on the wrong day and that there was no one available for my interview. The security man was not impressed, as the date on the letter was the actual date, so he gave the poor unfortunate on the other end of the line a piece of his mind.
After some minutes I was informed that I would be seen after all. Hanging around in the police hut did not give much confidence in a successful interview. At last I was told to find my way the Senior Quality Engineer’s office, one Mr Andrew Bee.
Andrew Bee’s office at that time, was in the front of the building as seen from Kelvin Way. Finally having found the office, the interview commenced. It was pretty clear he was not best pleased to being pressed into conducting this interview. The usual questions were asked about previous experience and qualifications. Andrew Bee then asked a question that at the time caught me off guard completely.
“You are sitting in boat on a lake fishing” Oh dear, I thought, I don’t fish. “You have a brick in the boat which you now drop into the lake. What happens to the water level in the lake?”
The realisation that this was a technical question, and not a hobbies related one dawned, and the brain cells clicked in. An explanation was given which was correct. There were further questions, one which was “What is the difference between pinking and detonation.” I found out later that this was a problem on the Interceptor and Andrew asked all interviewees just for ideas!
After a difficult start to the interview, I was pleased to receive a letter offering a position as a Quality Engineer with a start date of November 1st 1971 at a salary of £1800 per annum for a forty hour week.
The Quality Department was a new idea at Jensen. There had always been line inspectors and an inspection structure but not one responsible for quality. There was no job description, the job just developed as we went along.
It soon became very apparent that certain foremen on production were not sold on the idea of a Quality Engineer sticking his nose into what they did, especially a youngish guy like me.
The senior Inspection Foreman on body in white was Albert Wade, a tall , red faced chap in his sixties, originally from Yorkshire. Straight talking, to the point some might say rude. I was to share an office up in the roof with him, and when Paul Stanyer joined Jensen as a Quality Engineer (on Healeys), he also shared the same office with us.
Back to Albert, he told me that I knew nothing, and could not see why I was needed. This dose of straight talking left me realising I had an uphill task. He took me around the factory and introduced me to less than enthusiastic production foremen.
Not that long after I joined the Company, Albert and myself were in the body assembly area, where the panels, post-body build, were rectified. Here the welded joints and door gaps were lead loaded and panel beaters sorted out any further imperfections in the pressed panels.
Pausing by a completed body, Albert gave me a marker and told me to mark up a bonnet for any faults. The apprenticeship at The Austin had taught me many skills and panel inspection was one of them.
After using my hand correctly, and marking up the panel, Albert checked the bonnet himself and found no further missed faults. I had made my first ally. From that day onwards, I noted a change in Albert’s attitude towards me – I guess I had earned his respect.
Should a Quality Engineer be expected to have that skill? Maybe not, but I was glad I did, as life became easier with Albert on side! My experience from the Austin was invaluable in so many aspects of production at Jensen.
Andrew Bee, the Quality Manager, was responsible for the overall quality, and to introduce quality systems. However, so often it appeared we were just fire-fighting. There was no previous position as Quality Engineer and as the tasks had never been defined, it was difficult to know where to start.
I was involved in every aspect of the Interceptor and there were many existing build problems. These were apparent from when pressings and parts arrived at Jensen to the final assembly process. Once bodies were assembled and painted, the fitting of trim, heaters and all the associated bits and pieces showed up a myriad of difficulties for the track workers.
Many of these men became well known to me, and as faults were removed or at least improved, they were quick to tell me of any new or other problems. Many of these problems had existed for a long time and had become endemic. The difficulties were exacerbated due to the demands to increase production of the Interceptor from a handful a week to the hoped for thirty.
This higher figure was never really reached, and often cars signed off under duress on a Friday were sneaked back in on a Saturday or even Monday morning to rectify the defects already highlighted.
Every day at Jensen was different. At the start of each day, however well planned one might have been, there were new priorities. Our office was up a flight of wooden stairs, and whenever there was the sound of someone ascending, it probably meant yet a new puzzle to solve.
As mentioned, many problems were due to the increasing production numbers. For instance the tooling for the body panels were ‘soft tools’ and as such have a deterioration far faster than steel press tools. They were never intended to produce the numbers now envisaged. The panels needed more and more work, which in turn was placing extra loads on the body build area, and that area was already suffering from additional build schedules.
Inspection could not reject panels as they arrived, since often that was all that was available. Skilled panel craftsmen, with the required skills were in short supply, and Albert was always at war on the body in white quality.
There was pressure from management to pass off bodies at this stage, however, once painted the rectification would have been far more difficult to undertake, and far more costly. Often it was the Quality Engineer who had to stand his ground even when blamed for lost production figures.
A typical ‘easy’ problem I picked up on during one of the many routine walks around the production line, was the stainless steel sill finisher trim. I noticed that a worker was hand finishing the length of the sill on one side of the body. It was not only taking time but also was not up to the same standard as the pressed unmolested version.
“Have to do this on every one” was the reply to why this was needed. A quick check showed that one sill was 3/8in longer on one side than the other. That then opened up a bag of worms. Working backwards through the body build area soon showed that any chance of correcting the discrepancy was nil.
A phone call to the supplier indicated that he could produce the sill finisher to a shorter length on one side with no increase in price, and; quite correctly; he would not change the finisher without authorisation. Next step was to the design office, but there was no way that the drawing could be changed. However it was possible to have a print marked up, at some point, for an official deviation.
A drawing was duly marked up with the modification and supplied to the buyer to send to the outside supplier. Bought out parts inspection were also supplied with a print and a note to the goods inward inspector placed on the card system (no computerisation in those days).
Once all was in place, the next batch of sill covers arrived and fitted, the time to fit was much reduced and the ends much better looking. End of the problem? No never that easy. A time later there was an irate phone call from the supplier. He had just had a batch of the sill finishers rejected for being wrong to drawing. A visit to the goods inward inspection showed that someone had not read the note on the parts card and checked against an unmarked up print.
A grovelling phone call back to the supplier and an apology helped calm him down, but the cost of transport was not so easy to resolve. The time taken for a problem like this to be ‘solved’ could spread over a period of weeks, or even months, and in this case the body sill needed monitoring to ensure that further dimensional change did not take place.
One can multiply the above for most tasks. Over the couple of years I spent at Jensen the list covered many different difficulties in all areas of build. Each one has its own story. One day, I could be blasting down the M5 motorway, trying to improve the performance of the SP to better it over a standard Interceptor – we managed that one.
Another day I might be down at the new joint venture in South Wales at Cwmgors (where a press shop had been set up), trying to prevent faulty pressing being sent to West Bromwich.
Often it was just trying to make the lives of the assembly workers that bit easier, allowing them to work with a better final product. Many of the difficulties were never solved, just improved a little. Certainly the introduction of the Jensen Healey production line created a whole new raft of problems, but luckily my work was restricted to Interceptors.
Working at Jensen as a Quality Engineer was always a challenge, but enjoyable. Earning the trust of the shop floor workers, listening to their problems, and doing one’s best was key. Even the foremen realised that, and gave their support to me, after the difficult period when I first started.
Why did I leave this company that I enjoyed working for ? The writing was on the wall for Jensen. At a works meeting, Kjell Qvale had made it clear he was loosing patience with the lack of return on his investment.
The situation was made worse by the introduction of the Jensen Healey, on which there had been great hopes. Hopes soon faded with initial poor build quality and unreliability of the Lotus engine. Although these issues were eventually dealt with, by that time I had left.
Money at Jensen was always a problem, and my pay level was actually below that of many of the assembly workers on the track. In fact this did lead to a funny story.
One of the slightly more cocky assembly line chaps was often dropping comments. Something along the lines of, “its okay for you management types, you get all the money and privileges, we get all the work to do.” Of course, I was far from being management, and by then I had also learnt that most assembly track chaps were earning more than me.
On one occasion I pulled him up for his comments, saying you show me your next wage slip, and I’ll bring in my salary slip, and we can sit down and work out what we are both getting. The result was, he was earning more than me. Suffice to say he was shocked, and I was definitely treated better by those on the assembly track, as news travelled they were earning more than me.
The problem surrounding my pay came to a head in late 1973, when my terms of employment and salary were changed for the worse. It was time once more to move on.
By the way, what happened to the water in the lake? It went down. Why? A brick has greater density than water, and so takes up a greater effective volume of water in the boat than when submerged.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Paul Turner
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Paul Turner
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