Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections
Clive Kendrick joined Jensen Motors in 1963 as an apprentice, and after spending time in various departments, including the trim shop, he was placed with a sub-assembly ‘gang’ on the Austin Healey track. Kendrick gives the Museum his recollections of the various procedures, and ‘gangs’ that led an Austin Healey to become a completed shell ready for transporting to Austin Motors.
For the purpose of this feature, Kendrick’s recollections are based on the last phases of Austin Healey 3000 production, and his recollections of employees working within the various ‘gangs’ is based on that time period.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections | My Recollections
When I joined Jensen Motors in 1963, I could easily believe I was working at Austin’s Longbridge factory. The Austin Healey track was large, and the whole track was a hustle and bustle of activity.
There was a constant feed of painted Austin Healey shells slowly proceeding along the track, while various ‘gangs’ of employees fitted up various parts to the shells.
I use the word ‘gangs’, as this is what we were called, be it on the ‘track’, or on sub-assembly. Typically a ‘gang’ would be around four employees, but sometimes it was just two or three
In addition, there was all the sub-assembly ‘gangs’ working at various stations outside of the track. Here on the various sub-assembly stations, the ‘gangs’ were doing countless jobs, completing and checking parts.
The completed and checked parts would then be loaded onto trolleys and racks and pushed over to the relevant part of the track. The one thing all ‘gangs’ had to keep an eye on was the spec sheet attached to the body.
This outlined all the details for the particular shell, and most importantly if it was configured as left-hand-drive (as most were), or right-hand-drive. Certainly on more than one occasion some left-hand configured part (or parts) would be assembled to a right-hand spec car.
Forgive me if I have left anything out, but based on my memories of my time on sub-assembly at the Austin Healey track, the following is a pretty complete breakdown of all the various sub-assembly stations, and track stations.
Where possible I have mentioned the employees names, if I have remembered them. If I have left anyone out (which doubtless I have) please forgive me – it was after all in excess of half a century ago.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections | Building the shell
I rarely went over to where the metal workers were building up the shells, so I don’t have much recollection of that side of the work. I know the chassis arrived in batches from Austin, and they were stored temporarily outside right at the far end of Bay 1.
From there, the chassis were brought in and built up as completed shells. Once completed, the entire shell was de-greased, and cleaned off ready for primer and paint.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections | Primer & Paint
Primer and paint: The chassis / bodyshell, with bonnet, doors and boot lid attached and wired into position would start in the paint tunnels with the primer coat. The initial coat was just around the door shuts, and channels of the bonnet and boot lid.
These would have been unwired for the process, and then wired up again once dried. Then the entire shell would be spray primered. Once dried, the flatting team would go around the shell and flat any areas where there were runs, dust, or other foreign particles.
After completion, the shell was ready for painting. The process was the same as for primer, with the doors, bonnet and boot lid being unwired first for spraying, then when dried, wired back up and then back through for a full paint of the shell. The whole wiring, and unwiring process would happen multiple times.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections | The Sub-Assembly Stations
Sub-Assembly: In addition to the main track , there was also sub-assembly. In sub-assembly, ‘gangs’ would be working putting together various components ready for being moved across to the track for fitting.
Some of the sub-assembly work that I can remember was the following:
Sub-Assembly job 1
Building up the drop lights ready for fitting to the doors. Once completed they went into racks and were wheeled over to the track. I remember Ray Moore, and john henry Williams working on this job.
Sub-Assembly job 2
The fascia panel was built up, glove-box fitted, along with chrome bezels and gauges. The dashboard wiring loom was connected up to all the gauges. The completed fascia were placed on a rack ready to be wheeled over to the track. I remember Jim Mahoney and Billy Crawley working on this assembly point.
Sub-assembly job 3
Rear squabs and other trim parts were partially built up by sub-assembly. Afterwards they went to the trim shop. After being trimmed they came back to sub-assembly. Any catches or further parts were then fitted by sub-assembly, and then placed on a rack ready to go to the track. Roy Williams, Tom Lacey, and Charlie Aston worked on this.
Sub-Assembly job 4
Hood assembly. After the hood frames were painted, sub-assembly fitted the frame to a hood jig, and then fitted the Rexine hood. Afterwards any trim parts and chrome toggles were fitted.
Once completed the hood was folded up and a batch of four were placed on a rack ready to go to the track. The old chap, Charlie Homer worked on the hood frames (as well as working on the pedal boxes. George Moran, and Eddie Lavender would do the final finishing to the hoods, as well as working on the hard tops.
Sub-Assembly job 5
Various parts such as the heater assembly were completed and checked for operation. Centre consols (for cars that had them), and radios (for cars that had them) were built up and made ready to go to the track.
Other parts included checking the wiper motors for operation before they were sent to the track. This work was down to the so-called ‘girls gang’. This consisted of Helga Burford, Inga Churms, Tina Watson, and Maud Pritchard. Later on, Stella Skinner joined Jensen and worked on this job for a while. I also worked as the apprentice to the ‘girls gang’ for a while, but could also be pulled away to work on other sub-assembly jobs if they were falling behind, or someone was off on sick leave.
Sub-Assembly job 6
Pedal box assembly. There was a fair bit of work to build up the pedal box, and one of the old guys, Charlie Homer was making up these for a fair while. Sometimes I would be asked to help him, if he was falling behind on the amount of finished pedal boxes required over at the track.
Sub-Assembly job 7
Petrol tank assembly. The Austin Healey petrol tanks would come in from the suppliers in white metal. These needed to be thoroughly degreased in preparation for primer coating and painting in black. After being painted, the aperture for the sender unit was brushed with shellac and fitted with a cork washer, and then the unit fitted in with six screws.
I remember Jimmy Shaw working on petrol tanks, and once again, as the apprentice, I would sometimes be asked to help out. The completed tanks were then placed on a trolley and taken over to the track.
Sub-Assembly job 8
Fibreglass gearbox tunnel. The tunnels would come over from the fibreglass department in an unfinished state. These would then be drilled out every so often along the sides in readiness for being screwed into the shell.
There were various other finishings dealt with at this point, such as the bracket for mounting the consol. There was a big rubber grommet fitted, which could be pulled out to check the gearbox oil levels. Jimmy Shaw worked on these, as well as doing petrol tanks. Likewise, I might be called over to help if necessary.
Sub-Assembly job 9
Making up the hard tops. Jensen designed and also manufactured the hard tops for the Austin Healey. Once again they would come from the fibreglass department, and then the trim department would put in the headlining.
Then there were metal finishing rails to go on, the clear Perspex rear window, and seals. Once finished, the hard top was thoroughly cleaned and then inspected. Once approved they were taken over to stores. The hard tops were always left with a grey exterior finish.
Since the hard top was an optional extra, these were ordered via the dealerships. They were then sent to the dealerships by Jensen, and the dealership would have them painted in the colour required by the customer.
George Moran and Eddie Lavender were working on the hard tops a lot of the time. As with other jobs on sub-assembly, sometimes I might be called over to clean them ready for stores.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections | Track Stations
First track operation after paint
Painted shells would come out of the paint shop. Pat Hughes, or another apprentice was working at this start point. It was the first job an apprentice learnt, and so we had all started off on this first operation.
His job was to unwire the doors, clean up around the striker area, and wire them back up. He would also remove the boot lid. Pat would also fit things like the bonnet stay, along with a couple of rubber bonnet stops.
After painting all the threads were full of paint, so generally these had to be re-tapped using an airgun. The most difficult of these were the four bumper fittings in the boot area.
A 9″ tap had to be threaded into the chassis and tapped out. If the tap broke, the shell had to be removed from the track, where the broken tap would have to be cut out (it did happen – luckily not regularly !).
Second track operation after paint
The ‘gang’ working on the second operation consisted (at the time) of David Jesson, John Tift, George Gallimore, Hughie Gallimore, and Denis (I can’t remember his surname). Dennis typically fitted the front and rear bumpers, whilst the others worked in pairs fitting wing beadings, door handles, locks and striker plates.
Meanwhile another ‘gang’ member would take the boot lid off the rack, fit the badges, seals, and the lock assembly. Once finished the completed boot-lid was placed back on the storage rack..
Third track operation after paint
Arthur Hindley, Stan Knight, Len Ball, and Wilt (again, I can’t remember his surname, or correct first name – we all called him Wilt). This ‘gang’ fitted all the sound deadening to the interior, and some of the interior carpet parts were also fitted at this stage.
Fourth track operation after paint
Robert Astow was doing this operation alone as I remember. He was deaf & dumb, and as unkind and politically incorrect as it sounds today, everyone called him ‘Dummy’. He fitted the asbestos plates in the engine-bay, and under the car to protect the bulkhead and chassis from the heat coming off the exhausts.
Fifth track operation after paint
Alan Watts was fitting the petrol tank, boot lid, along with rubbers, which he would take off the rack. I’m not sure if he worked alone, or was a part of a ‘gang’.
I remember that one of the things he had to do was rattle the petrol tank before it was fitted, just in case a screw or washer had fallen inside. If something had fallen inside, the tank had to go back to sub-assembly to be stripped down again. This didn’t happen often; in fact it was a rare occurrence.
Sixth track operation after paint
Kenny Hewitt fitted the pedal box and heater assembly.
Seventh track operation after paint
Colin Bono along with his ‘gang’ fitted the windscreen assembly.
Eight track operation after paint
Ray Prosser dealt with the first stage of electrics, he also fitted the fascia assembly along with the crash pad.
Ninth track operation after paint
Harold Evans and Alan Spicer fitted the drop light assemblies, along with waist mouldings to doors, which still remained on the rack.
Tenth track operation after paint
Tommy Butler and Ron Gaunt fit bonnet badge, front grille, side-light assemblies, headlights and back lights.
Eleventh track operation after paint
Sid Howells , and another chap fitted the more of the carpet, along with more trim
Twelve track operation after paint
Jeff Williams and ‘Corkie’ (can’t remember ‘Corkie’s actual name’) fit the gearbox tunnel assembly, and consul, along with the hood assembly. Afterwards they completed the fitting of the remaining carpet parts.
Thirteenth track operation after paint
Charlie Aston fitted the interior rear quarter panels, along with rear squabs, and front seats.
Fourteenth track operation after paint
Billy Buffery completes any remaining connecting of electrics, and makes sure the main electrics are working.
Fifteenth track operation after paint
The completed shell is ready for final check and rectification if necessary. Jeff Danks and Johnny Rollason undertook this.
Final procedures after initial paint
If there was any paint rectification required ( and there was often something, since as the shell had moved along the track and various ‘gangs’ had done their work, it was inevitable that there would be the odd scratch or two) the shell went to the paint rectification bay.
The team consisted of Don Hughes, Ray Gibbs, John Gibbs, Albert Whittaker, Alan Kendall, Sydney Plant, and Bernard Plant. Once any paint rectification was completed, the shell was cleaned and made ready for final inspection. The inspectors would check over the completed shell and sign it off off. Once signed off, the shell was made ready for loading up, for its journey to Abingdon.
Austin Healey Track | Kendrick’s Recollections
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Clive Kendrick, Jensen Motors 1963 – 1976.
COPYRIGHTS: Clive Kendrick
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