Jensen heritage for the next generation

Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

Jensen’s Marketing Manager, Richard Graves, enticed Andrew Bee to leave Rolls Royce and Join Jensen Motors. The Company were struggling to maintain quality control, and Graves knew Bee was the right man for the job. Bee reflects on his time at Rolls Royce and at Jensen Motors.


Andrew Bee | Recollections | Early Years & Rolls Royce


I was born in Finchley, London in 1935. When war broke out in 1939, I was evacuated with my family to St. Bees in Cumberland, and returned after the war to school in London. I read mechanical sciences at university, and in 1959 at the age of 24, went straight to my first job at Rolls Royce Motor Car Division.

After a brief graduate apprenticeship, I started as a development engineer in a small department, working specifically on the more difficult problems that arose on production vehicles. Very soon this was entirely involved with the new V8 engine introduced with the Silver Cloud 2.


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

The V8 engine as fitted to the Silver Cloud II.


In 1965 the Company introduced the Silver Shadow, a completely new car from top to bottom. In fact, the first Rolls Royce without a separate chassis. A huge number of problems showed up when production started, and it was decided to deal with the situation by creating a Quality Engineering Department. This   entirely new department would work separately from the main Design and Development Departments.

I started as Senior Quality Engineer covering body and chassis, and after a couple of years became Chief Quality Engineer, responsible for the whole car. Within the new department I had three or four junior engineers under me.

Most problems were solved by changes to procedure and production instructions, but for any problems that did require drawing changes, we liaised with the main engineering departments.


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

A completed Silver Shadow getting a final inspection at the Crewe factory.


By about early 1969 it was decided that the Shadow production was satisfactory, and I moved back into Development as Chief Body Development Engineer. However, by this time the Aero Engine Division was in financial difficulty caused by the complexity of the RB211 engine (which ultimately led to the 1971 bankruptcy). As such there was very little new work being done on the motor cars.

Fortunately, by that time, the Silver Shadow was successful enough for the Motor Car division to be separated off as a viable company after the bankruptcy.

Richard Graves

It was during my time at Rolls Royce, that I first met Dick [ Richard] Graves (later to move to Jensen as their Marketing Director).

He was running the RR Sales Department, and although we knew each other, we didn’t meet socially, so I would have called him more a work colleague than a friend. Anyway, Dick moved from Rolls Royce to Jensen Motors in or around 1967.

Andrew Bee

Dick had been well aware of the problems with the Shadow, and how the problems were dealt with by our Quality Engineering Department.

At the end of 1969, he rang me out of the blue, for what proved to be much more than a catch-up call.

As with the Silver Shadow, Jensen were apparently having on-going issues with their Interceptor range of cars. Dick had evidently discussed the situation with Kevin Beattie and Alfred Vickers, mentioning myself, and the RR Quality Engineering Department.

After a chat about how RR was doing, he asked if I would be interested in doing the quality engineering job at Jensen. He also mentioned the imminent introduction of the Jensen-Healey, and the plans for it.

With the situation as it was at RR, the medium term looked a lot more interesting at Jensen, and after discussing it with my wife, I was delighted to ring him back to confirm my interest.

Looking back, I must have been interviewed by Kevin Beattie, and probably Alfred Vickers as well, but I must confess to having no memory of it. It was agreed that I would be Quality Manager, and this position would also include Inspection.


Andrew Bee | Recollections | Jensen years


I can’t remember the exact date I started work at Jensen, but it must have been early 1970. At the time I first started at Jensen, we were still living at Audlem in Cheshire – an easy commute to Crew while I was working at RR, but not practical on the long term when working at West Bromwich. But, until we found a property nearer to Jensen, I had a a bit of a journey each day down to West Bromwich.

Kevin [Beattie] approved my suggestions for what we would set up as a Quality Engineering Department. It would work very much on the same lines as at RR. However, our department would also take on the addition of responsibility for inspection.

An article did appear in the local Express & Star newspaper sometime after I started at Jensen. They came and took a photo of myself and other recently appointed members of staff looking at an Interceptor outside the front door of the factory.


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

Article in the 17th February 1971 issue of the Birmingham Express & Star. The article outlines various new management members working at Jensen Motors.


The existing Inspection staff were fine for the Interceptor, with Albert Wade, an uncompromising foreman for the body in white. Harry Taylor along with his chargehand, Trevor Blunt, were very good for the rest of the car.

We needed to hire additional staff in due course for the Jensen-Healey. It happened that the BMC van factory was closing down at that time, and we had a lot of applicants from there.

I do remember one young chap I hired, that had been a shop floor Inspector at the van factory. Apparently he was the ‘world expert’ on Morris Commercial vehicles (which had been made at that factory), and he got calls from all over the world from people wanting information.

Another inspector from the BMC van factory that I hired was Ken Harris. He had a lot about him, and was also manager of Oldbury United Football Club in his spare time. I made him my third foreman, to cover Jensen-Healey production. I believe that after I left, Ken moved to Production.

Strangely, I can’t remember much about Jensen’s Personnel Department, the department which would have done all the Company’s advertising. However, I do remember we did get a very good response to adverts for quality engineers. Kevin [Beattie] joined me interviewing applicants for the position of my deputy.

Of the various applicants, one Peter Thompson stood out, and we both agreed he would be ideal. Incidentally, we both liked his answer to our question “why do you want to work at Jensen?”. His reply was, he thought the Interceptor was a car someone designed because they wanted to make that car, and not just because they thought people would buy it.

I also hired quality engineers Paul Turner and Alan Stanyer. In Paul’s memories of his time at Jensen (featured on this website) he mentioned two questions I asked at interview.

To see how they would approach an entirely new technical problem, I asked, “If you were sitting in a boat on a pond, and dropped a brick over the side, what would happen to the water level of the pond?”.

The answer I was looking for was that in the boat the brick displaces its weight of water, and in the water, its volume. As its weight of water is greater than its volume, the level would go down.

A second question I asked to see how deep their knowledge of engines was. It was, “what is the difference between detonation (often called pinking), and pre-ignition?”.

The answer in this case is that detonation is when, as the flame moves through the combustion chamber, the last bit of mixture explodes, and pre-ignition is when the mixture ignites before the spark, which can be caused by a hot spot in the combustion chamber, and is usually more damaging. We had neither problem with the Chrysler engines in Interceptors.

Jensen was of course a very different set up from RR. All the engineering departments were tiny by comparison, and much less had been spent on development. The company simply couldn’t have afforded it.

The fact that there was less technical support, meant that the production department had to solve or work round any problems themselves, using their own skills and judgement. Considering this, I was amazed how well it worked in practice – the cars were brilliant, and the quality really very good.

Bill Silvester, the man who oversaw all production matters, carried vastly more responsibility and pressure than someone at his level working at RR would have done. And the same went for many other employees.

The vast majority of the problems we dealt with, involved changes to procedures or bringing drawings into line with practice. The example Paul Turner quoted in his ‘memories’ involving the sill finisher, was typical.  Actually, very few of our problems stick in my mind, but one involving a change in procedure does.


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

Bee photographed at the home of family friends near Hay-on-Wye in 1972. They had a large  grass cutting tractor which Bee admired – it made for a good photo opportunity.


Billy Hughes, brother Gilbert Hughes the Works Convenor, was a brilliant inspector of paint work, he always managed to find defects others missed. So, he had been installed in a booth with a special lamp to do the final inspection.

The defects he marked up were flatted, sprayed, and when dry enough, polished. The car looked perfect and went to Sales. I had noticed we got a disproportionate number of complaints about small areas of unpolished paintwork, and investigation showed they were the areas marked up by Billy at final inspection.

Actually, the ‘drying’ process continued for some time, as the solvents evapourated off, leaving a surface that looked as though it hadn’t been polished at all. I decided that if the normal inspectors didn’t see them, the customer wouldn’t either.

As such, I cancelled Billy’s final paint inspection. There was some scepticism about my action,  but it cured the problem. The complaints stopped as a result, and it saved an appreciable amount of time and cost.

For any fault that required change to design, we involved the Engineering Department, but there were very few. I do remember one; we got a lot of leaking radiators and my investigation showed they all leaked at the top left corner.

A visit to the supplier showed there was nothing in the manufacture to explain it. Eventually Engineering diagnosed stressing arising from slight flexing of the body structure as the cause. Mounting the radiator more flexibly cured the problem.

I also remember one intriguing problem we had. We had found that both Interceptor and FF often developed crankshaft end float during our test running, about 25% of cars, I think. Chrysler said they weren’t getting the problem, so it must be something we were doing. We couldn’t see that, but it wasn’t too serious, as a change of bearings seemed to cure the problem for good.

Later we heard from Chrysler that they had found the problem and cured it. It was caused by a spiral mark on the thrust face of the crankshaft, left by the lathe tool. This wore away the bearing surface until the crankshaft was smooth, and it didn’t take very long to happen.

What intrigued me, was the reason they hadn’t found it. It transpired they had no tick box on the warranty claim form called ‘crankshaft end float’. The incredible thing was that they must have been getting it all the time. It was sometime later that Chrysler finally became aware of the end-float problem, and that was only because they did a pilot run of a new model using the engine, and monitored it more carefully.

Unlike most of the motor industry during the 1970s, industrial relations at Jensen were very good. I guess that the Company was small enough for it to be obvious that for Jensen to survive, and employees to keep their jobs, people had to work together.

I had an illustration of the co-operation of the union representatives, when I was taking on inspectors for the Jensen-Healey production. I interviewed a very impressive candidate, who I would certainly have taken on.

However, the Works Convenor, Gilbert Hughes, had somehow become aware that the man had been for an interview with me. Gilbert came over to my office, and warned me that he was a notorious trouble maker. Apparently, he was member of the Communist Party, and was known to try and cause disruption in the work place. Gilbert went on to say it would be a disaster to employ him.  Suffice to say, after Gilbert’s discussion with me, the chap didn’t get the job.

My contact with Lotus over the engines for the Healey was very interesting. Their approach was very different to ours. We always tried our best to do things correctly, whereas they were always trying to see what they could get away with.

Apparently Qvale had negotiated a lower price for the engine by foregoing a warranty. If that was the case, Colin Chapman was probably one of the worst people to enter such an agreement with. He was an absolutely ruthless autocrat, and however ruthless Qvale might have been, he probably met his match – and some- with Chapman.

I never actually met Chapman personally, but the meetings with Lotus were an eye-opener. I was told that if the Company was having a bad patch, Chapman would go into the general office on a Friday afternoon, and anyone whose desk was unoccupied would be made redundant.

With Chapman running Lotus, the Company seemed to be run by fear from the top downwards. Totally different from Jensen, where, at least below board level, it seemed much more reasonable, and generally happier.

It was obvious that Lotus had little interest in working with us to sort out the issues with their engine. Or for that matter, supply problems, until they started to fit the engine to one of their own cars.

Kevin [Beattie] used to supplement his Engineering Department by drawing on the expertise of people who had a proven track record in motor car engineering with other companies, I suppose on a consultancy basis.

One of the pleasant memories of my time at Jensen, was the conversations I had with various specialists brought in on a consultancy basis. In particular I remember chatting with Dudley Gershon, Technical Director at Aston-Martin during the years of David Brown ownership, and Sid Enever, inspiration behind the MGA and MGB models. I remember Sid telling me he had come up with the concept sketch of the MGB GT on the back of a fag packet in a pub.

I also have memories of many pleasant social gatherings arranged by members of management. Typically a group of us would  arrange an evening out, if someone from management was leaving.


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections

A group of us meeting up for an evening social gathering in Birmingham. This gathering included Kevin Beattie, Eric Lucas, Dick Graves, and myself  along with our wives.


We had some very interesting suppliers, two stick in my mind. Our badges came from a factory in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham. This company was like something out of Dickens, unfortunately I can’t remember their name.

It consisted of a row of houses knocked through for access, and the rooms were full of women filing away at silver and gold. The owner showed me round, and pointed out a mark on the floor where a machine had been, and which had recently gone to a Birmingham Museum. He also explained how they swept up all the gold dust at the end of each day for reclaiming.

Our hood mechanisms for the Interceptor Convertible came from Bloxwich Lock, the Company that had made those wonderful brass locks on the doors of steam train carriages. They were the product of a single fitter, who had designed and made the tooling, and then made and assembled the components.

The workshop was full of benches like the one our mechanisms came from, each bench full of tooling and components of products. Then there was the fitter’s personal tools, his tea making equipment etc. It was a mess, but it seemed to work.

I was shown round by one of the owners, who told me they had had management consultants in, but had decided not to go ahead with their recommendations. I could see why, I expect their products were very inexpensive, and disturbing everything would be risky.

Part of their problem was a brass casting unit in a small brick building, operated by an 85 year old man that had been with the Company since he was 14. It was perfectly placed to prevent streamlining the layout, and couldn’t possibly be moved until the old man died or decided he had had enough. It was all a far cry from Jensen, yet there were parallels for sure.

I remained at Jensen until some time in 1975. As the winding up of the Company became imminent, I took a job as Quality Manager of the Sturmey-Archer Division of Raleigh Industries in Nottingham. This was another fascinating change, with my first experience of mass production another eye opener.

It has been a pleasure to look back over my time at Jensen , it was a very interesting, rewarding, and happy period in my working life.

People I remember quite clearly, but haven’t mentioned them within my recollections, were, Brian Spicer, who ran Development, and Howard Panton, Design, for Kevin, Jim Branson and Tony Marshall in the Sales Department, David Millard Service Manager, Harry Webb Works Accountant, Al Goot, sent over by Qvale towards the end to oversee the running of the company, David Jones, who  must have followed Eric Lucas as Works Manager, and went on to run the ill fated Triumph Motorcycle Co-operative at Meriden, Don Large, Mike Inston, and Eric Dancer Purchase Manager.


See our feature relating to Paul Turner, Quality Engineer, working directly under Andrew Bee:


Jensen Motors Chief Quality Engineer | Andrew Bee | Recollections


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Andrew Bee, Chief Quality Engineer, Jensen Motors 1970 – 1975.


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