Jensen Motors | Kelvin Way Factory
Jensen Motors’ Kelvin Way factory is one in a series of three features about the Jensen Motors factories. Swiss Jensen Car Club Secretary, Felix Kistler, has researched the three factories, and; together with various photographs and drawings; gives us a unique insight to the various areas of use within each factory.
Kistler hopes that viewers might have further information that can help complete the various working areas of each factory. Kistler’s work provides a valuable resource for anyone interested in the workings of Jensen Motors.
Kelvin Way Factory – West Bromwich
The Carter’s Green factory had been home to Jensen Motors since 1934, and the two Jensen brothers had been there for a few years before that.
Jensen Motors acquired the Austin-Healey contract in 1952, and an initial 20 bodies were hand-built in aluminium at Carter’s Green between 1952 and 1953. In an extension to the premises, the Austin-Healey ‘100’ was built on a production basis throughout 1953. By October of that year 350 had been built. By the end of the year, Jensen Motors received a contract to build another 2,500 bodies. It was getting hard to cope with production at Carter’s Green, and they were even working night shifts to keep production moving.
It had become clear, new and much larger factory premises would be required. The new factory complex would be sited at Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, just a couple of miles away from Carter’s Green. The site was an open field at the time, with a canal and railway line to one end.
The Jensen brothers commissioned architect, Arthur Griffin to design and build the factory, and work started before the Kelvin Way main road was finished. Building took place between 1954 and 1958. The work was completed in stages, and this allowed some car production to take place at Kelvin Way as early as 1955.
The main office block; now familiar as the architectural face of Jensen Motors; canteen and stores were all added towards the end of construction in 1958.
By the early 1960s, everything had been moved across, and the Carter’s Green factory was closed down.
Although a large percentage of the work force also moved across to Kelvin Way, there were some that used it as a time to retire, or to find work elsewhere. This led to a variety of advertisements being placed in magazines and papers recruiting replacement and new staff.
One former draughtsman who had worked at the Carter’s Green factory between 1959 and 1961, was Nick Maltby. He re-joined Jensen Motors as a draughtsman in 1964. Maltby gives us his recollections of the Kelvin Way factory, “My memory of the Carters Green factory is one of darkness and gloom: that is not the same as saying that it induced a gloomy aura, on the contrary, it is just a comment on the architecture of the buildings.
By comparison, Kelvin Way was just the opposite. First of all it was clear to see from Kelvin Way, it wasn’t skulking away behind other buildings as was the Carters Green factory. Its architecture was modern for the time. Even the production units, machine shop and assembly lines, were light and airy by virtue of having many skylights in the roofs.
Directly in front of the gate house was the wide main drive through the site. On the left was the two story administration office block. It served Jensen well in conveying, to all who saw it, that this was a modern company of some substance. Behind the office block were separate single story buildings which housed facilities for interior trimming, machining, metal forming and finishing and the Austin Healey assembly line.
On the right-hand side of the drive way was another, less imposing, two story building of roughly the same length as the main administration building. On the bottom floor were offices such as accounts and purchasing, while on the top floor was the combined Body and Chassis drawing offices and the Development department. With the Development Department being on the second floor, it meant that cars had to be brought up in a lift.
Immediately at the back of that building was the Volvo P1800 assembly track, and after that the Sunbeam Tiger assembly track. These would be taken over by Jensen-Healey production later on. Further on down the driveway, on the right-hand side, was the fibre-glass and paint shops.
Drawing Office staff were not encouraged or had little reason to visit other parts of the factory, other than the Development Department, which was next to the Drawing Office, so I rarely walked around the factory at large.
In all honesty I can only recall visiting three different locations during my time at Kelvin Way. One regular location was the dining room in the main administration block. I don’t remember visiting any of the offices in that block. I visited the Tiger assembly track fairly often, but for no official business as I remember. I also visited the machine shop on a couple of occasions to speak to the foreman, Ray Meanley, about some wheel spacers he was making for my Mini.
The Drawing Office and Development Department were on the second floor of the two story block, situated on the right of the main drive way looking from Kelvin Way. The Drawing Office was reached via a door on the bottom front corner of the building. One then walked up some concrete steps to the second floor. At the top of the stairs on the left- hand side was Kevin Beattie’s office, then a small meeting room.
Still on the left the office opened on to a windowed space occupied by the office secretary, and Ken Meeson the illustrator/stylist (as it happened they were also girlfriend and boyfriend. I think they later married, but that was after I left).
Then there was a small office occupied by the Drawing Office Manager, Peter Swain. On the right-hand side was the full expanse of the Drawing Office. First there was the chassis section then around a corner to the right was the body section. At Carters Green factory, the body and chassis drawing offices were some distance from each other. If from the chassis section, instead of turning right into the body section, you went straight on, you came to a door which led into the Development Department. As a draughtsman you spent almost as much time in the Development Department as you did at your drawing board. In development, we would be overseeing our designs being executed, and ironing out any problems, or even seeing if improvements could be made.
The rapport between the Drawing Office staff and the Development Department technicians was first class, aided and abetted by two excellent foremen, Joe Belcher (body) and Vic Parsons (chassis).”
Former Sales Manager, Tony Marshall, tells us about the factory tours that he would take visitors on, “Good Relations spent a lot of time and effort in encouraging visits to the factory by the motoring press, celebrities, and other potential (or commited) customers. Unlike the grand tours of the works of large companies such as Mercedes, we at Jensen had to create much more personalised visits. Normally, therefore, I or another member of the Sales Department would usually take a group of around three or four at a time. We afforded dealers the same service if they wished to clinch a deal or tempt a prospective client. As an average figure, we would be involved in about four or five such tours per week.
The Interceptor/FF line was contained in the building behind the main offices [ bays 1-7] which stretched back as far as the canal. We used to start the tours down at the far end where the chassis jigs were located, and from there through to the Body in White section. This was where the bodies which had been welded to the chassis were mounted on dollies and placed on the assembly track. Here they were fitted with doors, bonnet and boot lids and where the lead loading took place for defining gaps and filling in seams where panels had been joined. This was probably the most impressive section, as it was the skills of the men here that ensured a sound base for the final finish. The next section was the fitting out of the interior including the wiring and glass, and was the longest part of the assembly line. The line itself was not powered, cars being moved forward manually as each section was completed.
As with the body in white section, the trim shop was an impressive place to show off the hand working skills, so we would generally show visitors the Trim Shop. Normally, I didn’t take visitors across the roadway to Bays 8-13, simply because of time constraints. Although after 1972, if someone particularly wanted to see the new Jensen Healey being made, then I would work that into the visit.
At the end of Bay 1, is where the Interceptor motorising section used to be. Here suspension, transmission and engine were fitted before the cars were sent off on road test. The tour ended with the final inspection and rectification area before the car was passed to the sales department. This ended the tour, and we would be back at the starting point, through a door in Bay 1 leading directly to the offices in the main building. Care was always taken to locate a particular car if it was destined to be owned by one of the visitors.”
Former Jensen Motors employee, Clive Kendrick, worked on the Interceptor assembly line, “When production of the Interceptor first started at West Bromwich, they were using the old Austin Healey line in Bay 1, but they soon changed that, and moved the line over towards the main wall in that bay. This left more room over to the Trim Shop side of the bay.”
Kendrick remembers the Volvo P1800 line over at Bay 9, ” Volvo sent some chaps over at the start of the contract, and they put in quite a lavish production track at their expence, along with a semi-automated shute system to supply parts. When the contract ended, the track was just left, and Jensen used it for Sunbeam-Tiger production. Later Bay 9 was used for Jensen Healey production.”
“In the last couple of years leading up to 1976, I think we all knew the writing was on the wall. However, a lot of us were hoping the Company might be saved by the govenment throwing some money at Jensen to keep us afloat. Alas it never happened, and history tells us we have Qvale to blame for that. I was one of the luckier guys who managed to retain my job right up to the closure in 1976. By that time, the place was just a shadow of its former glory. We felt like we were rattling around in this enormous factory complex, and with not very much going on. They were getting rid of staff in the last couple of years, as and when they were no longer needed. Since they needed the last cars finished off before they closed down, a lot of the Assembly Line chaps were kept on to the bitter end.”
After the closure of Jensen Motors in 1976, the main factory lay dormant, and was later demolished.
REQUESTS: Do you hold images of the Kelvin Way factory, either exterior or interior. If so, we would very much like to hear from you.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Clive Kendrick, former Assembly Line Worker at Jensen Motors |Nick Maltby, former draughtsman at Jensen Motors | Tony Marshall, former Sales Manager at Jensen Motors | Alan Vincent, former Technical Director at Jensen Motors.
COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | Felix Kistler, Secretary Swiss Jensen Car Club | Clive Kendrick | Alan Vincent
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