Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections
Philip Campion joined Jensen Motors in 1970 as Project Engineer. One of Campion’s first tasks was to bring the Press Shop and Machine Shop into the modern age. He was sent over to Lotus to try and bring an end to the supply problems of the engine for the Jensen Healey, and later on was key in bringing into production the special press that made the new Federal rubber impact bumpers.
Jensen Motors Projects Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections | Joining Jensen Motors
In 1965, at the age of 16, I left Joseph Leckie School, Walsall, and served an engineering apprenticeship at John Brockhouse Group. I was based at their H.Q. and the factory at Hill Top West Bromwich until my 21st birthday in December 1969.
The Brockhouse Group was renowned for its quality apprenticeships, and Hill Top gave me a wide range of experiences. I worked in their large machine shop, drop forge, trailer fabrication and assembly shops, and at their adjacent factory Brockhouse Transmissions, where they manufactured torque convertors transmissions for the likes of JCB, Ford and Massey Fergusson.
At the end of 1969, I transferred to Brockhouse Transmissions as a Planning Engineer, having worked in that department for the final 12 months of my apprenticeship.
Although I enjoyed the work in this modern machining and assembly plant, I needed to throw off my “ex-Apprentice” label and was keen to find a position at a different company.
During January 1970, I saw an advertisement in the (local) Express and Star newspaper for a Project Engineer at Jensen Motors, and decided this was just the career change I needed. I was interviewed by Ron Ecclestone, Works Manager, and to my surprise I got the job.
When I say surprised, I thought my young age might go against me. That said, I had a solid background in Engineering, HNC qualification from College (part time) and was mad about cars.
From memory, I actually started work at Jensen Motors in April 1970, after serving notice, and was given a starting salary of around £1350 / annum.
I had grown up around cars, my father was a Service Manager at a number of car retail garages. During his career he had been the test driver for the Swallow Doretti sports car (which was based on the Triumph TR2) built by Swallow Sidecars at Aldridge, West Midlands.
In the late 1960s, I bought a white Triumph Spitfire, but coinciding with my successful interview at Jensen Motors, I traded the Spitfire in, and bought a new MGB in red with wire wheels.
Not long after working at Jensen Motors, I came up with the idea of fitting the Interceptor electric window motors to my MGB. The conversion went well, and I was certainly the envy of my fellow sports car owners !
At the Jensen factory, my desk was located in the Planning Office, which was on the ground floor in Bay 8. In the same office at that time were Ron Freckleton, Stan Sharman and Ted (I can’t remember his surname).
They were the three Planning Engineers for the factory, and all three reported to George Smith. I reported directly to Ron Ecclestone. Also in the office were 3 typists and 3 Production Control/Progress Chasers including Gerry Watson.
One of the first celebrity cars I remember, was the Interceptor belonging to Cliff Richard. The paintwork was a peachy pale orange colour. His car came back to the factory for major repairs following an accident to the rear-end of the car.
At the time I joined Jensen Motors, cars that came back for major accident repairs were stored in Bay 9, next bay along to where my office was situated.
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections | Press Shop Project
My first major project was given to me by Ron Ecclestone and the Managing Director, Alfred Vickers. It was a broad remit to modernise the Press Shop within a budget of £20,000.
In 1970 the Press Shop was situated in Bay 7, it was very basic, with just a couple of old guillotines, two old press brakes and dozens upon dozens of fly presses for blanking, cropping, piercing and forming the simple flat chassis and inner body parts that were then welded to the Interceptor and FF tubular chassis.
I imagine all this old equipment had been transferred from Carters Green when it was shut in the 60s and little or no money had ever been spent on the new factory’s manufacturing equipment until Qvale came along in 1970.
A project plan was put together to include a new layout for the Press Shop which would include modern sheet metal working equipment and encompass a new and more efficient production process flow.
Once signed off by Vickers, and working with Jack Eggerson, the Press Shop Foreman, we transformed the Press Shop into an efficient manufacturing facility. This reduced costs and eliminated the all too frequent parts shortages of the past.
New equipment included a high-speed guillotine, mechanical power presses, a Pro-Form hydraulic press brake with segment tooling, and a Pullmax high speed nibbling machine. Also included amongst the Press Shop innovations, was the installation of two 500 Ton Mechanical Power Presses that we bought second-hand.
Large and deep foundations had to be put into Bay 7 to accommodate these heavy presses. These were very large presses by Jensen standards, and we designed a “floating” top plate with fixed mini guards attached to the top bolster plate. This eliminated the need to fit large safety guards to the front and rear openings of the two presses, which minimised production cycle times.
On these two presses we used Redman (of Worcester) Universal Tooling for piercing large or multiple small sheet blanks while using quick change setting -templates designed for each particular part. These minimised tool setting times when changing over from one part to another.
A further innovation was modifying a number of hand-operated fly-presses to pneumatic, in order to reduce manual effort and reduce production cycle times. This was undertaken with a company called Norgren Pneumatics, part of the Broom and Wade Group.
With the Press Shop more or less finished, I could turn my attention to the Machine Shop. I looked to create a new layout, however, this was relatively minor compared to the changes we had made in the Press Shop. Jensen’s Machine Shop was relatively small in comparison with the Press Shop.
In the 1970s it was situated in Bay 12 (taking approximately three quarters of the bay’s length, the rear quarter of Bay 12 was utilised by the Factory’s Maintenance Dept). In the 70s the Fibreglass Shop was situated in Bay 11 and the Paint Shop had moved over to Bay 3, (in comparison to the early factory layout shown in the Museum story about “The Jensen Factory”).
I had a great working relationship with Stan Davis, the Machine Shop Foreman at that time. He had previously been the Toolroom Foreman, but was promoted to manage both the Toolroom and Machine Shop around 1971.
Stan was a very knowledgeable Engineer, and we had worked closely together in the modernisation of the Press Shop including the purchase and conversations of the two 500 Ton presses and their associated tooling. We became good friends although we lost touch when Jensen’s closed in 1976.
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections | Time At Lotus
In 1971/2 Jensen was in the middle of its crisis with Lotus Cars, where they were having serious supply problems with the new 2.0 litre Lotus engine. The new Machine Shop at the Lotus Factory was their showcase of a semi-automated production system centred on high tech. numerical controlled (N.C.) machines specifically put in by Lotus for their new engine.
At Brockhouse Transmissions I had worked on the Process Planning of machined parts using their new N.C. machines. I was the only person at Jensen Motors to have any such experience, so I was seconded to Lotus for a period of two months, in an attempt to help them improve their engine supply chain (to Jensen).
Down in Norfolk, I stayed at the Abbey Hotel in Wymondham, and travelled over to the Lotus Factory at Hethel each day. I only returned back home to the Midlands, each weekend.
The only two people I remember at Lotus by name was Colin Chapman (who I never met, but used to see around the factory) and Tony Rudd, Lotus’s Technical Director who I worked alongside. I also worked closely with the Lotus Production Director (his name I can’t recall), who incidentally, was also a qualified Pilot.
I particularly remember the day when there was to be a key ‘Progress Meeting’ on the subject of the new engine between Lotus and Jensen Management. The meeting would be chaired by Alfred Vickers, and it would be held at the Hotel adjacent to the old Birmingham Airport Terminal Building on the A45.
The Production Director, Tony Rudd and myself were to attend, and would fly to Birmingham Airport from the Lotus Factory in the Company plane (a four seater Cessna I think), piloted by the Lotus Production Director.
Lotus had its own airstrip at Hethel, which doubled as its test-track. It was a very bumpy flight from Hethel to Birmingham, flying much of the time in cloud, but nevertheless it felt very much like an ‘Executive Experience’, flying in for a management meeting.
It turned out to be a highly charged meeting, trying to resolve the engine’s numerous technical and production problems at Lotus. Things were not going to plan, and Vickers was not taking the reasons (excuses) well.
As you can read in the story about the Jensen Healey, the problems did get (pretty much) sorted, but it was a long hard slog. One other memory of my time at Lotus was being asked to take Kjell Qvale’s son, Jeff, down to Lotus for a few days to give him an insight into modern machining processes. Jeff was spending time in the UK to see what Jensen was all about, and was staying at Kevin Beattie’s house near Stratford Upon Avon.
It wasn’t an easy task looking after Jeff (who was about 20 years of age at the time), as Kjell Qvale’s son, he thought he could do pretty much as he pleased at Lotus, walking unescorted around the offices and shop-floor, and looking at documents on people’s desks. In the end, I was told in no uncertain terms not to bring him back to Hethel.
I never knew if Jeff or Vickers ever told Kjell Qvale what had happened. My last day with Jeff was also a bit stressful. He asked if he could drive back from Hethel to Kevin Beattie’s house, where he was staying. Jeff was not used to England’s roads, and drove far too fast, and for some reason would keep the Hillman Hunter (a Jensen works car) in 3rd gear at high speed with the engine revving on its limit, as though it was a sports car.
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections | Back At The Factory
Another of my projects was to bring into production (at the Jensen factory) a large hydraulic press, complete with heated (rubber) moulding tools to produce the new rubber bumpers that were introduced on the Jensen Healey in 1974, and later used on the Jensen GT. These 5 mph rubber impact bumpers had become a Federal requirement, and as such were needed to distribute the cars into the USA.
The press was located in Bay 1, since it was the only available space we could find for such a large press. The (outer) bumper materials were supplied by Avon Rubber in Wiltshire. The rubber sheeting and woven reinforcement fabrics (supplied by Avon) were cut into strips and then laid onto the mould by hand, the two part tooling was then closed under high pressure exerted by the hydraulic press, the rubber then moulding itself and curing to form the black outer bumper covering.
Small air pockets would frequently appear on the surface of the bumpers, these had to be filled by hand, placing small pieces of rubber into the cavities. Then the process had to be repeated utilising the moulding tools in the press, taking up valuable production time. The bumpers were very difficult to mould and get right first time.
I remember the testing of these new bumpers in their development stage, required to meet the new 5mph U.S. impact test. The test cars were literally driven into the front (wall) of the Goods Inward receiving deck, which was approximately four to five feet high. Goods Inward was situated at the front of Bay 9.
It was sometime around 1974 / 75 that I remember being brought into a conversation about Qvale’s new idea to bring trendy modern fabrics from the aviation industry.
These were fabrics typically being used in jet aircraft of the time, and Qvale wanted to use them in Jensen cars. It was from this idea that brought about the infamous electric blue and orange trim used in the Jensen GT.
I’m not sure exactly, where Qvale sourced the material from, but I know he took a liking to that particular material. It caused quite a stir, and not everyone at the factory approved of what was classed as an outrageous fabric.
During my years at Jensen Motors, I worked on numerous projects, some of which were centred on pre-production planning of new model variants such as the Interceptor Convertible and Coupe, likewise the Jensen Healey and Jensen GT.
I was also assigned post-production problem solving projects which we were never in short supply due to the fact the Interceptors were hand-built, as were to some extent the Healey and GT, where variations between one car and another were always to be found.
A typical example being the two rear quarterlights on the Interceptor Coupe. Since the tooling on the Body in White Assembly Line was fairly basic, it meant that lead loading and shaping was left to the skills of the Sheet Metal Workers, as such, apertures sizes were difficult to control.
Each (glass) quarterlight frame (fashioned from 4 pieces of a brass extrusion) had to be individually fitted to each car at the end of the BIW line and assigned their respective chassis number, before being brazed together using adjustable jigs in the Jensen Machine Shop.
The quarterlights were then outsourced for chroming, and on their return to the Factory would mate up with their respective car on the final assembly line. Timing was critical, particularly with the outsourcing of the chroming in order to avoid delays on the Final Assembly Line.
I also worked on pre-production planning of the F Type, the replacement for the Interceptor. At one stage I was travelling back and forth to Coventry Motor Panels, the company contracted to building the Body In White prototypes.
As far as I am aware, the F Type never got beyond a basic test car, which was just a black body shell with running gear, engine and transmission, along with a modified Interceptor driver’s seat and occasionally a passenger seat. I also saw the new G Type (gull wing) prototype body shell in Jensen’s Development Shop at Kelvin Way, but again, to my knowledge no pre-production car with running gear was ever built (a fabulous looking car).
The longest serving boss I had at Jensen Motors was Don Large. He had previously worked at Rootes in a Works/Production Management role at their Hillman Avenger Assembly Plant.
Don was a great boss, he gave you challenging jobs, would listen to new ideas, wanted the best for his team, very knowledgeable (a real automotive industry man) and not least a nice person. Don was successful in getting a senior management position at John Thompson in Bilston, West Midlands.
They made commercial chassis parts and assemblies for Leyland Vans and Trucks. I was sad to see him leave, but I guess he could see the writing on the wall for Jensen Motors. Don had mentioned that he would see if he could find a position for me within the Company, but it never materialised.
In hindsight I am thankful it never happened. If it had, I don’t think I would have ever ended up working for Mobil Oil Co Ltd in later years, which was the best career decision I ever made, (further comments below)
I consider myself very lucky working at Jensen Motors. During the time I worked there, I had the opportunity to travel around England, visiting a wide variety of companies supplying both production equipment and parts for use on the Jensen cars. Many of these trips would be done with me behind the wheel of various Interceptors, Healeys and GTs – under the guise of ‘road testing’.
My six years at Jensen’s were some of the most enjoyable times of my working life. I knew many of the names in the Jensen Museum personnel A-Z listings, some are referred to in my recollections.
In the pre-Jensen Healey days the factory had a real family atmosphere to it, everyone was friendly and willing to help out for the common good and the success of the Jensen Marque.
Sadly, with large number of new employees arriving at Jensen Motors from British Leyland (who were laying people off) to assemble the new Jensen Healey, the factory dynamics changed for the worse. Before I knew it, the years had moved swiftly by, and Jensen Motors had the Receivers in. It was obvious my days at Jensen Motors were numbered.
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Post Jensen Motors
Leaving Jensen Motors in May 1976 at the time of its closure, I went to work for Crabtree Electrical Ltd in Walsall as a Production Engineer, (Special Projects) focusing on Capital Equipment and new product introduction.
It wasn’t particularly interesting work (compared to what I had been doing at Jensen Motors) nor a “friendly” working environment. I saw little in the way of a promising career or prospects.
In 1978 I decided it was time for a complete change in direction. I had by chance been involved with a project (at Crabtree’s) to look at ant-mist (neat) cutting oil technology developed by Mobil Oil in the 70s to improve the working environment of machine shops. I happened to mention to the local Mobil Technical Rep. that I would be interested in going into sales and thought no more about it. Some months later the same Rep phoned me to say he was being promoted and his job was being advertised in the Birmingham Post that week.
I applied immediately, and got the job as a Technical Rep, working in Mobil’s Industrial Lubricants Division. Joining Mobil Oil in late 1978, I would stay with them until I took early retirement in 2006.
My career spanning 28 years eventually led me to become the UK and Ireland Commercial Lubes Sales Manager. I worked through the times of Mobil’s major business and organisational changes, a Joint Venture with BP (in 1996) when BP took over the combined UK Fuels Business and Mobil took over the combined UK Lubes Business, I was BP (Brand) Commercial Lubes Sales Manager during that period.
I then transferred to Esso Petroleum in 2000 when Exxon and Mobil joined forces to become ExxonMobil (Globally) but traded in the UK as Esso Petroleum. I was appointed Industrial Lubes Mgr Mobil Brand at the time. This title, changed in the first year of Esso and Mobil coming together and my title became Industrial Lubes Mgr UK (inc N.Ireland).
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Foot Note
During my six years at Jensen’s, I worked closely with many of the management team, staff and operatives, some I have mentioned in my Recollections, other colleagues that I recall and worked with, are shown below for interest, and are taken from the Jensen Museum’s personnel A to Z listings
Ray Allsopp (one of my bosses for a short time) Gilbert Hughes
Tom Beard David Jones
Andrew Bee Eric Lucas
Joe Belcher Jack Moore
Ray Chester Jeff Nicklin
Bob Edmiston Vic Parsons
Gary Ford Bill Silvester
Albert Gray John Speed
John Hackett Brian Spicer
Arthur Harper John Treen
Malcolm Harris Albert Wade
Arthur Holloway Harry Webb
Gordon Holt Alan Vincent
There are numerous others with whom I worked, whose names unfortunately I cannot recall and sadly are missing from any of the personnel listings.
Jensen Motors Project Engineer | Philip Campion | Recollections
RECOLLECTIONS: Did you work at the Jensen factory, or a member of your family. The Museum is always interested to hear from former factory personnel, and maybe to record your recollections.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Philip Campion, former Project Engineer at Jensen Motors
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Philip Campion
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