PETER JAMES, CARBODIES SENIOR BODY ENGINEER, PETER LUDFORD, DAIMLER BODY ENGINEER
Interviewed by Bill Monroe 1996, when researching for his book ‘Carbodies, the Complete Story’
PL I went away to do my national service and when I came back the Daimler design office had close down, apart from BSA, and they had to offer me something, they said I could mess about there (Radford) or go to Carbodies. I did a bit on the taxi with the regular guys and then helped with the Daimler limo. I worked on the Majestic first and the limo came next. There was that Vauxhall too. The original Majestic (6-cylinder car) We were presented with a chassis which had been flitched with 2 feet in the middle, I worked with Park Sheet Metal, Bayton Road, George Park, We got the Majestic body, cut it in the middle and mounted it on the chassis and left with the head scratching problem of joining it up. The guy who was leading it was Osmond Rivers, the Hooper chief designer. He had the flair for the design but I was the body structure man. We though of ways of joining it up. You had the chassis which was quite heavy and had longitudinal strength. The 2 foot piece in between I made into a step, so the body sill were capped off then there was a step cut into the body floor as far as I could get, Then that was lowered about six inches to a tread plate, then the rest of the structure was done, the cant rails which were very similar, and made good and a new door was made, flared out at the bottom to fill in the step area to make it neat and tidy inside. Because of the limited volume we converted the curved side glasses of the saloon to straight glasses. With the new quarter light shape and new centre door we could not afford new curved glass to match the front door. 1959 Motor Show catalogue car, Carbodies stand.
The other part of the structure was to engineer the division and new front seats, just a top hat rail, bolted in and the occasional seat, the geometry of the folding of it. Mr Rivers had a formula for his limousines, for the space for the rear occupants. The cushion had to be 21 or 22 inches for comfort. He then had a fixed formula for the way the seat folded up. We didn't have things like occupant safety and seat belts to worry about.
(PJ) The Mini cab arrived at Carbodies and it was joked over and it sat in experimental for some time, and we periodically went over to it and looked at it and walked away from it. When I had a Mini I had the spare wheel out of that for some time. It sat in the back corner for some time; I don't remember what happened to it but when it did the spare wheel became my property.
(PL) I don't know what Osmond Rivers did when Hoopers folded but he used to come to Coventry for three or four days then he was over to Paris to Saoutchik. He was doing a limo over there. The other thing I worked with him on was the SP250 sports coupe, a strange thing in fibreglass. High mounted tail lights like a DS. They made 2, Bill Lyons had them cut up. It features in a few brochures. That was at Radford. The people who made the Peerless GT, they made the bodies. (Author’s note- most likely James Whitson or possibly Wincanton Engineering- Whitson made the Peerless, Wincanton the Warwick)) I worked right from scratch on that. I worked on the SP250 right from scratch when it was a prototype with a Rochdale Ford special body on it, which I had great pleasure in going out of Radford with the chief test driver and hit 60mph just before the halt sign at the bottom of the hill. All the Dart was done at Radford. We took a TR2 chassis, beefed it up a bit and copied it line for line. I was in the drawing office at the time. We went from that to the first production one that had fins on. It was built on a unique track. As soon as it turned a wheel it had a shake down and went straight to the 'States. Prototype-stroke-production model. They were all fibreglass.
I was involved in the DN250 Vauxhall-Phil Lomax and Frank McMorris setting that out in the office. Frank died shortly afterwards. It came up as a collection of body panels from the standard vehicle and we put them together with tapping screws. We couldn't believe we could get a car without a jig. We built it, just clamping panels together. (PJ) I can remember we had a series of layouts on Mylar, a plastic 'drafting paper'. (Dupont) It is etched do you can draw on it. (PL) While the deal was being discussed they obtained a standard Cresta and dropped the Daimler V8 auto in it. It had tiny brake drums and it just would not stop, with 140hp up front. It went then to Daimler suspension and disc brakes and the unique GRP roof and screen. Conventional screen with a Daimler grille. I think there was only one of those built.
PL: I was in the design office then. They wanted a cheaper, lighter vehicle than the Conquest, designed at Radford as far as I'm aware. MkI in Carbodies experimental. I remember when the Panhard was there. It went as far as I was told was a build under licence project, but whether it was there to study aluminium panels I don't know. There was this ex-RAF guy, bumptious bloke, Ron Stanton. He knew everything. I couldn't query it. The thing was they ran out of money. What was the Sprite turned into what looked like the Lanchester 14, which had a lot of common panels with the chassis mounted Conquest.
PJ: My father had the same MkII Sprite pic as Stan Swaine. It was an eyeballs-out job for the motor show. The worked 3 days continuous without sleep. When it was all over Jack Hellberg gave them a signed photograph. Some wag said 'where do I spend it?' The car came in from Radford I think. I don't have a great memory of it myself.
I would have thought that the MKII was a derivation of the Pressed Steel (Conquest) body. There were so many of the Jim Rogers-style cars but they might only made one. They were almost all the same. When they went from the Conquest to the 3-litre Regency, Park Ward was doing aluminium bodies. Certainly it was a struggle for money to develop anything.
The Conquest roadster was ally on an ash frame. The Conquest all had a terrible reputation for rust. The paint set-up at Carbodies was primitive. They had a series of booths in the corner of the body shop. All it had were two gratings and the overspray was blown out of through a duct under the offices. The same duct as the wood shavings incinerator from the wood mill. It was an Anderson shelter that all the shavings came into. They had this old Polish labourer and his job was to shovel all the shavings into it until they were burned.
PL I have a signed photo of the first Conquest roadster. It was a styling model, a solid block body mounted on a chassis, no springs. We sent it to Airflow Streamline who panelled it in aluminium and it became the show car. Solid wood. It was six weeks from Jim Rogers' styling to the motor show. A 104 ladies model came in when we playing about with plastic tooling. We were one of the first organisations to look at epoxy resin tools. Ultimately it turned out to be a disaster but the plan was that some of the tooling for a revised Daimler body and it was the 2-seater with a very low back. The rear quarters swept down to a fin. Part of the tooling's failure was sabotage. The first thing we made was the cowl for a scooter handlebar. The pattern shop made this sand cast with a resin-bonded core, mounted on a plate, made in a bout 1/10th of the time that the toolroom could do it. Before it ever got under the press it was turned upside down and broken. They swear that the lads in the press shop let it swivel on the crane and it broke. It ultimately failed because in the development they had not taken into consideration the contraction of the sand core. The resin shell contracted on the core and it just cracked. Carbodies were the first people to try that system out and Abbey Panels now do massive amounts of work for pre-production runs. Between '57 and '59.
PL All the Conquest roadsters were all Radford made. In the new assembly shop was the Conquest track, which handled the roadster and the 3-litre track. There was the Sportsman which was a Mulliner body and it had sand cast aluminium body pillars. I always remember one for the Queen Mother cracking across the back. Radford foundry used to build them. That was Jake's job when he went to Daimler
There was an in-between 3-litre saloon like the Conquest, with the wing flared out in the door. It would overlap the door in a frontal impact. (Jake's DK400 photo outside Leamington College For Boys)
The Majestic was the first one to come in to be done. The Regency was the one before it. That was the Pressed Steel job. It had proper hard tooling. The Major was just a rear end job. The front end remained the same. We had that peculiar little sidelight.
PL) I went down the track with Cyril Simpson. The bumper overlapped the body by about an inch. They were being finished at Carbodies. They came in as a painted shell and they were trimmed and finished at Carbodies. There was a hell of a gap on one side. They tried to blame Carbodies but it was the Daimler chassis.
Den James (Peter James’ father) was chargehand of the fitting shop when Percy McNally was Foreman. He was a detail fitter, not a tool designer. But he was a go-ahead sort of man and when McNally was elevated Den was made foreman of the fitting shop. This was the time when the fitting shop was a fairly big affair and they made things to drawing. McNally was made General Manger and that was when he let his ‘talents’ run riot on press tools. He saw things in simple terms. Joe James had a canny knack of being able to judge die-lines. Bill Lucas always used to get Joe in to establish major die lines on draw dies. People like Joe and Dennis Compton, who was the press tool design man, when they were confronted with McNally’s ideas they just went to ground. It was Kirksite, hit and bash it, but there are a lot of things you can't do like that. Some things you can, like the flitch plates on the Ford (Zephyr convertible). They were 14-guage mild steel, and they were crashed to a developed blank, which would turn the edges up. There was no surfaces to mark so it didn't matter. The others were terrible. They came out like lumps of mangled metal.
Where the Leyland van was, is now taxi finishing. The Leyland pickup is a longbed. The number of projects you do that never see the light of day. The Lea-Francis Lynx came into Carbodies. (PL) I remember going to the motor show and I've never seen so much gunge on a windscreen. The windscreen was a totally different shape to the frame.
(PJ) I did a scheme, I think it was to give me something to do, for a BSA light car using the Ariel flat four. It was Jim Rogers' idea, a two seater with the engine behind the seats. It was a pukka 4-wheel front engine job, very similar in style to a Herald estate. A little bit sleeker. The design was to use an Ariel flat four. I had the silhouette, like a VW engine. Whether that engine was ever built. I disassociate myself with that because George Cooke was in charge of it. Ben Johnson bashed it all out. George Cooke was responsible for laying it all out but he got a contract bloke in to do that. This BSA I did, there was no prototype, just lines on paper but it died the death. It was described as the Ariel flat four and the silhouette was just like a VW. If I'm positive about anything I'm positive about that.
Mike Potter was the Bayer rep who negotiated the sale of the Unitruck to the Bayer Organisation. Bayer make Alker Seltzer, and also Plastics. We were negotiating to use Bayer plastics on CR6 using RIM (Resin Injection Mouldings) I reckoned there was a bit of a vacuum after T2000 went into production so Jake must have said to look at it, but it just fizzled out. The T2000 hatchback rear window was a special glass. I had a God-almighty panic to finish it and I had about 2 hours before we caught a train to Scotland. It failed because we couldn't hold the back door up. We used the MGB GT coil springs, in a chrome case. We tried that but it just wouldn't work. Triumph wouldn't accept an external visible stay. They wanted a torsion bar we'd got in the estate.
Shortly after I got to Land Rover the Disco project was in the offing. They wanted to consolidate an engineering group in Advanced Design, the styling studio. The Leda was the first car to go through the new paint shop.
All the photos of the Rover SD1 estate are of clay but we put some sheet metal on it. Shortly after Jake' Donaldson’s death I had a call from Rover asking about costings of it. That's all they said, they never carried it through. Michael Edwardes came to see our CR6. I conducted him around. He thought it was excellent.
FX5 was slightly different format from CR6. Wheelchair accessibility came up totally out of the blue. In Jake's time it hadn't even have been dreamt of. I would suspect it wouldn't, but it's difficult to say. If you could see what this transport research group at Newcastle came up with, it was ludicrous. It had to be sat on. It would have been an ambulance for occasional taxi use. Like all of these research groups they lose sight of things.
Alpha (Taxi prototype) was in Jake's time. We turned the doors around, a bigger screen and used the pantograph wiper from a Stag to give sufficient sweep to the screen. Throughout my history of this FX4 there was never any money. We did so many schemes that were scrapped because nobody would pay.
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