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Homepage. This page: A former employee recalls his time spent working for Standard-Triumph.

Life at Standard-Triumph.

This section of the site now includes many interesting tales of car ownership, at a time when many cars now considered as collectable classics, were simply old cars and rarely worth a second glance. A few pages relate tales of working in garages, during the 1960s and before. Martin Longmore's contribution though sheds light on what it was like to work for one of the major car manufacturers, at a turbulent time in the history of the British motor industry - namely the late 1960s, and well into the 1970s.
In Martin's case, he worked for Standard-Triumph, a prolific producer of vehicles throughout the 1960s, with well-known cars such as the Triumph 2000, Herald, Vitesse and the two-seater Spitfire, rolling out of the Canley factory during the decade. Retired now, he remains a fan of classic Triumphs, including an immaculate TR4A that he's owned since the 1970s.
The memories of life at Standard-Triumph are spread over two pages, this is the first of them (here is Page 2). Characters Martin worked with, regulations he had to work within, and pranks that he and colleagues played during his time at S-T, are all to be found here.
Read more stories from motoring's past in the motoring memories section of the site, when finished here.
Photographs of various Triumphs, of the type that Martin would have encountered during his time at the factory, are also included.

An introduction to Martin, and his TR4A.

Martin's Triumph TR4A
"Way back in 2013 I had an article published in TRIUMPH World magazine. It was titled 'Forty years with a TR4a'. In the article I describe working at Triumph and how, with the help of a lot of people, rebuilt my engine and gearbox to a high standard that enabled it to still be running today with only minimum attention.
It was published with my photos and no alteration to the script. I described how some of the parts were spirited away, legitimately, and how I was very friendly with the Irish manager of the Parts Dept. I would leave a bottle of whiskey in his waste bucket and he would ring me up and ask what I wanted. I said I needed a complete TR4a cylinder head complete with valves and springs. He would get one from stock, write out a scrap note which I would take to the salvage store at Canley.
I would pass the scrap note to whoever was in charge, he would look at it for a moment, then reply, let's say 3.50. Is that okay? Yes it was. Then he would write out an authorisation note to allow me to remove it from the company."
"I worked at Triumph from 1968 -1979 in Engineering and Technical publications. Be under no illusion about the TR7, the Americans hated it. They pleaded with Triumph to continue production of the TR6 as they had a full order book over there. I had a lot to do with the PE 188 engine that was fitted into the Stag. The engine was a rush job because at that time the Americans wanted V8s. We all know what happened when the fuel crisis arrived. I travelled a lot in the States in the seventies and they had the slogan 'fifty five stay alive', nothing about staying alive, more about saving fuel. If it had not have been for the Americans wanting V8s, the Stag would have had the Innsbruck 2500 - carb version. I still enjoy using my TR4a, and working at Triumph gave me the opportunity to rebuild the engine, and uprate the gearbox to facilitate a J-type o/d. It is still capable of cruising at 100 MPH at 4200 rpm, not as I do that any more, those times have gone."
What follows are some of Martin's recollections of the firm, which he joined in 1969. This was first written for the son of a friend of his, who had worked at Jaguar at a similar time, in the hope that it would shed some light on what working for a British car company at the time was like. It certainly makes for a fascinating read, so my great thanks to Martin for sending this over, for inclusion on OCC.

Joining Standard-Triumph, August 1969.

" It was 3rd, August 1969 and I was starting my first day's work at Standard-Triumph Motor Company in Coventry. Full of anticipation I parked my old 1951 Riley and made my way to 'Ivy Cottage', the reception area, and asked for Harold Knibbs, who was to become my manager. My interview with Mr. Knibbs had gone far better than expected and I was duly given the job. He was an affable gentleman of the old school, well dressed and very polite.
" My father had worked at the company during WW2, and was a friend of long-standing with John Bevington who, at that time, was Personnel Manager, or so I believe. They both enjoyed trout fishing together and it was John Bevington who introduced Sir John Black to the sport. I remember my father telling me that one day he had a telephone call from John Bevington, telling him to be outside of the reception area at 11.00am where a car and driver would be waiting to take him to Billy Lane's fishing tackle shop, in Coventry. Once there he was to choose some good quality trout fishing gear, creel, rods and flies etc, and the driver would pay for these items by cheque. The fishing gear was for Sir John, as he was going to try his hand at the sport. John Bevington had suggested my father choose the gear as he was an experienced fly fisherman. How Mr. Black got on with his sport is unknown to me, but my father and I spent many happy hours together fishing with John Bevington before, and for some time after, his retirement, until he decided in the early seventies to migrate to New Zealand with his long time friend Ken Green and family. Ken had just secured a position overseeing the distributorship in NZ. I continued corresponding with JB by letter as he had known me since my birth, until his death in the late seventies.

Standard-Triumph company magazines Copies of the Standard-Triumph in-house magazine may also be found at OCC, on this page, in the car magazines section.

" Standard-Triumph was a very family- and friends-orientated company. Fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, and anyone who knew someone who worked there, all had a good chance of being employed by the company. I must add a caveat to my statement, as I can only verify this statement to apply to the areas of the company that I worked in, or knew of. Harold Knibbs being an ex-colleague of John Bevington, without doubt, helped me gain employment with the Company.
" Mr.Knibbs met me in the small reception along with someone from personnel. I had a brief introduction to the company structure, and then Mr.Knibbs led me to the small office where I would be working. Ted Bowers was the team leader of a small group of some five personnel. I didn't fully understand what his remit was, but I was told that I would be involved with the introduction of a new procedure dealing with safety critical items. After being introduced to the other members of the team, Ted suggested that one of them show me around the factory.
" Ivor was a tall slim Welshman with a wry sense of humour. He explained that every day he had to visit various areas of the factory and collate information on production build figures. We left the office at 09.00 am and made our way through the factory, stopping off every now and again for a chat with people he knew. We strolled up and down a few assembly lines until 10.30 am, then we eventually stopped for tea, a bacon roll and a chat with more people. The factory was enormous and covered a large expanse so, according to Ivor, frequent cups of tea were extremely necessary owing to all the walking and talking that had to be done. By Ivor's estimation, if we organized ourselves correctly, we would get back to the office at exactly 12.30 pm just in time to start lunch. No wonder Ivor was of a skeletal nature as he spent every day clocking up that kind of mileage around the factory.
" As the introduction of the safety critical procedure was taking longer than expected, I was virtually unemployed. I spent most of my time reading trade magazines and clock watching. No-one in the office spoke much, it was totally enclosed and remote from the large purchasing office which was completely open plan. An elderly gent sat in one corner hunched over his desk, he looked a bit of a weird character, he had a monocle over one eye and smoked continually, so much so, that the dark green and cream painted wall where he sat had lost all of its colour and was now completely stained nicotine brown, even the ceiling had a brown area of stain directly above him. He was affectionately called 'Puffing Billy'. During the day I could continually hear him quietly mumbling to himself. Lunchtime ended at 1.30 pm, and for about ten minutes before, this hunch-backed, grey-haired, balding man could be seen pacing up and down the corridor outside the office looking down at a book and mumbling to himself. Being the late nineteen sixties and in the middle of August, nearly all the young women were wearing very short mini-skirts. As the girls passed by on their way back to the office, Puffing Billy stopped reading and gave every girl a long protracted gaze, looking them up and down as they walked by. This pastime carried on every day until some of the girls complained to Ted. Puffing Billy was then instructed to terminate this practice, ogling was to stop. I asked Ted what Puffing Billy was reading, and he told me that he was a part-time Lay-Preacher who used to practice his sermon for the following Sunday, no doubt on the immoral dress code of young women; although I don't remember any complaints from the men about the short skirts.
" There was another Ivor in the office. He also had a job which was a 'wandering minstrel' kind of role. He was a quiet enough, unassuming, character of about thirty six, lived with his mother and was probably still wearing the same suit that he bought ten years earlier. Because I was still unofficially unemployed, Ted suggested that I take a trip to Fletch North with Ivor, to relieve some of my boredom. Fletch North was situated on the Fletchamstead Highway and was another part of the Standard-Triumph company some twenty minutes walk from where we were based. Instead of walking, Ivor decided to use his Triumph Herald 1200.
" When I looked at the car I noticed that the passenger seat was fitted in the reverse position. I asked Ivor about this, and he said that when he took his mother out in the car, she could not bear to see the oncoming road, so he reversed the seat. Well, this was a first, as I had never travelled in a car with the front passenger seat facing in the opposite direction. I was now beginning to wonder about the sanity of the people I was working with.

A Triumph Herald 13/60
A Triumph Herald 13/60, spotted at a local classic car show.

" John R worked in the same office and was the same age as me. He had two uncles who were managers in the purchasing office, and his wife to be was employed in salaries. I never knew what John did, not a lot from what I envisaged, as I spent an hour or two with him on his rounds, which mainly consisted of long conversations with the typists in the purchasing office many of whom were friends of his girlfriend. He was a friendly chap, a bit light-headed but totally at ease with himself. We got on well, as we were both the same age, and used to meet up socially with our girlfriends. Ted would get annoyed with him every now and again and say, 'Martin, do you know where the hell John is? I haven't seen him for over an hour'. I would then be despatched to go and find him. This was almost as difficult as trying to find 'Macavity the cat', he could have been in a dozen different places but never where he was supposed to be. Nothing was ever said when he eventually returned though.
" I used my time in the office getting to know the layout of the factory; as I stated previously, it covered a large area and I enjoyed some of my time wandering along the production lines. I always carried a couple of blue print drawings with me, so as to make it look as if I was investigating some problem or other. There was always the chance a foreman on the line might possibly confront me, as they were always suspicious of office workers lurking about. It was interesting watching the assembly of the cars from the start of the line to the finish. The work seemed repetitive and very noisy though. My favourite area was where the engines were built. All manner of engines could be seen in various stages of build, some were being run on a test rig before being passed off. Again, I dared not linger too long.

A Triumph Stag
A Triumph Stag, powered by the company's own 3.0 V8 engine.

" In one part of the factory was some kind of underground bunker; I understood that it was previously a gearbox assembly area before the process was moved to another location. However, I found out it was then used as a kind of bar/social, which sold beer, wine and spirits to anyone wishing for some refreshment after a long day's work. I visited it occasionally with a friend from the buying office. We would regularly polish off a few pints of Newcastle Brown Ale before leaving. I eventually curtailed this activity because it was not conducive to riding my Velocette motorcycle home in the dark Winter months.
" Having now spent six weeks in that quiet little office, I had read virtually every trade magazine that was available. I had spent hours touring the factory with Ivor, drinking endless tea and eating bacon sandwiches. If I stayed in at lunchtime it was now almost unbearable as Puffing Billy, now banned from standing in the corridor ogling the mini-skirted girls, was now confined to the office. Everyone else had some place to go over lunchtime except me and, of course, Billy, who spent his time marching up and down our small space like a Benedictine monk reciting prayers. I could stand it no longer, my forthcoming work had not materialised and I envisaged this situation continuing for months. As I rushed out of the office at 3.30pm, end of play on a Friday afternoon, I decided that I would approach my manager first thing the following Monday to discuss the situation.
" Monday came, I spoke to Mr. Knibbs and stated that I could no longer sit around being unemployed. He was very understanding about it, and after a couple of hours he found a temporary position for me on a small section consisting of some five men, a female typist, and an office junior. This section was responsible for keeping a record of every part and quantity used in vehicle production from about 1947 onwards, including nuts, bolts and washers. When engineering changes were made to a build program, this information was issued on a form called an Engineering Change Note, or ECN. This information, along with a blue print drawing of the new, or changed, part and with the reason for the change, was registered and then passed on to the purchasing section who then decided whether or not the affected part would be manufactured in-house or sourced externally. I now had the grandiose title of 'Specification Analyst'.
" As expected, this little section contained it's fair share of odd-balls. The supervisor, Fred, was sixty-something, held a cigarette in one hand whilst continually looking down at his desk neither stopping to talk nor to drink a cup of tea. He seemed totally engrossed with whatever work he was doing. One late summer afternoon the cigarettes took their toll and he collapsed over his desk with a suspected heart attack, cigarette in hand. He returned to his desk some months later, but retired soon afterwards and died of a heart attack within a couple of months.
" Harry, who had been Fred's right-hand man, now assumed command. Harry was one of life's nice guys, helpful, pleasant, and with a ready smile for anyone who spoke to him. Away from work he was the organist at Eastern Green Church in Coventry where he played most Sundays. For over twenty years Harry and his family went to Jersey for their holiday. They went to the same hotel and visited the same places. One year Harry's wife said enough was enough and suggested a break in Spain. Harry couldn't be convinced, so his wife and daughter went to Spain, and Harry went to Jersey again. One of my favourite memories of Harry was when we visited the church one lunchtime and he played Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue' for me on the organ. We both liked classical music, and this was one of my favourite pieces. When he played it, it sounded totally terrific as the acoustics were awesome.

A 1970s Triumph GT6 Mk3
Rear view of the six-cylinder Triumph GT6, in Mk3 form, from the early 1970s.

" Ron, a Yorkshireman, was a friendly chap, he also worked on the section. He was another truly nice man; although there was a thirty year difference in our ages we became the best of friends. He had been held prisoner of the Nazis during WW2 in one of the Stalags in Poland. Most of his right arm had been blown off during a skirmish with them. The operation and subsequent amputation of his arm in a Nazi field hospital under battle conditions, had not removed all of the metal fragments from his remaining stump, because of this he was in continual pain and had to make frequent trips to hospital, where they endeavoured to remove more of the debris when the pain got too much for him. Ron would appear at my desk for a chat and relate some of his war stories over and over, sometimes lasting for half an hour or more. Some were very funny, but some were very sad, but it was an accurate account of what happened to soldiers who were captured and interned in such places.
" Pete looked after the stationery on the section. Harry had given me a quick run down on the staff, but when it came to Pete there was a bit of hesitation. 'Pete's a bit different', Harry said. I replied, 'oh, in what way' there was more hesitation. What he wanted to say but couldn't quite get it out, was that Pete was gay. We just left it at that. Pete had his moments, insomuch that if he was having a bad day, it would be bad form to ask him for anything from the stationery cupboard, even a pencil. The office junior would often be the recipient of his bad temper along with some of the other young women in the office. Pete seemed to get on best with the middle-age ladies in the office. Sometime after I had joined the section, Pete, in his roundabout way of asking for something, asked me very politely if I would mind giving him a lift to his brother's house.
" His brother lived in a house in a small village along my route home. As Pete didn't own a car I said I would be happy to take him; also I would pick him up the next morning on my way back to work. During our journey, Pete explained that his brother lived in the United States and had returned to the UK on holiday. Rather quietly, and in an embarrassing kind of way, he went on to explain his brother's employment. His brother, no less, was the butler and chauffeur to Bing Crosby. At this stage of our conversation we had arrived at his brother's house, whereupon he thanked me for the lift, and headed off to meet his brother. I gave Pete a few lifts until his brother, wife, and children, headed back to the States. I never had any problems getting stationery in the future. At Christmas he bought me an enormous box of chocolates by way of a thank-you. The following year Pete went to California to visit his brother. On his return he showed me photographs of himself, his brother, and Bing standing alongside Bing's Rolls-Royce. Bing allowed Pete's brother to use the Rolls at any time unless he was needed for chauffeur duties. Pete was very lucky to have his own chauffeur driving him around whilst on holiday, but he was amused at some of Bing Crosby's idiosyncrasies, one of which was the state of his house. The exterior of his house was in dire need of decorating, the green paint had been flaking off the front door and windows for years, and there was a plentiful amount of rot visible. What some of Bing's VIP guests thought of it was anyone's guess.
" Paul joined the section just a week or so after me. He was in his early twenties, of Liverpool descent, and had that wicked sense of humour and the quick wit that Liverpudlians seem to be blessed with. Combined with a mischievous and antagonistic streak, it made him a source to be reckoned with. No-one could escape his hilarious barbed comments if he disliked them, or being the target of some of his jibes even if he didn't. Our office junior was a gangly sixteen-year-old girl who seemed to have articulated limbs, she was always the recipient of his sharp tongue. For some reason he didn't like her, and he made no excuses for it. Another young woman in the office, Ann, was in the habit of falling asleep at her desk in the afternoon. Most nights she would be out with her boyfriend drinking to excess to the early hours. Having had a bad argument with him one night, she subsequently stabbed him in a drunken frenzy. He was rushed to hospital and she was held in custody for some time at the local nick on a GBH charge, but was released sometime the next day as her boyfriend decided not to press charges. She was consequently named 'Ann the knife' by Paul.

Triumph TR6
Rear view of Triumph's TR6 of the 1970s.

" The offices where we were housed were originally factory premises, which consisted of a large open-plan area with sub-divisions of screens and were filled with desks and filing cabinets. There was no ceiling, so looking upwards the view consisted of an array of large steel beams and an enormous expanse of Georgian wires cast glass roof lights. On hot days these roof lights could be opened about 15 degrees by pulling on hanging chains and pulleys. During the Summer months the heat build-up in the office could get to unbearable levels if the roof lights were not opened. Naturally, having some of the fair sex in the same office, we had quite a bit of conjecture about if and when the roof lights should be open. During spells of hot weather I would get into the office early and 'let the air in' before the ladies arrived.
" All went well until we had a cold morning, complaints to management were made and, from then on, we were told not to open them. Everything went well until we had another spell of seriously hot weather. By 12.00 noon the temperature had risen to the mid-90's fahrenheit. Everyone was 'cooking' in the heat, it was like working in a greenhouse. None of the men would open the windows because we had been told not to. Management were consulted again, and the staff were told that they could have a ten-minute break outside if the temperature broke the 100f mark. At about 14.00 hours the thermometer hit the 100f mark, with the help of someone's finger pressed on the mercury bubble. Word soon got around, and before long the office began haemorrhaging staff. After that event, it was agreed that the windows should be opened when the temperature got to a certain level.
" There was one drawback to having the windows open, insomuch as it enabled the local sparrow population to invade the office. These little birds were flying all over the place above our heads and, occasionally, someone would get hit with sparrow guano and rush off to the toilet to remove the mess. If a sandwich was left unattended on a desk at lunchtime, the birds would soon make short work of it. The problem was exascerbated by Paul firing bent paper clips at them with a strong elastic band. Come the end of the day, all of our desks had to be covered with old 'blue prints' to save the mess on our desks. Mice could also be a problem in the office. A favourite trick of mine was to leave some sandwich remains in a waste bucket, in an area under the desk where the cleaners would miss it. The next morning would guarantee the presence of a mouse, or maybe two. I would get to work early and exchange my waste bucket with one from a particular troublesome lady. Sometime during the morning all hell would break loose as the mouse was spotted trying to get out of the bucket. We were prime suspects owing to the howls of laughter from our end of the office.
" It was common practice in the buying office for some of the male buyers to take their typists out for a drink at lunchtimes. The majority of times this was an innocent pastime and there was never gossip, as groups of people would congregate at 'The Herald' pub just up the road. Lenny worked in Purchasing and regularly went out at lunchtime with his typist. Over a period of time Paul noticed that their lunchtime liaisons were getting more and more frequent. Lenny and his friend were often quite late back from lunch; Paul sensed that their friendship had now risen to another level. Lenny always parked his car, a Triumph Herald, at the front of the office. Paul and I decided to move his car just before their lunchtime getaway. It was August, the weather was very hot, and his car windows were open. We moved the car about fifty yards to an area behind some trees called the spinney. It was an area where some of the GT6s and TRs were parked after they had come off the assembly line. The car was moved, and we stood in the shadows of the trees waiting for the couple to appear. Sure enough, after a few minutes, Lenny and his friend scurried innocuously out of the door well before the rest of the staff. Almost immediately, panic set in with Lenny. He was searching everywhere for his car. After a few minutes, Paul appeared grinning from ear to ear, and shouted at Lenny and making some rude gestures. Naturally, Lenny responded with some choice language.
" Mary, not her real name, sat in the desk in front of me. She was a twenty-one year old Irish woman. She never spoke very much so conversation was always difficult with her. She never seemed to mix with the other women, only wishing to keep herself to herself. One morning she never arrived at work and that was the last time we were to see her. It was later confirmed that her husband and a local Catholic Priest (plus others) were involved in an IRA plot to place explosives, and subsequently blow up some well-known establishments in Coventry. Luckily, the Police foiled the plot before it materialised. This was around the time of the Birmingham bombings where several people had died. Whether or not Mary was implicated with the bombing plot I don't know, but I feel that she must have been aware of what her husband was up to and had scurried back to the Republic. Her husband was subsequently jailed but died some time later, as a result of a self-imposed hunger strike.
Continued on Page 2.

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