Click here to return to OCC homepage


See Homepage. This page: Further notes about life spent working at Standard-Triumph in Coventry.

Life at Standard-Triumph - Page 2.

Martin's continuing story of working at the famous British car factory, in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. A further selection of my own photos, of cars now in preservation, are included, as a reminder of how many different makes and models of car were produced at Canley during this period.
Return to Page 1.
" The factory staff always finished work at 15.00pm on a Friday afternoon. Ten minutes before, hundreds of men would be waiting some fifty yards distant of the security gate at the Canley end of the factory, they would be huddled in large groups waiting for the hooter to go. At the precise time of 15.00 pm the hooter would sound, and several hundred personnel would run the distance en-masse to the security gate, cross the road to the car park, and queue for some twenty minutes in their cars to get out. I got together with Paul and we decided we could have some fun on the following Friday at knocking off time. I had a hunting horn at home, the tone of which was very similar to the Triumph hooter. The next Friday we hid in the spinney almost adjacent to where the men congregated awaiting the signal to go. About seven minutes before the hooter signal, I gave one loud blast with the hunting horn. There was a sudden rush of the men to the gate. I gave two more 'call to hounds' blasts. The men started cheering and shouting. The red and white striped barrier was still down when the first contingent of workers reached it. The build up of men trying to force their way through the barrier soon rendered it useless as it was ripped away from its housing. Vehicles on the road passing the factory were stopped, as the excited workers crossed the road to the car park with complete disregard for their safety. Paul and I sloped off quietly but kept this prank to ourselves as we knew there would be an inquiry into what happened. Weeks went by and we heard much talk about the event, but we never knew what the conclusions were.

Triumph's TR7
The wedge-shaped TR7, Triumph's great hope for the 1970s.

" The hospital shop was a repair shop facility situated half way along the Burma Road, this was a road within the company that linked one end of the company to the other. The main purpose of the hospital shop was to repair any production cars that had sustained minor damage during their removal from the production line to areas of storage. The hospital shop always seemed to have a steady flow of work. It was a good place to go if you needed some flatting paper, cellulose thinners or maybe a small jar of paint to do a job on your own car, if you knew the right people to ask. Occasionally, a production worker would be stopped as he was leaving work by a security gate man. His lunch bag would be searched and they would find a small jar of thinners. How they knew he had it I don't know, but the next morning he would be dismissed. Maybe it was a set-up, I never knew.
" There were a group of men who moved some of the vehicles to different storage areas within the company. This activity seemed to take place in the evening on a late shift. How many men were involved I don't know, but now and again when we arrived for work in the morning the news on the grapevine would be that a car had been involved in a collision with other vehicles the previous evening, and that they were being sent to the hospital shop for repair. One morning we arrived, and word went round that ten to twelve cars had been damaged in a pile-up the previous evening. I suspect that the group of men had decided to move some cars and ended up racing each other from Canley along the Burma road, the cars involved were GT6s and TR6s. As the road narrowed about half way along due to parked production cars, they all seemed to go for the small gap. The result was a collision, resulting in a large mass of very damaged cars and tangled debris. The racing event at high speed during the evening shift seemed to be common practice. I guess the people responsible were dismissed, and the hospital shop was back to Saturday morning overtime again.
" It was not all "fun and games" working at Canley. Some supervisors had a policy of no talking amongst their staff on the section, unless it was work-related. Vera, a plump, be-spectacled, middle-aged woman, was one such supervisor who ruled the scheduling section. Her husband held a managerial role in the company, and they both took their responsibilities very seriously. It was best if she was away from her department before chatting to anyone there. The typing pool, also, was subject to the same treatment. If I needed any typing doing I had to drop it into the "in" tray and walk straight out, not daring to speak to any of the girls. It was very sad one Monday morning in that office when three of the girls did not arrive for work. Apparently, the three of them had been to a night club at the weekend in Leicester, and on the way home their car had left the road and ploughed into a tree. All three died at the scene.

Side view of a Vitesse
A press photograph of the six-cylinder Vitesse saloon.

" Lots of other naughty things happened within the confines of the purchasing office. One manager, working late, was spotted in a compromising situation with his secretary in his office by some cleaners, no doubt they were not working legitimate overtime. They were both fired the following day. One of the buyers was arrested by the Police one afternoon. Four Police officers marched into the office and the offending man was led away in handcuffs. We heard that he had some illicit deal going on with a supplier. It must have been a good deal, as it later emerged that the supplier rewarded him with a brand new Triumph Spitfire Mk2, and the buyer was stupid enough to come to work in it. After being charged and subsequently found guilty by a court, he was given three years at Her Majesty's pleasure. Before being sent down, he was allowed back into the company, accompanied by two police officers, to empty his desk of any personal effects.
" The "big cheese" in the buying office, and responsible for all the junior management, was a man called Arthur Heins. He was indeed "L' Homme Formidable". He never spoke to any of the underlings if he could help it, not even to say good morning. If one happened to pass him in a corridor, he would look straight ahead. He was a tall slim man with greying hair that was cut in a sort of military fashion. He stood 'bolt upright' to his six-foot frame, was always immaculately dressed, and wore gold-rimmed spectacles. When he left his den to enter the main area of the buying office, the whole office would go immediately quiet. He reminded me of a character from the TV series 'Allo Allo', Herr Flick, but with a serious attitude. His demeanour was that of a senior officer in the Wehrmacht. His managers were quite frightened of him, on one occasion a manager was given a severe dressing-down and left the office in tears. He retired when the purchasing division was transferred to Longbridge. According to a friend of mine, Mr. Heins gave a farewell speech during which he castigated several members of staff individually by name, stating how useless they were and how the likes of them had reduced the company to its present state.
" Shortly before this time, I obtained a position in the Parts and Service division at Fletch North. As I had been the owner of a TR4a for some eighteen months it seemed to me to be the most appropriate place to work. The work mainly consisted of collating information for the parts manuals, and arranging the illustrations, and in my spare time, studying the TR parts and workshop manuals in great detail. It was interesting work as I would answer the odd technical query relating to the PE 188 engine/Stag which was assigned to me as the whole parts catalogue was in a parlous state. Was it any wonder that our Distributors had problems ordering the correct parts, when we had sixteen different part numbers for new/reconditioned automatic gearboxes?
" Occasionally I would have someone telephone me from the USA. One such call came from an extremely frustrated man who wanted a water pump for his Stag. He had tried his local agent in the States without success; he used his Stag for commuting to work, covering over two hundred miles each day. I took his vehicle details and promised him the pump. I promptly obtained it from the parts bin, wrapped it up, addressed it and put it into parts despatch, labelled it free of charge, including delivery and air freight. He telephoned me when he received the part, quicker than expected. During the course of our conversation, he explained that he had covered over 200,000 miles in the Stag from new, and changed the oil and filter every 1000 miles.

Triumph 2000 rally car
This preserved 2000 Saloon Mk1 is shown taking part in a historic rally.

" The Parts and Service at Fletch North, later to become Jaguar and Rover-Triumph Parts and Accessories, was situated in a large open plan office which accommodated near to four hundred personnel. I think about 70% of the employees were women. I found it extremely noisy, as my desk was facing the main gangway that led to a small buffet and seating area. At 10.00am when the buffet opened, there was a constant stream of people walking past. After two weeks of this distraction I turned my desk to face the opposite direction. Adjoining our office but separated by a large partition wall, were the endless bins of spare parts. Tucked away in a small corner of this warehouse were Alf and Ralf. Their task was to strip and repair any engines, gearboxes, auto transmissions and anything else which had been supplied as reconditioned units, but had been proved to be faulty. Frank Crow was in charge of our section. Not exactly a fun character, Frank disallowed any talking between members of staff unless it was work-related. Any other form of communication that took place was met by a stern gaze from him. Luckily, Frank retired soon after I started, and a chap from Alvis was recruited to take his place.
" I don't know what exactly Ron the new supervisor's position was at Alvis, but he certainly didn't make much of an impression at Triumph. At least he was an affable chap who left us alone to get on with the job. If I had a question regarding the servicing of a part, I would ask Ron. He would say, "what do you think you should do?". I would say, "this and that", he would then reply "well do that then". He had no interest in the job whatsoever, and spent the majority of his day walking up and down our office smoking one of his 'roll ups', batting aside any questions that someone would ask him. There was no way anyone could obtain any advice or information from him. Understandably, he did not last long, and was replaced by an in-house member of staff.
" Alan P replaced a member of staff on our section who had recently retired. He was a very funny man who had worked a number of stints at Butlin's Holiday Camps as a comedian. He was in the habit of telling jokes continually; being a Liverpudlian with a strong dialect made his patter even funnier. At lunchtime, he would visit the local pub, down a few beers, return to the office refreshed and ready with another dose of humour. Having him on our section was fun, but on occasions concentration was almost impossible.
" As I was continually improving my TR4a I was gradually making more contacts. Duncan was a manager in the computer room, he also owned a TR4a and we would get together at lunchtimes and swap our experiences about the cars. He was from the West Country, somewhere near Bristol, and would stay locally in Coventry and return home at the weekends. Being a manager he was fortunate enough to be able to purchase parts for his car, and mine, at cost price less 3% which was indeed very handy as the mark up on some parts was tremendous. There was always a staff discount for employees, but that entailed a visit to our local distributor, in our case, Henley's.
" There seemed to be a fair degree of scrap parts at the factory, on the production line as well as in the parts warehouse. Derek was a foreman on the TR6 production line. We were good friends and occasionally went out for a drink together. I was after a new set of front brake discs for the car, and I asked Derek to look out for some. To my amazement he appeared in our office with the right hand side of a complete TR6 front suspension assembly, shortly followed by the left hand side assembly. I said "Derek, I only wanted a set of discs". He replied, "that's the way they arrive and this pair had some slight damage in transit, but the discs are fine". That's the way things were on the production line. If anything was slightly damaged, it was binned. Not worth the time and effort to employ someone to dis-assemble, repair, and re-assemble the part. I spent the next few lunchtimes with a set of spanners and sockets before getting at the discs. The rest of the parts were stored in one of the filing cabinets until the necessary paperwork could be raised, enabling me to remove them.
" Bill Butcher would pass through our office from time to time, he would pause at our section sometimes to ask about some parts or technical information regarding his son-in-law's TR4a. I was always ready to help out someone who was involved with a TR. Eventually I got to meet his son-in-law, Bob, who worked for a bank and his daughter Lesley Anne. My wife worked for a bank and we both had TR4as, so we had a lot in common. Bob's wife was a nice looking girl but, what we didn't realise, was that she was a regular page three model for the Sun newspaper. This only became apparent when Bill trundled along first thing in the morning with the Sun newspaper, and showed us a picture of Lesley Anne on page three. He was quite up front about it, no pun intended, and was very proud of his daughter. My wife and I would meet up with Bob and Lesley Anne occasionally when she was not in London or some other City doing modelling work. She eventually gave up the page three modelling for a more lucrative assignment which entailed travelling to overseas locations.

A Triumph Toledo of the early seventies
Rear 3/4 view of a two-door Triumph Toledo saloon.

" In our first year of marriage, my wife and I rented rooms in a large Victorian detached house in Rugby. The owners and their daughter were very friendly towards us, allowing us to use the outdoor swimming pool and made us feel very much part of the family. His daughter wanted a new car and he asked me if I could obtain one for her. I said I would, and that I could use my staff discount. I found out that my discount for purchasing a Triumph car was in the region of 23%. Unfortunately she wanted a Vanden Plas Princess. I think production of this vehicle was nearing its end, but was still available on special order; also the discount would be in the region of 19.5%; that didn't worry them and I duly ordered the car. I paid for it and went through all of the formalities, picked it up from storage area and delivered it to her. They were really pleased at the time, but some three years later after we had moved into our own house and met up with them again, they were very disappointed with the car. It was a complete rust bucket. Whether or not the car body shell had been stored at the Cowley Plant for some time before finally being sprayed, and had accumulated a fair degree of rust on it, I don't know, but it was certainly a bad example of a Leyland car.
" Everyone on the section that I worked with was a member of the ASTMS union; Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff and, as much as I didn't care for unions, I thought I had best join. As far as I can remember they weren't a militant bunch, exactly the opposite, as the senior members of the union aspired eventually to progress to management so it wasn't done to ruffle feathers, so to speak. No-one on our section relished being chosen as a union representative. There were always changes going on, different wage grade structures, the proposed introduction of computerisation, and so on. After returning from a meeting with management, the unfortunate union rep would be met with a barrage of questions from the members. More likely than not there were no definitive answers he/she could give. We all had to take a turn at this unenviable task, and eventually the duty was passed to me.
" Everything seemed to be going well for a few months, until a problem arose with a member of staff on our section. The gentleman involved had worked for the company for over thirty years. A short time before, the company had been looking for volunteers for redundancy. Alan, we will call him, had expressed an interest and had been given an information package which detailed the terms and conditions of his severance. No time limit was given on his option to apply for the package, so after two months had elapsed, he decided to sign the document and passed it to the Personnel Department. A couple of weeks passed by, and Alan had heard nothing. I was summoned to a meeting with our senior rep, during which he stated that the company would no longer honour the agreement with Alan, as they now wished to instigate some enforced redundancy and, if they honoured the agreement they had offered to Alan, it would set a precedent. The new conditions of severance had changed, and were a long way removed from Alan's original package. He was not happy with the financial side of it, and the conditions of severance had now become compulsory. The senior rep agreed with the company's change of policy, and said that there was nothing we could do to change it. I was not happy with the situation, and would not agree.
" To shorten the story somewhat; myself and two or three senior ASTMS reps and personnel management had a meeting scheduled at Hasely Manor. Hasely Manor is a Manor House in Warwickshire, where the business of the company could be discussed away from the factory. On the day in question, I was told by my senior reps to keep my mouth shut and go along with the new company policy. After all, they were certain that the original document that Alan had signed was now well and truly in the possession of the management. They were wrong on two counts; firstly, I was not inclined to keep my mouth shut, as I believed in fair play and not double-dealing by management-inspired ASTMS reps. Secondly, I had taken a copy of Alan's original agreement, the contents of which, according to Personnel, never existed. The meeting rumbled on for some time and all concerned agreed that it was a done deal. I was last to speak, said my piece, and then provided the 'table' with Alan's original document. There was silence whilst the senior personnel management read it. They had no idea that their junior team had tried to cover it up. In the end, Alan had the conditions of his original agreement upheld and left the company a happy man. I, on the other hand, was now 'persona non grata' with both union and management.
" Within six months I decided to take a voluntary redundancy package, as I heard through the grapevine that before long the company would finally be closing down. Before I left, I was told by a friend of mine who worked in personnel, that the personnel manager stated that he would make sure that I would never be able gain employment with any other company. I didn't take the statement too seriously, as people often say things in the heat of the moment, especially in this case when it was proven that they entered into a conspiracy which didn't turn out as they expected.
" I left the company, and very soon started to apply for jobs at various companies. I attended interviews and they all seemed to go well, but I was continually turned down. Again, I attended an interview at another motor company. I was there for almost the whole day, writing up a script on assembly/disassembly of a diesel engine. The manager was very enthusiastic about my work, and started discussing the terms and conditions of employment; he was a thoroughly decent sort of chap, and explained that he only lived a short distance away me and if ever I needed a lift to work, he would be only be to happy to oblige. As we parted, he stated that as far as he was concerned the job was mine.

Triumph Dolomite Sprint
A 16v Dolomite Sprint being put through its paces on the Tour of Cheshire rally.

" Two weeks passed by and I had heard nothing from him. Then one evening there was a knock on my front door; it was the gentleman who had interviewed me. He was obviously very embarrassed and stood there not knowing what to say. The prelude to this conversation was that he had received such a bad reference from J R T, Jaguar and Rover-Triumph Spares and Accessories, that his company would not risk employing me. Apparently, my timekeeping was abysmal, I was a trade union activist and a trouble-maker, combined with a long list of other dreadful crimes that would make an African despot of the period look like Mother Theresa. The information I received from my friend in Personnel at the time was disappointingly correct.
" Without going into too much detail, my plan of action to counter this mis-information was as follows: I spoke to my family solicitor who advised me to obtain as many character references from previous managers I had worked for at JRT and Triumph, without explaining the reason; be it sufficient that I needed these to help me get future employment. Everyone that I spoke to was more than happy to give me glowing references. I forwarded these on to my solicitor, who in turn wrote a letter detailing the events, not just of my unjust bad references, but of the situation that led up to them, to Michael Edwardes' secretary.
" Michael Edwardes was the head of the British Leyland Group at the time. I also forwarded copies of my references along with my reasons for doing so, to the gentleman at the motor company who had promised me a job. It was too late now to be considered again for the position I had originally applied for, but at least he promised to bear witness to the bad testimony he had originally received from JRT, should he be required to. Just over a month had passed by when I had a call from my solicitor, followed by a letter. According to him, the letter he had from Michael Edwardes, and signed by him, was very short and sweet; naturally it would be, in case of any future litigation. The letter guaranteed that the situation had been resolved and that he was sorry for the problems that I experienced. Very soon afterwards, I applied for a position with a large multi-national company in Buckinghamshire. My application was successful, and within six months I re-located to my new employment in Buckinghamshire.
" Sometime later I learned that the senior personnel officer, who had given me so many problems, had been dismissed from the company. Justice was done.

Return to Page 1.
Further stories of living and working with cars in years gone by, can be found in the motoring memories section of the site. Many thanks to Martin for supplying the written content for this two-page article.

Further "Triumph" reading at OCC.

Triumphs feature across the site, below are just a few pages that might interest fans of Canley's finest. Links to pages of possible interest, on the OCC site forum ...

Custom Search
Old Classic Car (C) R. Jones 2023. Content not to be reproduced elsewhere.
Website by ableweb.
Privacy Policy, Cookies & Disclaimers