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The involvement of Coventry Climax

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The following week I went back to Cambridge to discuss the trainability test which I had created. Sylvia Downes was pleased that we had made a  start and wanted to get to our training centre at MOTEC to trial it. I pointed out that I too wanted to get there as I had not been myself, but the following week the other Instructor and I were to spend a whole week at Coventry Climax’s fork truck manufacturing factory and then we were off to a government Training centre in Letchworth on a 10 day Instructors Course.

On completion I hoped to get to MOTEC and I would arrange for her to visit when It was appropriate. I had finished scribbling out the 5 day course syllabus and Bob had agreed to type it up and take it to the next standards committee for me while I was away. This had been agreed with Mr Fortnam and my immediate manager. We realised that we were about as popular as a boil on the bum. Employers gave us flack because they did not want to pay for something they had not provided for years and some trade unions had a go at us because our course would contain tests, something they saw as being useful to employers to get rid of employees.

So Ike and I spent a week at the Coventry Climax Factory. On days 1 and 2 we were booked onto a electrical engineers training course which was all about a new electric control system called SCR which they were about to install in all new electrical propelled trucks. As you can imagine Ike and I were not electrical engineers and found the course quite boring, but what did interest us was the display of Coventry Climax racing car engines on display in the training room.

Engines used by famous drivers such as Jim Clarke and others to win Grand Prixes all over the world. Apparently they had all began life as spare engines for Godiva Fire Pumps which were famous in themselves and had been worked on to meet racing requirements had been extremely successful. Unfortunately as the requirements kept changing Coventry Climax had ceased to supply racing engines because it would have involved major capitol expenditure on their factory which they could not afford.

We also discovered that the Training Manager running the course was the ex engine manager and had represented the company all over the world at Grand Prix’s. He was to be our mentor for the rest of our stay.

So on day 3 and 4 and the morning of day 5  we visited the factory which was huge. What a shock we had too. It was Victorian. All of the machinery in the Fire Pump Department and the Fork Lift Truck Department was overhead belt driven and the company was still having to employ a huge number of employees.

As an ex fireman I enjoyed the fire pump department as I had used their basement and trailer pumps and knew their world wide reputation for reliability. It might be interesting to note that the 750cc engine used in their basement  or portable pumps ended its life as the engine used in the Hillman Imp many years later with the engine being made under licence by another manufacturer.

I also liked the Fork Lift Truck department but it became apparent why they were a long way from being the market leaders with their antiquated machinery and dated procedures. It was sad in a way. We asked if we could see where the racing engines were made and they pointed out that they were all made in the fire pump department.

Then they took us to meet a group of people called finishers who worked on everything made by the company. This group of people had a huge stock of boxes containing all sorts of shapes and sizes of metal objects and we were told that these were all shims. The chaps inspected everything and ensured that everything was brought up to spec by filing, grinding etc.,or inserting shims and it was these people who had worked on fire pump engines and brought them up to the specs required for racing engines.  Our stay at Coventry Climax turned out to be rather enjoyable if not educational.

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