by Dan Bysouth
Part 4 of Dan's recollections of his time as an apprentice in the British motor trade of the late 1970s. In this episode, he completes his work on a Rolls Royce and has a Royal close encounter.
1977 was a very important year in my life; I started work as an apprentice coachbuilder. My Dad told me I had a choice of being an employee or getting an apprenticeship. If I took the apprenticeship, he would fund me with upcoming expenses. It made sense and to have a trade as well was what Dad wanted for me. Also that year I made a decision that surprised a lot of people - I got engaged!
My young lady worked in Woolworths which was only 100 yards away from the garage. My mum worked there and Elizabeth was a friend of hers. A Woolworth staff coach trip was organised to Blackpool and we met on the coach. I was 15 when that happened and as we got on we fell in love and, with all parents blessings, planned to marry on Aug 26th 1978. All this time it was quite stressful at work, but Mann Egertons was a family and everyone was supportive and they got me through.
Accident repair work was our main stay of regular days graft. My apprenticeship was very strict and I had someone more experienced with me in all circumstances. The odd bumper removal was OK and I was fitting in well. Pretty soon the whole firm soon knew me as the Honey Monster!
So, back to the cars. The Rolls Royce had now had its ladder chassis straightened and we were tasked with putting the body back on, so the complete refurb could be carried out and passed to paint. Hunting through bags and bags of fittings, we found the bolts, washers and packers we needed and I drew from the stores new bolts and mud wing washers. I then had to tap out the threads of the captive nuts on the chassis so easy fixing could be achieved.
First a tapper tap, then a plug tap. I was learning a lot on this build and I was loving it. Putting the body back on was just the reverse of taking it off; four jacks and as many guys as we could find to make it easier. I placed the right amount of packers in the right places and glued them into place. Carefully lowering the body down it went quite well and everything was tightened down. We had little else to do with the roller for quite a few weeks but I will return to it later.
At certain times, instead of having the aroma of body filler, petrol and paint the CBR floor smelt like your bathroom before a big night out. It was " like a tarts bedroom" was how Toots put it. Apparently two of the guys on the floor were golfers as was our company Director Mr Moore, or 'RFM' as he was known.
Neil, a panel beater, and Ted our one eyed painter(!), would get the call , tart themselves up (hence the smell) and off they would go for an afternoons golf. There was no animosity about this - we all took the rise out of them both and it summed up the way Mann Egerton ran the operation.
Of course 1977 was a big year for Her Majesty the Queen too as the whole nation celebrated her Silver Jubilee, and as such she was due to visit Ipswich. Better yet - she would pass our garage twice on that day!
Toots was the most upright royalist anyone could meet and was over the moon with the chance of seeing Her Majesty. The front of our garage had large areas of flat roof and on the day work was at the back of anybody’s mind as pride of place was sought for the best view of the Queen & Prince Philip. Toots was at the front and as the crowd started cheering we all waved as she glided past. No work was being done; the different departments had their little get togethers and a good time was had by all.
Late in the afternoon we heard she had left the Town Hall and was due to pass the back of the garage on her way out of town. We all set off to line the road but Toots grabbed my arm saying "Come on Daniel, follow me". After everyone had gone downstairs, Toots and me climbed onto a small roof which had no rail and a 40 foot drop to the road below.
The roof creaked and we lay still on our somewhat large bellies. I was a bit worried that the roof wasn't safe but Toots just laughed and said "Keep a stout heart Daniel, never grieve". We did not have to wait long as we soon saw the Royal limo making its way towards us. We waved like a couple of overgrown school kids and as God is my witness, the Queen said something to Philip. Then they both looked up through the glass roof of the limo directly at us, smiling and waving!
Afterwards I climbed down off the roof just as our manager passed and he gave me a right telling off for being on such a dangerous roof. When he had left Toots came down and the first thing he did was to wipe his eyes, he was so moved to have had the Queen waving to him. Bless his heart, he was a lovely guy. Another day of my apprenticeship I shall never forget.
Next time - Austin Allegro recalls and I mess up a refit on an MGB GT.....