Cup of Tea…
In 1965 an apprentice walked into the Rover plant at Solihull… little did he know it was the beginning of a brilliant and varied career
We grab a cuppa with Denis Chick and chat about his long career with Rover, from apprentice to communications chief.
Q How did your career begin?
‘I joined The Rover Company in Solihull as an engineering apprentice in 1965. My very first job was machining Land Rover oil pumps. There was no such thing as a clean machine shop back then – you couldn’t see one side of the shop from the other for all the graphite particles in the air. I then moved onto the P6 production line – indeed, my own P6 was built during the period I worked there in 1966. I like to think that I maybe screwed a door card onto it or something.’
Q What do you remember about this time?
‘In the pre-bl era, Rover was a very high tech company, and I worked on several cars, such as the P8, that never actually made it into production.
‘One of my favourite projects was when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister, and as an apprentice I was asked to make a pipe rack to be fitted into the back of his ministerial P5. The car survived and is currently in the British Motor Museum at Gaydon, and ‘my’ pipe rack is still in it.’ Q What do you recall about the formation of British Leyland? ‘We had a sense that the merger was going to happen for some time – none of the constituent companies was making enough money, and it made sense to bring them together for economies of scale.
‘It wasn’t a good time for Rover, though. A lot of our engineering was considered too advanced and too expensive to continue, hence why when the SD1 finally came out, it was actually a far simpler car than the P6. I was working in product development at the time, and I remember us buying a load of Vauxhall Ventora rear axles and fitting them to P6-bodied test mules so we could learn how to engineer a car with a beam axle.
‘It also spelled the end of some of our most exciting projects. The P8, for example, was supposed to be Rover’s luxury flagship, but Jaguar put an end to that. William Lyons was adamant that we couldn’t have two cars competing in the same luxury space, despite the fact that it was happening elsewhere in British Leyland. So the P8 and the smaller Jaguars were killed off.’ Q What was your main role during the British Leyland era? ‘In 1976, I moved into product planning. One of my first jobs was to head-up product rationalisation, which was a big thing during the difficult days of the Seventies. ‘One project was the move from pin-on to stick-on badges, a project that covered all models from the Mini right up to the Sherpa. Later I managed SD1 and TR7. Indeed, with the SD1 facelift we even won an award from the Glass and Glazing Federation for making the rear window bigger. It was good news for SD1 buyers, and clearly even better news for the glass industry. On the subject of TR7, it was my job to sign the Product Policy letter that killed it off during the twilight years of Triumph, mainly due to falling volumes in the US. ‘One incident I recall from those days was at one of our regular styling revue meetings at Longbridge. Chief stylist David Bache and BL boss Harold Musgrove never saw eye-to-eye, and it was in one of these meetings that Bache went into a full scale rant about the style of some heater vents not looking right. Some very frank words were exchanged that led to the two men disappearing into a side office in the Elephant House. There was lots of shouting and banging from behind the door, followed by a stony silence. For a moment, we thought one of them may have killed the other. ‘Then Bache came out, walked purposefully and silently across the room, into the car park and drove off in his Tara Green Stag. We never saw him again.’
BELOW Wilson’s Chick-made P5 pipe rack is in place today.