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

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW CRAIG CHEETHAM

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.

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