A craftsman in metal
Motoring sport is full of backroom boys, quiet men who get on with their favourite job of assisting in the success of others, don’t expect the praise and glory to be showered upon them but fill with inner pride and contentment when their charges do them proud. These are the men without whom motoring sport would fade into a shadow, dedicated men who work long hours not just to earn a good living but to put something into the sport they love the one way they know how. Such a man is Maurice Gomm and the signed photographs and messages of gratitude from World Champions, other famous drivers and team managers which decorate his office at Gomm Metal Developments Ltd., Manor Way, Old Woking, Surrey give some indication of the esteem in which this greying, modest and generous man is held.
Maurice Gomm is a panel-beater extraordinary, the Emperor of the trade, a craftsman in metal who has contributed in small or major ways to virtually every international victory won by a British (and many foreign) cars in racing and rallying for more than a decade. He and his equally skillful employees, who include his three sons, Hugh, Mick and Francis, have contributed towards victory in countless World Championships, including Stewart’s latest one, Indianapolis for Graham Hill, Le Mans, Can-Am, the Tasman series, the Hillman Hunter’s London-Sydney Marathon win and Ford’s Safari and London-Mexico wins. The list is endless, for Gomm sheet metal products are included in virtually every competitive racing and rally car in the country. The product could be anything from an oil tank to feed a dry-sump system to a complete chassis and body for a Formula One or Can-Am car, but whatever, the interlinked MG initials on it denote its pedigree ancestry. Think, for instance, of all the successes garnered by works Ford Escorts over the years. Gomm Metal Developments prepare every works racing/rally Escort bodyshell to the point where only spraying and assembly of the mechanical components is required at Boreham.
The compact Gomm factory (an additional building is about to be constructed on adjoining land) is a goldmine of interest, bestrewn with racing cars, bits of racing cars and embryonic racing cars. Eight works Escort shells are in various states of preparation in the main workshop, two for Ile Monte Carlo Rally and no less than six for the World Cup Rally. Ford have yet to announce their plans, but one would assume that three of these may be recce cars. Alongside them is the buck (the complex form around which the aluminium panels are formed) of the fixed-head Le-Mans Mirage body, the most advanced car aerodynamically in terms of penetration and downthrust that its designer Len Bailey has ever met. Sadly it was damned by the inadequacies of its Weslake V12.
The adjoining workshop has its own very special claim to fame, the scene of a BBC television documentary, for this is the home of Graham Hill’s Embassy Racing Team, this season revolving around the Embassy Shadow, but next year Graham’s new Lola, supervised by Dave Kaylor. The Shadow was built in its entirety at Old Woking, but Maurice (Mo) Gomm does not have a direct interest in the running of the team. Graham was looking for a base and Maurice offered his hospitality, as simple as that.
Indeed, Mo Gomm’s hospitality is legendary in racing circles. Many are the constructors and teams who have started their careers in his generously loaned space. This season another corner of the Hill workshop has been occupied by Brett Lunger’s F2/Chevron looked after by Tony Fox. But the story doesn’t end at racing cars. A complete Manx Norton engine rests on a bench in the main workshop, while bits of a similar engine cover another bench in an adjoining room. And underneath a green canvas cover lies Maurice Gomm’s Manx Norton. Mo is a motorcycling fanatic too and has entered the Manx Norton for a number of riders in the island of its name. The bike is prepared by Phil Kettle, one of the few Manx Norton tuners left. Phil, who worked for the legendary tuner Francis Beant for 16 years before setting up on his own, runs his business from the Gomm premises in return for preparing the Gomm Norton.
Gomm developed an interest in things mechanical at an early age, and had not war intervened would have taken up the then very popular motorcycle grass track racing. In fact the War provided him with the next best thing — he became a despatch rider, but not before he’d learned his trade on the construction of Wellingtons and Wellesleys for Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. in the early years of the War. This provided invaluable experience with light alloys for his racing car work of later years. After the War he worked for a company called HBR at Sunbury, making sheet metal work for all sorts of uses, of which particularly he remembers some peculiar bodies constructed on Ford V8 chassis for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It was Paul Emeryson (“I can’t understand why he never became a Formula One driver — he was brilliant”) who set Gomm on the road to his current success by asking him to do some work for him on the Emeryson 500s in his spare time at evenings and weekends, along with Nobby Sharp, the man responsible for most of the beautiful, hand-beaten shapes emanating from Old Woking today. Subsequently 22 years ago Gomm went into business on his own, originally as K.P. Engineering at Chertsey, later moving to Byfleet and Camberley before moving to Old Woking five years ago. Practically the first job he did was on an ex-Parry Thomas chassis, possibly a “Flat-Iron”, but he can’t remember for certain, belonging to Vaughan Davis. But bread-and-butter work was far less exciting for this aspiring racing driver who had built three Austin Seven Specials and was racing one in 750 MC events against the likes of Colin Chapman. The mainstay of his business was making metal cases for carrying artificial insemination kits for the Milk Marketing Board! From 750 racing Gomm transferred to driving 500s, an Arnott first, followed by an Emeryson and a Cooper, but his racing career fell to the demands of his business.
More and more racing car designers beat a path to Gomm’s doorstep and among the first of these was John Tojeiro, who required bodywork on the 1100 Tojeiro and later on some of the work on Tojeiro-Jaguars. Tojeiro had designed the AC Ace/Cobra, etc., chassis and so it was that Gomm was commissioned to build the bodywork for the 1964 AC Le Mans car, the Daytona Cobra, more notorious for its high-speed excursions up the MI and its alleged influence on the imposition of a maximum speed limit.
Another customer in the late ’50s was Brian Lister, Archie Scott-Brown’s ListerJaguar in particular being recalled. Round about the same time in 1956/57 a civil engineer and amateur racing driver from Bromley rang Mo to ask whether he could make the front and rear shaped aluminium panels for a racing special he was constructing. His name was Eric Broadley and the request marked the start of Lola cars and a long and friendly association between Eric and Mo. The Lola was so successful that Broadley rang Gomm one day with a request for five more lots of panels. The demand became such that Broadley asked Mo whether he should give up his civil engineering and concentrate on racing car manufacture full time. He did, and for two years Lola Cars shared Gomm’s West Byfleet premises whilst Broadley established himself sufficiently to take on his own factory.
Formula Junior days were busy ones for Gomm, just about every manufacturer demanding his services. Round about this time John Cooper requested some fuel and oil tanks, the start of an association which only ended with the demise of Coopers and led to Gomm becoming acquainted with Bruce McLaren and Jack Brahham both of whom used his services when they turned constructors. When Bruce McLaren was testing the Ford GT, the development of the Lola GT with which the Ford Motor Co. had become involved, problems with the oil tank were encountered and Bruce McLaren put Ford in touch with Comm. That was how the Gomm/Ford relationship started, for which Mo is eternally grateful to Bruce and since when his company has never looked back. ; The Ford GT developed into the GT40 for which Gomm manufactured all the metal fabrications. Gomm thus met Len Bailey, the GT40 chief engineer. Len later moved to Alan Mann Racing to design the racing Escorts, for which Gomm prepared most of the shells and when Bailey was called upon to design the starring car of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” Gomm built five chassis and bodies for the different variations of the car in the film. Alan Mann then built up the complete cars. Gomm is no stranger to the film industry, a dummy cockpit for the film “The Sound Barrier” starring Ann Todd having been one of the first things he con
structed after starting his own business. An incredibly futuristic Len Bailey-designed car based on Zodiac running gear for the television series “U.F.0.” was made at Old Woking. He rather enjoys this sort of work as a change from what are to him routine competition cars, although the Howmet gasturbine car rebodied in 1968 after crashing at Le Mans was hardly conventional. Subsequently Gomm built the 1970 Howmet. Gomm enjoys a remarkably successful working relationship with Len Bailey, who has occupied a first floor drawing office at Old Woking since he left Ford’s employment six months ago. In fact Len’s move to selfemployment has done little to change this long liaison — Len continues to design things and Mo makes them, articles ranging over the years from oil tanks again to the Mirage monocoques and chassis, Frank Williams’ Politoys-Ford (built completely at Old Woking) and those beautiful Ford F3Ls, the Ford 3-litre prototypes built by Alan Mann which Chris Irwin demolished at the Nurburgring. Five GT70s, another Bailey design,
have been built at Old Woking, too. Len Bailey confesses that he has more Ford work coming in now than he had when he worked for them: he has a consultancy contract with them, the upshot of which is that whereas previously he worked exclusively for Boreham and associated projects amongst outside Ford competitors, now he works for AVO too. He has a contract with Gulf too, a logical step since he worked for them with Ford, and hopefully will continue development of the Mirage, his design baby from the outset. He’s extremely hopeful for next year’s Mirage, anticipating better progress now that he has been able to redesign the rear end to accept the Cosworth DFV exclusively, instead of it being a compromise to accept both this V8 and the Weslake V12. The Gulf team should be in a happier tyre situation too now that Firestone tyres are catching up with Goodyear and larger diameters will be available, though this will mean big suspension and chassis modifications to the Mirage. But he still rues the faihire of the closed Mirage, a superb body let down by the wrong engine. Bailey has designed a new Formula One car and confides that he had hoped that Graham Hill might have decided to use this design to build his own car, instead of choosing the Lola. The design is fairly conventional around a DFV and Bailey is attempting to have it accepted elsewhere. But he and Gomm had hoped that if Hill had taken it on they could have developed into complete Fl constructors instead of making tub’s and bodywork for others. Amongst Gomm’s past Fl triumphs was helping with the original Tyrrell 001 for Stewart, the Gomm works suffering intense security for several months while the mono
coque and bodywork were constructed (aluminium bodywork originally, from which glassfibre moulds were taken). Apart from doing prototype monocoques and bodywork for single-seaters and sports cars there is a rare old trade in repairing damaged cars such as Roy Woods’ Indianapolis McLaren which had been flown
over from the States when I was in Old Woking, and manufacturing wings and aerofoils for most constructors, including Lotus particularly. Security is quite a problem as one can imagine when top-secret projects have to be hidden from rival constructors who are also Gomm customers. No representatives are accepted without prior appointment to avoid
them stumbling deliberately or unknowingly over new designs, This should prove less of a problem when the additional building has been constructed away from the offices.
Monocoque tubs are built up from drawings, while the aluminium bodies are rolled and tapped into shape around bucks similar to that of the Mirage shown, though the aluminium bucks themselves have to be made following the designers drawings, an operation almost as complex as making the body. In the old days there were very often no accurate drawings available and often replacement body panels had to be copied from photographs, but the “design on a fag packet” era seems to have given way to proper draughtsmanship. However, the firm is about to undertake the complete rebodying of a Cooper Monaco working exclusively from photographs. Aluminium body and chassis construction isn’t the limit of Gomm’s scope. Ford em
ploy him to make or modify prototype axles, Watts linkages, radius arms and so on for Escorts and Capris, usually, of course, of Len Bailey design. It was interesting to see that the Escort rally shells undergoing preparation were to have coil-sprung racing type rear suspension, similar to that tried recently by Roger Clark. Incidentally, the day after my visit John Taylor won the very first European Rallycross Championship with a Gommshelled Escort, another championship to the firm’s credit. Other diverse activities include tank manufacture for British Antarctic Expedition Snowcats. Gomm has also been a racing car as well as bike entrant, running an F3 Lotus 59 in conjunction with Dickie Metcalfe for David Cole to drive in 1970. The said Dickie Metcalfe is a somewhat remarkable character well known at Brooklands as C. Le Strange Metcalfe in cars such as Abbot-Nash and Horstmann and at other circuits after the war in a Fiat Balilla, who continues to race
at the age of sixty-six, nowadays in a Lotus 23C with a twin cam engine and, when it has been restored by Maurice Gomm, a pushrod 23B. Both cars live at the Gomm premises where Dickie Metcalfe is a frequent interesting and knowledgeable visitor.
At the age of 51 and with such a successful business around him Maurice Gomm might have been expected to enjoy more leisure time and leave much of the load to his sons and the two leading men, Nobby Sharp, who joined him from FIBR eighteen years ago and is the main shaping and panelbeating exponent and Barry Bolton, the monocoque expert. On the contrary, this sole directer of Gomm Metal Developments Ltd. (his wife Linda is the company secretary) devotes 12 hours each weekday, five hours on a Saturday and several more hours on a Sunday to the business which he loves. To Maurice Gomm his work may be a pleasure, but to motoring sport it is an essential service.—C.R.