Factory methods in the Vintage era: No. 20 Barker & Co.

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One of the more surprising aspects of the activities of Barkers was that they did not confine themselves to building coachwork in the traditional way. Not only did they adopt new methods as quickly, if rot more so, than their rivals, but they undertook chassis repairs and even had a large and well-equipped engineers’ shop. Here they made and fitted the “Barker patent car-fitments”, such as wheel-discs, radiator shutters, thermo-electric temperature gauges, “spring buffers” and headlamp dippers. The last-mentioned, which were priced from £3 10s., were made for most high quality cars, as were the others.

‘The work was divided into categories, and each category had its own craftsmen, who worked in that particular shop for the whole of the time in which they were at Barkers’ works at Shepherds Bush. (Their showrooms were at 66-69, South Audley Street). There were shops for panel-beating, painting and plating, whether in nickel, chromium or even silver. There was even a special polishing shop.

All bodies were designed by the staff for an individual customer’s requirements, sometimes based on a sketch supplied by the client. If the customer wanted coachwork in an out-of-date style this was quite possible. One 1930 Rolls-Royce 20/25 limousine had coachwork which looked as if it had been designed in 1924. In contrast, in the same year they built a sports 2-4-seater body on a 6.1/2-litre Bentley chassis, which would have looked more in keeping with a 1935 3.1/2-litre Bentley. A blue-print with all dimensions shown was sent to each customer and when this had been approved draughtsmen would prepare full-scale drawings of the car, showing each piece of wood to be put in the frame and each panel.

The drawings were then sent to the sawmills, where most of the work was done by machines. The wood. English ash which had been seasoned for many years in the company’s own woodstore, was cut to shape and then smoothed down by mechanical planes and jointed by machinery. The finished pieces were then passed to the body shop.

Here the framework was built up, resting on wooden trestles. The doors were kept in the shut position, so that they would fit properly when the car was completed. On completion of the frame, the panel-beaters shaped the many panels needed. They only used hammers and stout rests to hammer against. The panels, when shaped according to the drawings, were offered up to the framework, and any final shaping done. Incidentally, Rolls-Royce, for whose chassis Barker built most of their coachwork, ensured that the front Wings of one of their cars were always visible, by supplying the bonnet and Scuttle with the chassis.

The body was then removed from the trestles and mounted on the chassis and the doors hung. The Triplex glass was fitted and then the almost complete car would be sprayed with cellulose paint, a surprisingly modern method for an old-established (since 1710) coachbuilders. The wings, bonnet and running-boards were not fitted at this stage— a cloth was draped over the engine from the central hinge.

After spraying, the external details, such as door handles, hood, spare wheel and its mountings were added. In short, the car was externally complete. If a motor trunk by either Harrison or Brooks had been ordered it, too, was fitted at this stage.

Whenever possible Clients were requested to visit the upholstery department, so that the degree of softness and dimensions of the seats, squabs and armrests could be decided on. When the most comfortable scats for the customer had been found, they were covered in the chosen material, selected from a wide variety of Connolly leathers, such as celstra, vaumol and luxor, and West of England cloths or any other desired material.

The beautifully-made and decorated woodwork, from cocktail cabinets to fillets, was then added, and the car was ready to be polished and prepared for sale to the patient customer, who had been waiting for months, first for the chassis and then for the coachwork to be completed—it would have been started before the chassis had left the factory.

Barker ensured that the customer got exactly what he wanted. They built the body for Capt. (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell’s 900 h.p. Napier-engined Bluebird, with which he raised the World land speed record to 206.96 m.p.h. in 1928.

They also built two extraordinary bodies for flit Majesty the Nawab of Bahawalpur. One, a mobile hunting box, was mounted on a six-wheeled 19.6 h.p. Crossley chassis, and the other, a Boudoir Limousine de Ville, was on a Rolls-Royce 40/50 chassis. Although austere on the outside, the hunting box had a panelled saloon on the inside and, of course, a separate compartment for the driver, divided from the saloon by a glass partition. The windows, incorporating wire mesh, were small. In the saloon there was sleeping accommodation, or room for twelve people sitting, There Were four spotlights so that the Nawab could shoot or photograph animals at night from his camouflaged vehicle. The limousine, painted royal purple and black, had the main seat designed to look like a William and Mary period settee. It was upholstered in figured petit-point needlework tapestry. The doors and extra seats were covered in a similar tapestry. The roof was lined with embroidered taffeta silk, with a silk border and fringe. Fitted to the division was a Barker reproduction of a William and Mary cabinet. Most other fittings in this extremely elaborate vehicle were of silver-gilt walnut.

These two vehicles emphasise the trouble taken to please a customer, and the way in which Barker adapted to a new situation, when it arose. This was one of the major reasons fur the success enjoyed by this vast company (who even made a model of a specially designed coupe-limousine on a Daimler chassis for the Queen’s dolls’ house). It was rare for Barker to advertise, and so most of their trade came from owners of Barker-bodied cart, or on the personal recommendation of an owner. The whole business was founded on an unblemished reputation and this they gained by scrupulous attention to detail, and by acting on the principle that the customer, however eccentric. was always right. – A. WOOD.

V-E-V Miscellany.—When we referred to a Morris truck which appeared on the VSCC Welsh Trial last year as possibly having 14/40 MG associations we were not far wrong; its owner, Davis flick, says it was out again after a long retirement and sends us a 6d. book produced for private circulation which tells of the career of this -Bickwagon” from 1928-1959, when it had many adventures when used largely for Welsh metal mines research, covering 50,000 miles. In its final form it was a 1928 Morris-Cowley with Oxford engine, a 4.1-to-1 axle ratio devised from Ford V8 parts, front axle and knock-off wire wheels from an 18/80 MG, a fabric-top truck good for an effortless 55 m.p.h. The STD Register now has among its new members’ cars a 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam with a sportsman’s saloon body and a Sunbeam 25 tourer, while it also numbers a restored Talbot 10/23 and Peter Moores’ rare 12/30 six-cylinder Talbot twoseater, which overcame a seizure soon after rebuilding in time to lead the STD contingent on the 1972 Paris-Deauville Rally. We apologise to the ACOC for saying its magazine is duplicated when, in fact, it is printed; the Hon. Sec. is now J. Mclellan, 6, The Chase, Welwyn, Herts., who is compiling a register of the p.v.t. 16/60 and 16/90 AC two-seaters left, out of about 30 which were built. The MG NA Magnette which Bellevue Garage converted into an off-set single-seater with six Amal carburetters before the war is now owned by a reader in Durham, who seeks information about it, The owner of a Singer Le Mans, Reg. No. JH 8094, sold to a Mr. Gibbs of St. Albans in 1934 and believed to have done well in trials, is anxious to trace this original owner.

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