More Rolls-Royce memories

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A. F. Atterbury’s R-R reminiscences are so acutely nostalgic that I cannot resist chiming-in just for the record. 

When I joined R-R Derby on 3.3.’33 straight from Bemrose School, I was sponsored by R. W. Harvey-Bailey (B.Y.), the strict, perfectionist Production Engineer from the Manchester days. He was, I believe, later to play a significant part in getting Merlin production going at Packard. I spent some time in his Production DO under the dour Bill Clough (CGH) on chassis work, induding preparing drawings for Eddie Hall’s TT Bentley conversions (springs, Andre dampers, 32 gallon tank and quick fillers).

Endless memories of those days included:

The “new” Bentley launch (you had to look twice to distinguish the chassis from the 25/30 R-R) and the oh-so-near introduction of the beautiful little 18 h.p. Peregrine chassis — eventually abandoned for the second or third time.

The efforts of chassis designer, Evernden, to introduce a swept-up radiator profile (like a snow Plough) — generally thought to be the beginning of the end for R-R but, thankfully, scrubbed by Sir Henry (“R”) whose huge and dignified presence stalked the corridors from time to time.

“R” personally designed an elegantly conceived but grossly expensive variable delivery oil pump to provide road speed / manual control of rear axle damper valves. This was grafted on behind the gearbox but was said to affect the ride hardly at all.

The ultimate degradation of R-R chassis engineering — the introduction of pressed steel, welded and riveted bracketry for spring hangers and crossmembers! These Rubery Owen frames made redundant some 20 forged brackets which were offered-up to the side members, reamed through in position and secured by high tensile, ground, “fitting” bolts with a tolerance of .001″. The fact that the new frames saved a couple of cwts. and heaven knows how much cost, didn’t seem too relevant at the time. 

A gentleman and a genius — Donald Boston — who wrestled with hitherto unexplored complexities of independent front suspension (Phantom III) on a huge drawing board in the Design DO. He always had the time and patience to explain it all to teenage me as it slowly took shape. (Many thanks Donald, if you’re still reading “MS”.)

The panic replacement of a fair number of the first 100 Bentley rear axle casings — flown out to India and anywhere else where they had been delivered — for instant fitting at no charge, following the failure of a 10,000 mile test car on a hump-back bridge in France. (The external radius at the root of the banjo flange was 1/16″ instead of ⅛”, causing a stress concentration.)

The hundreds of springs in the Road Spring Shop, all racked in 50-100 lb. load increments. Every spring was selected according to the individual customer’s needs: body style and weight, number of passengers, which side the golf bags were carried, etc. Phosphor bronze bushes were pressed into the eyes (in a vice!) and hand reamed, after which each spring was tightly bound from end to end with strong black insulating tape. This was needed during road test to retain the oil that was pumped through the grooved leaves by the one-shot chassis oiling system. 

The assortment of single-cylinder engines undergoing tests in the Experimental Department, in particular the Rudge Ulster radial-valve job which gave more power than seemed decent at the time and refused to burst. And the sleeve-valve rig; development for the Eagle. Fascinating! 

The brilliant metallurgist — Hall — who developed the R-R light-alloys and who also knew a thing or two about oil. He showed me how to blend Castrol ‘R’ and straight oil (yes!) with aniline. This brew inhibited seizures on our motorcycles without any gumming problems — and smelled superb.

The Experimental machine shop that oval-turned my Velocette GTP piston so that it never seized again. And the aero-engineer who selected from an enormous box of plugs a beautiful mica-insulated special, with full harness, which never oiled-up, never pre-ignited and never wore out. Magic! 

Buying brand new KLGs at the Stores counter for 4d.

Tyrell-Smith turning up on some exciting bikes (OHC Excelsior I think, with no kick-start) and a nice old chap, Masters, who commuted on a 4-cylinder Henderson: his son crackled past me on Osmaston Park Road in the mornings riding a Big Port “AJAY” with open pipe and bald tyres, at incredible speeds — wet or fine. 

Just before my five years were up I arranged with Mr. Smith, who ran the Experimental DO, that I should have a job at £2-10s (£2.50) per week. I was over the moon. But B.Y., with whom one did not argue, said that he would tell me when I was ready to move. I didn’t argue and left, with all my worldly goods strapped to my “D Special” Levis, to join Plessey Ilford. The late, great and charismatic Nobby (Sir Allan) Clark was infinitely better for my “commercial” engineering education and subsequent career than the civil-service-type Derby style. 

But what I learned at Nightingale Road was priceless — a privilege indeed! (And I still use my R-R spanners to this day).

If Alec and Roddy Harvey-Bailey are still interested, I shall always be grateful for that fantastic start B.Y. made possible: a wonderful, kindly man. (What happened to the racing Roddy? You were doing fine!) — H. S. Wildman 

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