A tale of Ups and Downs
today when I am often accosted by people who come and greet me affably
claiming that one of my products saved their life, I feel something of a
fraud for I am not really a safety campaigner although I firmly believe
that in these days when you are compelled to be belted into your seat it
should also be mandatory to have some form of rollover protection so your
head and body do not have to support several tons of car if, like a high
percentage of cars involved in collisions it overturns.
rollover bars, which carried my name for several decades, were occasioned
by a much greater need than philanthropy – money. When I left the
blanket day job with the “Pru” I lost the security of a regular income
to pay the overheads and although we had a good income from our racing
activities it just wasn’t the same. At that time several of my customers
were students, which did not contribute to the regularity of our income,
but many of them were impressed by the sturdy rollover bar in my Sebring
Sprite which had been fitted to comply with US regulations when it had
raced in Florida, often remarking jokily that their mothers who usually
ended up paying for their motoring would be much more willing to do so if
their cars sported something similar.
cars which at one time had been thought of as a completely safe form of
racing had suffered a few fatalities and it was becoming known that it was
worthless being strapped into a metal box that because of fragile roof
pillars would collapse, something brought home when I rolled my DKW at
Oulton and the roof caved in.
over the idea and one morning announced at breakfast that we would market
rollbar kits complete ready to fit to six popular cars. My wife and
our two mechanics who were at the table laughed heartily!
persisted with my design, built a prototype, had it stressed by friends at
the University Engineering Labs, carried out a practical destruction test
with the bar in an old body shell which we pushed over the edge of a
nearby quarry and put the kits on the market at £9.15.0 each including
all fittings ready to go. The response was immediate but as many potential
buyers were from the trade who wanted their cut the retail price had to go
up by a quid which they could keep for themselves.
took off so well was a bit of a surprise. Although I liked the idea
I was surprised that competitors were ready to pay a relatively large
amount of money (still a week’s wages for many in those days) for
something that would add no speed to the car but it could be argued that
it would harm performance by adding the dreaded weight. But perhaps I was
thinking on the right lines and this was one of the green shoots of
in the early days I sub contracted to my old friend Mike Wood who then had
an agricultural engineering business in Dorset which had the advantage to
leaving my workshop free to keep working on cars but gave me an excuse to
have a night away collecting the supplies for the month and having a night
out with my west country friends at the same time. Eventually though
I had to weaken and make the bars myself and for several years we existed
with a plumber’s pipe bender and just when I was wondering about a
welder an old New Zealand friend rang from the other side of the globe
asking what were the prospects in England if he returned to a country
where earlier he had settled but had to leave when his business failed.
As he had done all my panel work and I knew him to be an accomplished
welder he was just what I needed so without looking back Brian and his
wife were on the next plane. Bending comparatively heavy tube with a
lightweight hand machine was at first quite difficult until we imported
two large friends from the local Rugby Club who needed an evening
job to pay for their beer money and who with the aid of a lengthened
handle made easy work of it.
roll bars certainly saved my bacon but I had an up and down career with a
few interesting and amusing aspects along the way. Backed by
professional opinion bars were made originally from 1.25” comparatively
cheap welded tube (much cheaper than solid drawn tube that everyone talked
of) which with hardware and backing plates, which were subcontracted, the
whole cost of an assembly was only £2 for material. This gave an
enormous gross profit and produced a very strong triangulated
structure that saved many heads in nasty rollover crashes.
stared fitting them for they soon found that not only did they stop the
body collapsing on them but often it enabled the car to reach the finish.
We found that despite being careful we amassed lots of short lengths of
tube so we devised the “Aerodynamic” bar for open two seaters like the
Midget and MGB. The short lengths were butt welded and then bent
into two hoops that were joined together across the top while the bottoms
were splayed out to make a very strong structure that would bolt to
the floor behind the seats giving real protection to the occupants and
when covered with foam padded vinyl looked very smart. I was, so to
speak, actually hoist with my own petard once when the Triumph Motor Co
bought one of my Aeros for a Spitfire and gave the impression they would
be marketing it but a few months later we learnt their true intention was
to produce a similar design (Mine!) for the Stag. I still find it
difficult to look a Stag in the face.
rollbars really took off and then towards the end of the Sixties the FIA
made them compulsory in all major races and rallies. Good for us?
Yes and No. Although it meant a much bigger market, the FIA
introduced a new specification much heavier than ours made from a grade of
“drawn” tube that could not be obtained easily and would need much
heavier equipment to work. Should I re-equip or just stay at club
racing level where my products were still legal? I took a risk and
bought new machine powered benders and ordered several miles of the
appropriate tube. Fortunately that was the right decision and within years
I was able to sell the main shareholding to the two chaps who worked the
business and move from Cambridge to my newly acquired cottage at Salcombe
but that’s a different story.
new life in the Land of the Lotus eaters did not really work out for
within five years I was back trying to rebuild the wreck of a
company I had bought back from the Official Receiver financed by the
steel suppliers who like me were still owed rather a lot by my old firm
which the new directors had allowed to fail. Anyway I was successful
and despite the problems of a new wife, within a few years I had paid back
the debt and was again the sole director of a flourishing business. But it
was never again the happy little enterprise of the middle sixties and so
when approaching my 60th birthday someone who had businesses all round the
Pacific Ring came along with seemingly bags of gold I accepted and became
an ex-rollbar manufacturer again.
I ever learn I ask, for once again things wet wrong and within a year the
business was completely bankrupt owing me lots of cash and although I had
earned enough to build rather a nice house at Hessett on my wife’s
family farm where she kept her donkeys I hadn’t much in the bank. Sadly
all of that and most of the value of the house went in the next few years
when Ann, my wife, sadly contracted cancer, from which despite serious
surgery, she finally died in 1997.
that although I had proved over the years I could make and sell rollover
bars better than most I could not make and keep much real money from them!