The Canley and Fletchamstead areas were very busy every working day with thousands of people travelling to work at the Standard or other factories in the area.
Standard workers parked their cars in a large car park in Canley road now occupied by the Go Outdoors superstore. Walking across the road workers going into the plant were greeted by vendors selling communist newspapers such as the Daily Worker or the Morning Star. I remember overhearing a wag joking that he had heard they actually sold a copy of the Morning Star one morning! Most workers preferred the Daily Mirror or The Sun.
With high wages and growing affluence, many workers could actually afford to buy the cars that they made, probably for the first time in history. Others owned older models. Many Herald parts were ‘carry over’ from the older Standard 8, 10, Super10 and Pennant models so a plentiful supply of spares was usually available if you ‘knew the right people’.
Pilfering was rife, and stories abounded of gearboxes, transmission parts and even whole engines being taken out. Who knows whether the stories were true but what is certain is that thousands of pounds worth of parts were routinely smuggled out, the justification being that the cost of the pilfering was built into the price of the cars, so no one actually lost out! There were, from time to time reports in the local newspaper of police investigations being carried out at the homes of those who had been caught by security staff, finding large hoards of spare parts and this was seen to be happening also at other manufacturers’ plants.
Strikes either at the Standard itself or at suppliers were sadly all too frequent. Disputes usually involved money, piecework rates or ‘who does what’ issues. Car production usually ceased immediately and the workers sent home with no pay and told to watch the Coventry Evening Telegraph for information on when production would resume. Strikers could not claim unemployment pay, but those laid off due to the strike action of others could claim after a number of ‘waiting days’.
Unemployment pay was seldom paid, but when it was, the amounts were very small. The longest strike whilst I worked there was in the Autumn of 1969, when the Speke factory in Liverpool which produced car bodies for Canley was closed for around six weeks, in dispute (I think) over the higher wage rates paid in Coventry.
Some production did continue and the unions insisted that the work available should be shared by all workers being sent to different areas. A three day week was introduced. I was sent to the Saab shop, where they produced a ‘slant four’ aluminium engine for the Saab motor company in Sweden. It quickly became clear that Saab were unhappy with the quality of the engines being produced and many were sent back for rectification. I seem to remember the Saab contract ended shortly afterwards.
I remember going into the New Assembly Hall on a number of occasions and saw the various models being assembled. I was amazed that they could build so many different models at the same time on (I think) two tracks. Finished cars were driven from the assembly areas to the despatch area at the Fletchamstead site on a roadway dubbed the ‘Burma road’ which ran alongside the railway track by ferry drivers. This was one of the most coveted jobs at the Standard. The cars were sometimes driven at high speed along this road and smoke was often seen coming off the tyres making mockery of the advice to the new owner to carefully ‘run the car in’ at a low speed!
I left the Standard in the Autumn of 1970, after being accepted for a job at Jaguar’s Radford works doing similar work on their six cylinder crankshafts.
The Standard was in some respects part of my life for many years before I ever worked there, being so close to where I lived. Over the years, despite all the troubles, iconic vehicles were built and many still, thankfully, survive.
The demise of Standard Triumph followed a similar pattern to so many of Coventry’s other motor manufacturers. The often poor quality, long delivery times and poor management practices eventually sounded the death knell to Coventry’s motor manufacturing industry. I still struggle to understand why it was allowed to happen, with the loss of so many well paid jobs.
One of the saddest sights of more recent times was demolition of the iconic Ivy Cottage administrative block. The whole area is now another business/retail park with little evidence of what an important role it once played in Coventry’s post war industrial revival. It’s all history now. So sad!
Hence the archive, Alan. It’s thanks to you, your colleagues and their families that this archive now exists. Our goal is to ensure the history isn’t forgotten and is documented now for the future. ED