Tony Tocock (Aston Martin and Lagonda Recollections)
I joined Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. In 1950 and stayed with the company until it left Feltham in 1963. It was the happiest and most enjoyable time of my working life. It was always a pleasure to get up and go to work in the morning and there was great comradeship between staff and workshop-personnel and a sense of pride in the product.
In the service department the mechanics were graded to work on various types of jobs. The chassis fitters only carried out chassis repairs. Engine fitters only carried out engine repairs and overhauls and certain fitters specialized on brakes, steering, and electrical work. Panel repairs and paint spraying were again carried out in special departments.
I joined the company as an engine fitter and was soon given the most disliked job on the engine bench which was de-carbonizing V12 Lagondas, it was a really dirty job. In the immediate Post-W.W. 11 years, fuel and oil were of a very low grade leaving a large amount of carbon deposited in the combustion-chambers. Indeed, most cars required this service every 5,000 miles. I was given nine V12 de-cokes on the trot and in so doing ‘earned my laurels’.
Then, I proceeded to work on the Post-War Lagondas. The Bentley LBS engines at this moment in time were having many problems when used in both Lagondas and Aston Martins. This resulted in many modifications and at one time I had four customer-engines on my bench awaiting repairs.
So, to recount historical facts as they were on the various failures of the early engines:-
(1) The most serious and repeat problem was blown cylinder-head gaskets due to the following reasons. The wet cylinder liners were sealed at the bottom with a wire-reinforced Halite joint, which, after a short time, settled, allowing the head gasket to blow between cylinders and the result was the pressurizing of the cooling system which caused the loss of cooling-water and immediate attention was needed.
I never understood why wet liners were needed in a cast-iron block and there were a number of modifications made for this problem- too many to list on this occasion.
The Halite joint was replaced by a copper one and the fitting of the liners required the utmost care and attention. If there was a difference between two cylinders of .002 inches it would certainly result in a blown cylinder-head gasket. The copper/asbestos cylinder-head gaskets were replaced by solid laminated copper.
The machining of the cylinder blocks had a lot to be desired as the depth of the seats varied and to correct this we used to lap the liner seats with valve-grinding paste to obtain uniformity. I suppose, in defence of bad machining, the workshop was using very tired machines which were run to excess during W.W. 11. The final solution to this problem came in 1952 when a system of pressure-loading was introduced.
(2) On the very early engines, the fan-blades were driven by the timing chains, a disaster on two accounts. The load, the top chain-tensioner was subjected to, caused excessive wear and needed a major operation to correct. In the event of a small frontal accident, the radiator could be pushed into the fan creating quite a mess in the timing-chain department. This happened on several occasions.
The modification for this problem was to fit a spindle through the water pump cover and drive the fan-blades in the conventional manner by fan belt. Unfortunately, the fan-blade-drive- sprocket was left in the system which still caused a degree of wear to the top chain-tensioner. It was only deleted on the revised engines fitted to the DB2/4.
(3) I would like to ask why, on a six cylinder, twin-overhead-camshaft- engine, was a four- bearing crankshaft, chosen? Not only that the three rear bearings were in 6-inch diameter aluminium housings. There were numerous bearing failures and other manufacturers suffered the same problem. New copper/lead bearings came out in 1951-1952 and this eliminated the bearing failure but not the crankshaft whip. In the racing engines of this period, solid duralumin cheeses were fitted instead of the aluminium but that caused another problem as the block used to crack. A number of races were lost because of this. The Jaguar XK engine of the same period was basically the same as the Lagonda but it never had wet liners and used a seven bearing crankshaft and that is why Jaguar won so many races in the 1950’s, particularly at Le Mans.
(4) There was a lot to be desired with the oil pump. It was made using aluminium castings with only one of the internal gears made of steel. The result was that heavy scoring took place through foreign bodies entering, particularly on the early engines using Auto-Clean filters. If the pumps had been made of cast- iron, they would have been much better in service. One other problem was the pump-drive gear which also drove the distributor. If the engine was driven hard, it suffered rapid wear. It is known that races were lost due to the skew gear wearing through.
(5) The rear crankshaft oil seal was another problem. It relied on a screw thread to work the oil back to the sump. In the first place, the width of the flange with the thread on it was not wide enough. It also relied on a clearance of .0015 inches to .002 inches round the whole circumference of the crankshaft output flange. It was impossible to maintain this clearance due to crankshaft whip. So, the oil leaked into the clutch housing eventually oiling up the clutch centre plate. Many moons after these engines became obsolete, a, housing with a lip seal was installed and this was the final answer.
(6) Another mistake made by the Bentley design team was to fit cast-iron tappet cups on the first engines. This was alright until an engine was over-revved and this happened, a number of times. I made a number of service- calls to rectify this failure. The modification was very simple as the tappet cups were made of steel.
Most of the weaknesses of the LBS engine were ironed out when it was completely redesigned by Tadek Marek in the form of the DBA engine. It used a much stiffer cylinder block but still retaining wet liners but they were now seated at the top of the block with the bottom of the liners sealed by O rings. The top seating now had accurate machining, and very few problems with blown cylinder head gaskets were experienced.
The whole timing chain drive was completely re-designed with a new type of chain-tensioner.
The oil pump was replaced with a very efficient steel one and the drive to the pump was by a separate drive chain doing away with the skew gear drive system.
However, the four-bearing crankshaft was still retained using solid duralumin housings and owing to the block being that much stiffer, it gave the crankshaft a much longer life.
I am sorry to have written my views on the Bentley-inspired engine but the information comes from the ‘horses- mouth’ as I was very involved from the early days on rectification work. So, having given views on the engine, I will now write about my time with the company.
In the first instance, I must say that I had the best job in the Service Department as, I was appointed to the position of Service Engineer in 1952. My job took me all over Europe, Canada and the U.S.A. On one trip I made a complete circumnavigation of the World. This became possible, because, one of my assignments was to look after the servicing requirements of the Duke of Edinburgh's Lagonda 3-litre Tickford DHC. He took it to Australia in 1956 where he opened the Olympic Games. At that time I was on a service visit to Canada and the U.S.A. I flew from the U.S.A. to Australia across the Pacific and returned to the U.K. via India and the Middle East. The story of that visit was in the Lagonda Club magazine in the summer of 2007.
When not on outside service work, my job was to carry out race preparations on private customer's cars. I prepared two cars for Le Mans in 1951 and 1952. They were DB2's belonging to Nigel Mann and Peter Clark and I acted as race-mechanic for both cars. Also, in 1951, I prepared the famous Aston-Martin VMF 64 for Tommy Wisdom to drive in the Mille Miglia and it finished 11th overall and first in its class.
I prepared a number of other cars for the Alpine Rally, the R.A.C. Rally and other competitions.
Unfortunately, people at the time did not race Lagondas, but I did get involved with preparing an LBS Lagonda for the Monte-Carlo Rally. It was run by a Mr. McCartin-Filgate who at the time had the Lagonda distributorship in Dublin. The car started the rally from Glasgow and I was in attendance. I know that the car finished the rally, but I don't remember its position.
My duties at the factory involved lots of testing on customer's cars. I, also attended Motor Shows at home and abroad. I was present at 11 London Motor Shows in the capacity of service advisor and demonstrator and also attended Motor Shows at Geneva, Frankfurt and Paris.
On several occasions, I drove a Lagonda demonstrator from the factory to the Geneva Motor Show.
There were few Lagondas in France and only about 3 or 4 in Switzerland and I must relate a story about one of them.
Arrangements were made for me to meet up with a Lagonda owner during the Geneva Show to discuss some problems with his car. He was a doctor of some note and on arrival at the show, he asked his 18 year old son to park the car. An hour or so later, the son arrived at the show saying that an awful knocking noise was coming from the engine and asked if I would give my opinion on it. On listening to the noise, I knew that it was a broken valve spring having diagnosed the problem a number of times before. On closer examination there were found to be, not one, but three broken springs which had been caused by over-revving the engine. The young man completely denied the accusation. Having obtained some new springs from Zurich, I soon replaced them without removing the cylinder head. Fortunately, none of the valves were bent.
As can be imagined, most of the work in the service department involved Aston-Martins. However I was very involved with the Rapide Lagondas in 1961/1962. For its size, it had very good performance with a possible top speed of 125m.p.h. I demonstrated the car at several motor shows and found that people were quite impressed with the ride and comfort.
As is usual with all new cars there are always problems which are not diagnosed during development and prototype stages. Unfortunately there was one most irritating fault, a clonking from the rear drive-shafts. At one stage, when the first Rapides were on the road, four of them were in the service department for this problem. I was told to drop all other work and to get involved to sort the matter out. The clonking was coming from the inboard axle drive shafts which for some reason were wearing out very rapidly. On contacting the drive shaft manufacturers Hardy Spicer, they agreed to send some with closer tolerances and we also used grease which would stand up to high pressure. These two rectifications certainly eased the situation but it was not a complete cure.
At a service meeting for further discussion on the clonking problem, it was agreed that we would approach Hardy Spicer to send an engineer to see if he could throw any light on the difficulty. This they agreed to do. I was at the subsequent meeting which was held in the drawing office.
As the layout plan of the chassis was unfolded, the Hardy Spicer man said immediately that he could see the cause of the problem was that the drive shafts were running on two planes instead of one. Tadek Marek did not agree with this finding but eventually gave in after some lengthy discussion.The reason that the drive shafts were running on two planes was because of the position of the rear chassis bulkhead which created a major job to rectify. To my knowledge, it was never modified, so this is possibly one of the reasons why only 45 were built. Having driven many hundreds of miles in the Rapide I found it a remarkable car.
Another Lagonda story is that one of the 1945/6 prototype cars was converted into a service van for my use as Service Engineer. What a van! It always created a great deal of interest wherever it went. I was only caught speeding once which was pretty good considering the mileage I covered in it. It was sold when the factory moved to Newport Pagnell in 1963and subsequently broken up. I do know of somebody who has some parts of it, so there is a possibility that it might be resurrected.
The 'Brown Bomber' was a Lagonda I had a lot of time for and indeed spent quite some time driving it and carrying out service requirements. It was built on a tubular chassis much the same as the Aston-Martin DB 111 and DB 111 S's. It was intended to be fitted with the V12 engine under development at that time but the engine was quite a failure due to the method of locating the crankshaft but that is another story.
After the Experimental Department had finished with it, the 'Brown Bomber' was passed over to the Service Department where it was extensively used by David Brown who was driven by his chauffeur George Walters. It had a 3-litre LBS engine which we ported and fitted some illegal camshafts etc to give it a bit more power. It was an extremely large car so was under powered with a 3-litre engine. Four people could sit side by side on the front bench seat and at that time it had the largest curved windscreen ever produced by Triplex. Whatever possessed the management to scrap it before the move to Newport Pagnell in 1963 was a disgrace! At that time, not much thought was given to the historical value of such vehicles.
All the factory space at Feltham was leasehold, unfortunately, when David Brown purchased both Lagonda and Aston Martin, he did not secure the freehold for either company. He did eventually purchase the freehold of the Tickford factory at Newport Pagnell. The result of this was that in 1963 he moved the complete operation from Feltham to Newport Pagnell. It was a very sad time for the Feltham employees; many of the lads from Staines were in their 50's and 60's who had worked for the company all their lives and found it very difficult to re-locate. In those days, there was no redundancy- payment, just goodbye! There were only a handful of lads from the Service Department who moved to Newport Pagnell.
I had no intention of moving to Newport Pagnell as I had a very nice home and my only daughter was doing well at Secondary School. I was informed by the factory- management that Brooklands of Bond Street were going to set up a new Aston Martin Lagonda service station and required a service manager and I was offered the job and eventually agreed to accept the post. I managed to get several Feltham lads to come with me and, they included two mechanics, a storekeeper and a receptionist.
The job was quite a challenge as I was overloaded with work because, at that time, the new Service Department situated at Newport Pagnell wasn't running very efficiently.
I soon discovered what I called the three-way-stretch. In the first instance you had to satisfy the customer. Secondly, you had to ensure that a profit was made for the company and thirdly you had to keep the workforce happy which proved difficult at times. So, on top of a 12 mile drive through London, I soon realized that I was not enjoying the job.
When John Wyre, who was General Manager at the time the factory left Feltham, was taken on by Ford to run the GT 40 program in a factory on the Slough Trading Estate, he took a number of key workers from Feltham to staff what became Ford Advance Vehicles. I was approached a number of times to work as Production Supervisor and after just over a year at Brooklands of Bond Street I left and joined the boys on the GT 40 program which is, of course, another story.
I have a 1949 Mk V Jaguar onto which I built a convertible body which took four years to complete and am quite proud of the finished result and the wining of several cups and trophies. The construction of the body used the space frame principle as incorporated in the Aston-Martin race cars. The whole knowledge of building the body was through observation made while working at the Aston-Martin factory.
Of the six people in the photo, there are only two of us alive, myself and Keith Griggs.
Tony Tocock - November 2007