Up until about 1971 it was said that Rolls-Royce could supply any part for every car that they had produced. Optimistic maybe, but that was all about to change.
In 1971 as a result of escalating costs incurred in the development of the RB211 jet engine Rolls-Royce was bankrupt. The aero-engine business was nationalised and the then profitable car business passed to a new company, eventually to be sold to Vickers. It was important to maintain the profitability and within this scheme the needs of the older and pre-war cars did not carry a high priority. As a result much of the stock of spare parts for the older models was disposed of. Some went overseas by the container-full, and some probably went to land-fill or to the scrapman. Not only car spares, but aero-engines as well. I know of a scrap metal merchant who was commissioned to destroy zero-hours Merlin aero-engines. Not one part was allowed to leave the site unless in so many little pieces. Undoubtedly he was one of several to be commissioned to undertake this destruction.
When I first started to work with pre-war Rolls-Royce and Derby Bentley in 1976 I found immediately that there was a significant lack of technical knowledge together with a rapidly dwindling supply of new parts, even those required to put a car through the relatively-new MOT test. I was little-interested in ‘bodging’ a job for the lack of the correct parts. Having a small but well-equipped machine shop at my disposal I started to remanufacture those parts that I needed and which I was unable to source elsewhere.
The One-shot lubrication system was a very early priority; it still is. To enable the system to function as intended a range of aluminium washers was required. These were commissioned from a specialist washer manufacturer in quantities of several hundred of each – I must have been looking to satisfy future as well as immediate needs. Nuts soon followed, made in ‘sensible’ quantities to pre-war dimensions, and these were shared around other restorers at the time. Other smaller parts followed such as shackle pins and steering ball-pins, and then axle half-shafts became a necessity. The first batch was machined from solid steel billets. They were heavy, but I was able to cope. Today they are made from upset forgings which are considerably lighter, and stronger.
At this time, in the early 1980’s, all parts had to be reverse engineered. This included major items such as cylinder heads as well as smaller suspension and steering parts. The factory at Crewe had few if any pre-war engineering drawings. The most complete set of drawings was held at the London Service Depot at Hythe Road and Crewe regularly requested drawing copies from there. Nobody else had access to them. However in about the late ‘80s the Service depot was closed. Without the vigilance of somebody who appreciated their importance the drawings would have been destroyed. As it was they were saved and placed in the custody of the RREC.
In order to accommodate the large volume of drawings and the ever-increasing amount of car records being passed to the RREC by Crewe a dedicated Archives building was built. Since then it has been possible to access original drawings where available. Not all drawings have survived, so it is still necessary to reverse-engineer a number of parts. Where we have compared a previously reverse-engineered part with an original it has been reassuring to see how similar they are.