Fil Baker's WorldHindsight
or
What Can Happen If You're Not Careful
...being a sidelong glance back at my personal history
A sidelong glance back 
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During my formative years - which, incidentally, warrant closer investigation if only to discover why I'm this shape - cars were of no more than passing interest as that's what most of them seemed to do to Dad's Standard 8 - known as 'Bungy' (which has no relevance to anything else in this narrative - it's just a bit of gossip). Then, in the early 1960's I discovered...

...Hot Rod Magazine, whose photo-coverage of bizarre, eye-catching, over-powered and over-painted drag- and street-cars (immortalised by Tom Wolfe in "Candy-Colored, Tangerine-Flake, Streamlined Baby" - and they don't write titles like that any more...) made an indelible mark upon my young psyche. Suddenly, any sheet of paper too slow to skip out of my way would quickly be covered with sketches of increasingly-bizarre vehicles, often the result of a daft name I'd dreamed up. This progressed to building models of some of them, using plastic kits as a starting-point, then calmed down somewhat as I seriously considered a car-styling career.

At about this time, 'Hot Car' Magazine was championing the cause of Kit-Cars and ran a reader-competition to style a viable example - which I duly entered. Encouraged by a place amongst the runners-up (mine looked very much like what eventually appeared as the VW Scirocco - I mention this simply to illustrate how one side of my enthusiasm had been tamed sufficiently to consider practical issues like Drivability, Production, etc; the other side had not, and has, if anything, become worse..), I began to channel my energy in that direction, encouraged by my school Art-master (and fine sculptor in his own right) Peter Thursby.

Having failed to gain a place at Royal College of Art (Overawed by the interview? Not good enough? Don't ask me, it still hurts!) I decided to take a year out and try again but, as so often happens, I became distracted. Three months working in an Accounts office, followed by three months as a Tax Officer with Inland Revenue had me simultaneously climbing the walls and chewing the carpet (don't try this at home) when I saw a vacancy advertised for a glassfibre-laminator with Tremletts (Skicraft) Ltd, builders of Good Boats. Seeing this as an opportunity to get to grips with the medium I went for it and learnt plenty of practical lessons regarding design-considerations, mould-preparation, etc. This was intended to be my springboard into the motor-car lark and, after a year before the mast (as it were) I wrote to all of the small-volume car-manufacturers whose addresses I could discover, offering my services. A few replied, and one even had a vacancy! The year was 1972 and, loading my possessions into the (t)rusty Austin 10, I turned my back on Exeter and headed East to Beautiful Downtown Denham. So began my association with Technical Exponents, Fairthorpe Cars and Torix Bennett, begetter of the TX Tripper...

The TX Year, 1972/73

At first sight, the factory did not even begin to match my (admittedly vague) expectations, being a converted hangar on the edge of Denham Airfield, just West of Uxbridge in Middlesex. Having spent the previous year working in a barn on a farmyard in rural Devon, I was relieved to find my new location surrounded by grass and space, rather than buried in the depths of a trading-estate. The facilities, whilst relatively basic, were adequate to keep up with the demand for TX Trippers and various flavours of Fairthorpe - with whom TX shared the premises.

My role, as Glassfibre Laminator By Appointment to Messrs Technical Exponents Ltd, was the production of Tripper-bodies and, indeed, the practical challenges posed by the manufacture of a relatively complicated bodyshell were something of a revelation after my experience of far simpler boat-shapes. As an aside for those who do not know it, the TX Tripper was/is a sort-of crossover between the then-fashionable Beach Buggy and a sports-car, based on a Triumph Spitfire/GT6 chassis; in my opinion a bold concept which very nearly came off. The shape of the Tripper was, perhaps, not to everyone's taste, but it's easy to knock and upon reflection I think that, with the exception of one or two styling elements I'd not have used - notably the later bonnets which bulged alarmingly to clear larger engines - it almost worked visually, and as a Random-Grin-Generator it was spot-on. It must be remembered that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc, and this was the beginning of The Seventies - The Decade That Taste Forgot, but even so it was considerably better-looking than many kit-cars before or since. Its form may have been controversial - but its function was something else altogether. I still recall travelling along the A40 as a passenger in Torix Bennett's personal Tripper - hurled, rather than propelled, by a Triumph TR6 engine if I remember correctly - and even forgiving it the psychedelic roll-bar-cum-ragtop-support, such was the adrenalin rush.

TX Tripper publicity-shots, circa 1973

(Leaping confusingly back to the present for a moment: as of November 2001 - having let that memory stew for almost 30 years - I finally became a Tripper-owner myself! As purchased it packs a Sunbeam Rapier engine, but more about that will be found in the appropriate section of "Cars'R'Me"). Meanwhile, back at the plot...

Not all 'trips' were so satisfying but adrenalin seemed often to be a factor, perhaps more frequently than I could have wished - particularly on another journey, made with Air Vice-Marshall Don "Pathfinder" Bennett (Torix's father, and proprietor of Fairthorpe Cars). The occasion was a visit to Solihull to collect a new Land Rover. We set off in the "hack" Electron Minor, A-V-M Bennett driving and me riding shotgun. All went well until, on the M1 Motorway, smoke began to issue from the gearbox-cover - shortly followed by pretty orange flames which, emerging from the passenger-side, had a quick look around and took an immediate fancy to my right leg. Loath to stop between Service Areas, the pilot elected to carry on to the next one - about 3 miles, if my memory serves me well, but at the time it felt like 20!


I well remember our arrival in the car-park: me hanging as far out of the door as balance would permit and rolling out onto the tarmac as the car stopped. Fortunately the fire was quickly extinguished. The cause? The sound-insulation - normally stapled to the underside of the (bought-in) moulded-fibreboard cover - had become detached and had sagged onto the front of the propshaft, becoming incandescent and setting fire to the cover. Oh, how we laughed.
Fortunately, the rest of the journey passed uneventfully (albeit draughtily); A-V-M Bennett duly collected the Land-Rover and drove it back with me following in the newly-ventilated Electron Minor.

There are more TX/Fairthorpe stories to be told, and I'll be glad to tell them to you over a pint in a pub. But right here and right now the narrative lurches on to...

The Wilderness Years

Wilderness Years 1 - A funny thing happened to me…

As demand for Trippers waned I was spending more time helping with the refurbishment of some properties owned by Torix in Chelsea/Fulham; interesting in its way but not what I'd had in mind when heading for these parts. Neither, as it turned out, would be my next step - but it's amazing what the prospect of increased remuneration will persuade you (me) to overlook.

The prospect in question was offered by Messrs William Old (Resiform) Ltd, the GRP-wing of the Civil Engineering company and based in Rickmansworth, Hertfordsire.

Unclear myself as to precisely how my services would be utilised I soon found myself on the receiving-end of another educational experience. For example: until then I had been blissfully unaware that it was (presumably) common practice for the front- and back walls of purpose-built flats to be faced with a large, wood-reinforced GRP panel incorporating moulded apertures for doors, windows and what have you. Which as you will have guessed is what I - along with plenty of others, of course - was required to make. Most of these panels had a gel-coat finish resembling 'stone' or 'concrete' but others, to special order, could be supplied in a variety of colours. One order, which was going through as I began my time there, was for a large quantity of blue and yellow panels in equal quantities. If I remember correctly this order was particularly urgent, which may - only may - have contributed to the episode I am about to relate.

If you are familiar with GRP-production you will be aware that it is possible, and undesirable, for air to be trapped between the gel-coat and the glass-lamination; the resulting weak points, or "air-bubbles" can cause the gel at that point to break away and look awful. If you are not familiar, etc, you are now aware of that little snippet anyway. Aren't you glad you're reading this? It's like the Open University without the early mornings. Where was I? Oh yes. Sure enough, complaints came back from the customer that "air-bubbles" were apparent in one particular shipment. Rather than replace them - which would take time, not to mention wasting materials - it was decided to send one of the managers (whose name escapes me but I remember him as a decent enough chap and apologise for this lapse) and me to fix the affected panels on site.

So off we set for Runcorn New Town and as we approached the huge building site which boasted the name I had my first glimpse of the fruits of our labour in Deepest Herts: standing proudly amid the bulldozers, cranes and mud was a stark concrete rectangle faced with alternating blue and yellow squares, like a chess-board on acid. I'm not sure now whether my jaw hit my knees but it certainly dropped. If anyone from Runcorn is reading this: I'm sorry. Really, really sorry. I can only assume that the architect received an award for it, it was that horrible. By a stroke of great good fortune I have no photograph of it to include here. However, as it has been some time since the last picture, here is...

...A Runcorn, yesterday


Against my better judgment (hey - I was being paid!) we repaired the panels, working in a concrete egg-box with the wind moaning eerily around us - the only living things in a desolate, half-formed wasteland (when it was finished I have no doubt it was a fully-formed wasteland). Did I mention that our arrival coincided with the beginning of a strike by the workforce? Well it did. We had the occasional visit from a bored picket - they were mainly scousers and always good for a laugh - who had no problem with our being there, so presumably they were not striking on the grounds of architectural taste. All I can say is that whatever their gripe was, it must have been pretty serious.

On our return from this break (three days, I think, our lodgings being a charming old pub/hotel in Chester), life continued along its usual uneventful path in Rickmansworth until, as Winter approached, the seasonal downturn in the building-lark took its annual toll: as one of the last in, I was one of the first out.

And so began another chapter...


To be continued.
 
 
  
  
  
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