In the old days when cars like my Mark VI were new, most towns had a machine shop where engines could be rebored, cranks reground and bearing surfaces re-metalled, the work was quite skilled and they were very busy because things wore out so quickly. Ford Populars, A30s and many other small horsepower cars might need a rebuild after 20-30,000 miles. Today things are very different, cars last indefinitely and many parts are throw away items. Modern Jaguar engines, for instance, have to be replaced if they break; they are not intended to be rebuilt. Not surprisingly there are very few proper engineering companies left now and those that are must be very highly skilled indeed because they restore mostly rare and expensive engines.
Hurley Engineering Services has been doing this work for forty years now and when I visited Paul Hurley they were working on numerous Bristol, Aston Martins, Jaguars and various rare racing engines. Everywhere is spotlessly clean an all the machinery is modern, it’s quite a contrast to the old days when everywhere was black and rather scruffy, but then standards were not as high and customers weren’t as demanding. Often engines produce more power now than they did then and many customers race and Rally them as well. Old engines are more marginal, more highly stressed and more idiosyncratic, each one is different and has its foibles. They all require tremendous skill and understanding if they are to be properly built, to last and to avoid catastrophic breakages. The pressure on Paul and his company is tremendous and yet there is a terrific atmosphere in the place, everyone is smiling and friendly and clearly they love what they are doing. There is, after all, no greater satisfaction to be had than turning lumps of battered and worn metal back into the thoroughbred engine it once was.
It has always infuriated me that a widespread assumption is that working with one’s hands is what you do if you’re dim because it bloody well isn’t, just as much intelligence is required as for an academic job, it’s just a different skill. If you’re dim you can’t do anything properly, it’s as simple as that. However many young people avoid engineering jobs, preferring clean hands and less job satisfaction in the belief that they have achieved higher status. We live in a shallow, pretentious world. Sir Henry Royce founded one of the greatest engineering companies the world has seen and he described himself as a mechanic.