Recent contributor Rob Carver recently sent in his thoughts about the
handful of factory tours he's been on including the original Mini
factory tour years ago. I think it's an interesting read after my
review of the current MINI tour.

I've been on a few factory tours over the years,
including the original Mini Longbridge facility many years ago, and each
one has been a fascinating experience. While the amount of human
involvement has dropped to a seeming minimum, the lines have become
incredibly more complicated, and machines have opened up more
possibilities, while hopefully eliminating the “Wednesday Car” luck of
the draw. Anyone doubting how much things have really changed should
have seen the Citroen Deux-Chevaux plant back about twenty-some years
ago car bodies hanging vertically from big meat-hook things, nary a
window in the place, and one door that only opened to spit out a
Cigarette Roller every so often, no visitors wanted, and absolutely NO
pictures allowed – the working conditions for the mostly immigrant
workforce were prolly too incendiary, I was told privately! It was
pretty strange standing outside the faceless facade, realizing that car
production was underway in a kind of Industrial Revolution flashback.
The only other plant I can compare it to is the Coors Factory, er,
Brewery, another faceless block plant that stuff went into and something
different came out. At least they had a tour, tho! Glug-glug-glug! ;-
)

I much preferred the smaller Morgan factory, like a big
family; or the numerous specials builders in England at the time, people
dedicated to making distinctive products with a belief in their cars as
an extension of their creative process. I well remember the tiny GTM
'facility' ' a small building out in countryside with shells stacked
outside, a coupla blokes inside, and the slow build stages of hand-made
'personal' cars. The tour, such as it was, was my favorite of 'em all,
just a stroll thru the 'plant' with the lads, who are still at it, BTW.
It couldn't quite beat the best tour I ever heard of, however ' the
Ducati plant in the late 70's. I heard about it from a Mini guy ' a
group of tourists from England and the U.S were being led thru the old
facilities – right down the line! – and getting a sketchy overview from
a translator who had limited English. They came to a bench where the
crankshafts were being fitted by a diminutive worker who tried to
explain in rapid-fire Italian how the needle bearings were set into the
housing, while the translator was struggling to keep up. Exasperated
with the polite, but clueless, expressions on everyone's faces, the
little mechanic grabbed the nearest tourist's hand, which happened to be
the girlfriend of one the guys – just along for his' sake, I'm sure '
and plunged her hand into a can of lithium grease! Then he pulled her
hand out with a glob of grease, slapped a bunch of pre-counted needle
rollers into it, guided her hand into the bottom of the housing, turned
her wrist upside down, and then smoooooothed the rollers into the race
with her fingers! While she just stood here in stunned silence, he gave
her a rag, a big smile of approval, and voila! Guess that would be hard
to duplicate with all the robotics nowadays, 😉

The old Mini plant at Longbridge was light-years ahead in many ways
when I visited it around the same time i was in France ' reasonably open
and even had a tour, albeit not too elaborate. The Minis, though, by
then were well behind the modern method curve ' too much 'human
interfacing' as they say ' and even then there were rumors every day of
it's imminent closure because of cost issues. However, the wonderful old
MG plant had recently been shut-down for good, leaving the Triumph
factory as the sick sister of the bunch. BL had sold every MG they ever
made right quickly, with a smaller, dedicated workforce who really were
committed to the Marque, where as the Triumph plant had a strike a week,
I bet, and very poor quality control. I know many people will have
issues with this, but, hey, how many TR7's were out there with cracked
heads and bad electrics' 'Nuff said. The Triumph plant lasted for a few
more years, but in a way its closure ensured the Mini would survive just
that much longer, eventually moving into the Oxford Facility for the new
MINI. Oxford is the real link to past for me ' Morris started there, and
the manager of Morris Garages, the sales end of the car company, was
Cecil Kimber – who started MG. The MG Competitions Dept. ran all of
BMC's racing and rallying efforts, ( until Leyland killed 'em off ), so
naturally the great Mini Rally victories were engineered from there. I
miss the Longbridge connection ' it was purpose built for the Mini and
all my old cars came out of there ' but the new line at Oxford seems
like the cat's meow. We, as new MINI lovers, would never have been able
to order our own special cars, our extensions of our creative processes,
without an ultramodern plant that can translate our wants & wishes into
our favorite MINI. Gabe, you lucky dog! I can't wait to see it for
m'self!

BCNU,
Rob in Dago