Meeting with Gerald Palmer.
I returned from JAW with the first AND second
prizes that the Meneeley family had won. So I phoned Wes to learn that he was
taking his car for the making of a BBC TV Open University program. We met at
Gerald’s house in Ifley where I presented Gerald with the Butterworth and
Pilkington piston for his contribution to the Jowetteer. (P.S. What is this
Gerald said he would put it in his garage
where he still works. Alongside the bench are his library of Jowetteers. He
showed me his Mercedes that won the Targa Florio in 1924. He had carefully
restored this over 20 years and taken it back to the circuit in 1974 where he
proceeded to drive at the same average speed of 42mph as when it had won.
Gerald nonchalantly said ‘well the roads were a bit better than in 1924’.
He has driven the Mercedes at 105 mph. Raymond Mays managed 118mph.
The BBC researcher had attempted to surf the
internet for Jowett info, but obtained no more than book references. Gerald
listened during the pub lunch we had together while I explained some of the
benefits of the internet. Yes he was interested, showing he had not lost the
engineers’ zest for knowledge!
The interview may have unearthed some new
insights into the design philosophy.
Gerald recalled he gained the job with
Jowetts around 1942 (but was not too good on dates!) ahead of several
applicants. He surmised they wanted an exportable car that performed well,
with short overall length and six passenger capacity. He knew the Jowett
company as being not glamorous and he knew their products and practices. He
was full of ideas many of them new. Designers usually sought the ultimate and
tried to achieve perfection. The ‘clean sheet of paper’ he was given was a
dream that very seldom happens. He ‘was ashamed’ to say they started work
before the end of the war. He only had the services of two draughtsmen, so had
to be au fait with almost all the elements of car design. The Jowett engine
heritage fitted well into his concept of the forward seating position and
streamline shape. He thought he had to design something suitable for a small
company with limited capital and resources. The first prototype was designed
for hand made tooling not for the facility of a large body producer like
Briggs. So the promising prototype was altered by Briggs.
Gerald said he designed the engine,
transmission, (particularly the gear shift which was one of the best at the
time), styling and chassis with torsion bar springing. He considered what
market, what price and current commercial thinking. It was the silhouette,
then; not the engine and what is in front of the driver, that currently leads
(car design) thinking.
Gerald repeated that the design was a total
concept. It used a compact engine and modern design. Lots of mistakes were
made for which Gerald is not ashamed since they achieved so many plusses. He
is particularly proud of the suspension system and the fuel consumption given
by the streamlined shape. He was disappointed with the cooling system when it
could not cope with the Alps. The suspension suffered early problems when it
repeatedly broke on the Yorkshire dales, but the redesign of the rod ends
suffered no more problems. Lack of time and resources for development and
testing and lack of detailed knowledge of specific components resulted in
faults not being found. In Gerald’s words ‘ They were lucky design changes
that worked’. The main problem was finishing the paperwork for production
and doing sufficient development to obtain adequate life from new parts.
Gerald doesn’t think his reputation suffered as the design was a lot better
than some. It was unusual then to have to do so much work, but he was keyed
up, enthusiastic and young.
It is good to be the custodian of one of
Gerald Palmer’s creations which certainly have style combined with luxury,
performance and mechanical interest. I will cherish his signature on the
fascia of XMG258.
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