Got No Eyes!
OUR STORY THIS TIME IS about a casting rather than a lock, but we were versatile at Wilmot Breeden, back in the dying years of the British motor industry. As was Richard Terry the buyer at Reliant, who telephoned me one morning sounding more than usually desperate; “We’ve got no eyes!” he said.
This did seem a bit peculiar. Had they all gone blind? Was there some sort of poison cloud over Tamworth?
Reliant was always under-capitalised but they had some good ideas, like the ‘Fox’, a cheap utility vehicle for the West Indies, and in the UK they produced a lightweight runabout which might have had a great future if it hadn’t been painted pastel green and called the ‘Kitten’. And of course the award-winning Scimitar had been a terrific design.
But this was the ‘80s and the Scimitar was old. Sales had dwindled to the point where Reliant had to ‘save up’ orders until they could afford to commission a batch of 100 cars. The buyer then had to source the necessary parts, even though many of the bits which had been readily available in 1967 were now semi-obsolete.
We tried to help with various locks and handles but other suppliers would demand large minimum-batches or exorbitant piece-prices. Poor old Richard had an almost impossible job, and now he had no eyes, apparently!
Well, that’s what it sounded like until he explained. Talk about blind panic! Many years earlier Reliant had made a die for the individual metal letters that fitted across the front of the Scimitar bonnet. This is pressure diecasting we’re talking about, and that type of workmanship is expensive so the toolmaker worked it out carefully and economically - “we need an S, C, I, M, an I - no, we have one of those - a T, A, and an R. Six letters, that’s right isn’t it?”
Well, no, and the result of this slight miscalculation was that they now had a huge stock of all the other letters but none of the letter ‘I’ and they needed a 100 for the current run of cars. Could I help?
“Sorry, Richard, you’ll just have to order a fresh batch of castings,” I said. “All the other letters will have to be put back in the pot so it will be a bit expensive, but at least you’ll get the ones you need.”
Ah. There was an embarrassed silence. Apparently it had been so long since Reliant last ordered any letter-sets that the foundry had closed-down and no-one knew what had happened to the tooling. It would cost £1000s to re-make and they didn’t have that sort of money. Oh dear, what to do?
But with a little bit of ingenuity we saw a solution. We took one of our regularly-run small dies and carved a single impression of the letter ‘I’ into the overflow area, the cavity where excess metal normally forms a little puddle as the casting cools. That meant Reliant could in effect ‘ride-piggyback’ on something else, keeping costs to a minimum. We simply broke-off a couple of hundred letters from the sprue, cleaned-up the edges and sent them off for plating.
Richard had his ‘I’s and could see his way forward to the next problem!
from p. 20 of issue September 2017
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