Motor Panels (Coventry) Limited

Motor Panels (Coventry) Limited was founded by Mr. A. S. Smith in July 1920 to produce motorcar panels, mainly by hand. The firm acquired a small premises in George Street, Coventry, which was soon outgrown. In the early 1920s a larger premises was acquired in Holbrook Lane, which became the company’s permanent home. A toolroom and press shop were soon added, and the firm’s products became known as ‘Smith’s Panels’.

In 1937 the factory was extended with the addition of a large steel-framed building erected by Rubery Owen’s Structural Department. Two years later another large extension, also erected by Rubery Owen, was added to house a large press shop. The new building covering 25,000 square feet would be fitted with the most up-to-date machinery, overhead conveyors, an underground die park, and subterranean machines for scrap collecting and bundling. Although the building was soon completed, the plant was not installed until after the Second World War.

In 1939 just before the outbreak of war, the company went into voluntary liquidation, as can be seen from the following entry in London Gazette on 7th April, 1939:

On 3rd September, 1939 the company began to concentrate on war work, all civilian orders were cancelled. Items produced by the company during the war included aircraft fuel tanks, track shields for Churchill tanks, body panels for ‘Scout’ cars, sea mines, anti submarine projectiles, tail planes for Stirling aircraft, refrigerator containers, and trailers. In order to fulfil the Ministry orders, the company increased its workforce to around 1,000.

Although Coventry was heavily bombed in the early 1940s, the factory suffered comparatively little damage, but in 1942 a serious fire destroyed nearly one third of the factory.

One of the firm's large presses. From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".
In April 1943 Motor Panels became a member of the Owen Group, with Mr. P. J. Freeman as Managing Director.

Through his efforts production greatly increased, and many improvements were made in the factory. Sadly he died in October 1944 and was greatly missed.

His successor, James Milner Phillips, a brilliant automotive engineer became famous in the 1960s when the Owen Organisation built Donald Campbell’s record breaking Bluebird Proteus CN7 car.

Mr Phillips supervised the building and testing of the car, and the record attempts in Australia.

After the war, the firm manufactured body panels for many well known makes of car including Jaguar, Armstrong Siddeley, Alvis, Daimler, Triumph, Austin, and Wolseley, and also Morris vans.

The product range was greatly extended to include kitchen and bathroom equipment, metal clothes lockers, oil-fired electric radiators, dodgem car bodies, and agricultural machinery.

It was hoped that the wide product range would ensure that work would always be available, so ensuring regular employment for the staff.

James Milner Phillips. From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

Kitchen units in production. From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

A well-equipped surgery was added, under the supervision of a qualified nurse, and the Works Benevolent Society provided financial aid for sick or unfortunate employees.

The Social Club organised sports and social activities for the staff, using facilities at the sports ground at Britannia Works in Paynes Lane, Coventry, owned by Henry Caton & Company (1936) Limited, incorporated in October 1936.

It had also been taken over by the Owen Group, and became Rubery Owen's Coventry Works.

Among the events organised by the Social Club was the annual sports day when people competed for the P. J. Freeman Memorial Cup, and various inter-departmental trophies. There were amusements for children, and fundraising activities for the Social Club.

Sports activities included football, table tennis, darts, and fishing, thanks to the flourishing angling section.

All the employees were encouraged to attend part-time courses at Coventry Technical College, and were paid a bonus for passing exams.

Completed kitchen units awaiting despatch. From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

Another of the large presses. From the summer 1950 edition of the staff magazine "Goodwill".
The factory was managed in a very modern way. There were several committees which oversaw all aspects of production and sales.

The Works Joint Management Committee which met every three months, consisted of representatives from the senior management team, and middle managers from every department.

There were sub-committees, which met at least once a month to sort out problems on the shop floor, and a Supervisors' Discussion Group that met after work, once a week (once a fortnight in the summer), attended by members of management, all heads of department, supervisors, and foremen.

Meetings included talks by specialists, film shows, and the discussion of any problems in the factory.

All meetings were minuted, and copies of the minutes were circulated to all departments discussed at a meeting.

In the 1970s, one of the firm's products was the 'Transcontinental' lorry cab.

A corner of the press shop.

Another view of the press shop.

By 1980 it became the cab design and manufacturing subsidiary of Rubery Owen, about 25 percent of turnover was from the design and supply of cab manufacturing facilities to overseas companies.

In 1991 administrative receivers were called-in, and in 1995 the business went into final liquidation.

The tool section of the Joint Production Committee. From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

A corner of the factory.

At work on Triumph Tonneau car bodies.

From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

A bank of Armstrong Siddeley car bodies awaiting despatch.

From the autumn 1947 edition of the staff magazine "Zeal".

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