95-year-old Arthur Goddard was the first-ever Land Rover engineer and is as a living legend of the first order. Patrick Cruywagen caught up with him in Brisbane, Australia
The legendary Land Rover story began with a simple drawing on a beach in Anglesey by the then Rover technical director Maurice Wilks. It was his vision of what the new Land Rover 80in wheelbase should look like. In March 1948 the first two pre-production vehicles Land Rovers, numbered 01 and 02, were completed. A month later they are shown to the world at the Amsterdam Motor Show. For those attending it was love at first sight, especially for the many military representatives, and so quickly the order books start to fill up. Some might argue a trend that still continues today. Arthur Goddard, the young development engineer and man at the helm of the Land Rover project, was responsible for driving one of them to Amsterdam for the show. For Arthur it is his first time abroad. By the end of the year the mass production of Land Rovers commenced, thanks largely to Arthur and his motivated team of specialist engineers. Sadly, today many of those early Land Rover pioneers, are no longer with us. But Arthur, just like Land Rover, has gone from strength to strength. So, during a recent trip to Australia, I thought it would be rude not to take a short 1000-mile detour to put a few questions to this living legend...
How did you end up at Land Rover?
I never had control of my own life. Things just always seemed to happen to me and fall into place. During the Second World War I was fortunate enough to work for Alvis in the aero engine research lab. Towards the end of the war the Department of Labour sent me to Rover for an interview as they had enquired about my work on the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine. At the time Rover used an eight-cylinder version of it and they would just chop a piece off but use the same pistons, rings and big end bearings. They had a problem though. Rover’s head of engines had recently broken his legs and they needed a replacement. I remember saying to [Technical Director] Maurice Wilks at the time that I didn’t know much about motor cars, to which he replied not to worry as they know everything there was to know about them. That was the start of my Land Rover story.
What else did Maurice say?
He also mentioned that they had trouble with their four-cylinder engine; it had very severe chain thrash at about 3500 rpm. It was a tiny little engine compared to what I was used to working on and I had never heard of chain thrash before. I was used to engines with gears and not ones with a piece of what looks like a bicycle chain around it. It was no surprise that it had vibration and noise problems. I was able to solve the issue by developing a spring tensioner that actually worked. Whilst at Rover I became Maurice Wilks’ bosom pal, sorting out all the problems. I soon became chief development engineer; it all moved along rather quickly.
The first Land Rovers were supposed to be a stop-gap for the Rover company. When did you realise that you were in charge of something bigger than that?
It had to be at the Amsterdam Motor Show when someone came up to me and said that he was interested in buying several hundred Land Rovers. The most we could’ve sold him at the time was three! I knew then that we were on to something special. Then there was also massive interest from the military; as you know they would buy thousands of the things. In fact, we got an order from the British Army for a thousand. Nobody was more surprised than me by all of the fuss.
You drove one of the vehicles over and then worked on the stand. No big marketing budgets back then?
I was the only one there who knew anything about them. We also had Jonny Cullen there – he was my right-hand man who had taken on all the driving and testing duties. The sales chaps were not engineers. They had not been given any briefing and so I spent most of the time briefing them. You need to remember that the military people that came around to our stand were vehicle people and knew what they were talking about.
Did this global reaction give you a feeling of pride?
It was hard to believe really. You are always suspicious when things look a whole lot better than they should. You start to think is everything going to blow up in your face? As a matter of fact it did as we now had to produce vehicles to meet these orders. Much has been written about the Centre Steer over the years. Anyone that drove it surely must have known straight away that it just was not right? The reason the Centre Steer concept came about is that at the time we were only just thinking about supplying cars to Europe. Rover only made right-hand drive vehicles for England while someone else made left-hand drive vehicles for Europe. So due to the shortage of steel and the need to export our cars, we were forced to look at left-hand drive vehicles. One of the thoughts was that if you don’t want to make a left-hand drive and a right-hand drive then why don’t you put it in the middle? It was just a joke really. I know much has been written about it, but in all honestly it probably lasted about 20 minutes at a senior management meeting where I delivered a summary on it. My conclusion was that it was absolutely useless and not worth carrying on with. The other thing is that it created the most unsatisfactory driving position. There was just no way that you could get at the controls and be comfortable at the same time.
As Land Rover enthusiasts we cannot deny that they do contain some Jeep DNA...
Maurice Wilks swapped a Bren gun carrier for his neighbour’s Willys Jeep and that was the one that I got hold of. It was not so much a case of copying things; it was more a case of not starting from scratch. For example, we would take a look and see where they had put their engine mountings. It might have taken them six months to sort it out while I would know where to put the mountings straight away by looking at the Willys Jeep. You see all the things that were bad on the Jeep I managed to take out on the Land Rover. The Jeeps were rust buckets while as you know Land Rovers just seem to last forever. I also decided that we needed four gears instead of the three found on the Willys. The fact that I already had a four-speed box and did not have a three-speed one probably had something to do with this decision.
Things moved very quickly with this project...
Well they did have a very good young engineer on the project. Remember that it was designed so that it could go into production without requiring any fancy tooling.
So you could not consider using big press tools for the body. Not so in the case of the Willys Jeep, they had one big pressing machine. This would’ve cost us £150,000 to buy and two years to make. Also there was not a lot of time for testing. The only road testing I did was driving to and from work. In the end, the chassis came out a lot stiffer than we expected, twice as stiff as that of the Willys. This might have caused other problems but fortunately for us it did not. You never want to be an engineer unless you are lucky.
Were you able to keep up with the demand for the early Land Rovers?
I had a deal with Maurice Wilks – he said that I could take anyone that I wanted from the car department. So I could take transmission, engine, production and body guys. In the end it was a fun time and everybody enjoyed what he or she were doing. I remember there was a round of applause when things went right and you pressed the button and get this feeling of pride.
You visited Belgium and then returned to the UK and built your own version of their pavé at MIRA...
It was important to have our own facility to avoid having to go backwards and forwards to Belgium to do test work. It also makes it easier to ensure that you always have the same test conditions. When we bought MIRA they sent me to the Jabeck Highway in Belgium. I’ve never been so frightened in my life, trying to take measurements and samples with trucks flying past. It worked and we managed to recreate something similar at MIRA.
Front wheel wobble on the 80in was one of the challenges you faced at Land Rover. How did you solve the problem?
With great difficulty. Damping was the simple solution to all vibration problems. The key was to get some damping as near as you could to the problem that would keep everyone quiet while you tried to find a real solution. I went out and looked at the Jeep and the one significant difference that they had was that the front springs were shackled at the opposite end to ours. I changed ours and it was absolutely perfect. No matter what we did we could not get it to wobble again.
Did you have more lead-time for the next phase, the 86in and 107in Land Rovers?
It was money for jam; it was 90 per cent the same car.
Yet you once said if you could do it all again you would’ve started with the 86?
That’s right, because I had used the car information for spacing the passengers; soldiers carry loads of kit and need additional space to compensate for this. The 86in had much more room. The body space had increased twice as much as the axle space because I had increased the overhang as well.
You once delivered the Royal Review 86in Land Rover to the Queen in Edinburgh. She subsequently used it on her six-month Commonwealth Tour just after her coronation. Did you get to meet her?
We had a great deal of difficulty in getting it approved. They initially went to Tickfords, who sent the drawings to me for approval. What an awful job they did! We came up with something a little different and it had a rail for Her Majesty to sit on but it still made it look as if she was standing. We had to get the height just right and she also had a rail to hold on to. Our version cost about a third of the Tickford option. I then sent the plans for this revised version to her minders for her to see. I must have also taken about four or five trips to Buckingham Palace. Eventually I sent them photographs of the final version The Queen fell in love with it as soon as she saw it. The instruction then came from her to build one, which we did right away. We arrived at Edinburgh Castle during the annual Edinburgh Tattoo to deliver the Royal 86in at 8 am. Staff instructed us to get it parked up on the lawn. Suddenly these big French doors opened up and out came the Queen, followed by Prince Philip. “Oh, so you are the Arthur Goddard. We loved the pictures and what you have done,” said Philip, while chomping on a piece of toast. I think that she was very pleased to have somebody that was doing something especially for her. I said that we would supply the 42 vehicles they needed free of charge. In the end all the countries that she visited wanted them so we could sell them for about three times what they cost to produce.
In 1957 you leave Land Rover for Girling. Looking back now you must be extremely proud of what you achieved at Land Rover?
In a way, yes. It was a completely unique thing. Nobody had built such a vehicle before. It was originally designed for agricultural and military purposes, but then it accidently picks up a whole leisure market in the process. An incredible story really.
Exactly 62 years after the Amsterdam Motor Show you return to the UK for a visit to Land Rover. At Packington Estate, Michael Bishop, the author of They Found Our Engineer, takes you on drive through the ford in a Series I. In the book there is a black and white photo of you doing this in Huey with your friend Johnny Cullen. How did it make you feel doing it all again?
It was a nostalgic moment. It made me realise just how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to do what I did. Plus I had loads of fun along the way. Success is a very satisfactory thing, especially when you are one up on the world and not just competing against someone down the road. It took 20 years before anyone launched anything similar to compete with it. The steel boxes they used are nowhere near as good as the aluminium ones. People might laugh at old Land Rovers but they will still be there when everything else around them has already fallen to bits.
Defender production stopped earlier this year. How did that make you feel?
I was a bit sad to see it go. It still got them a fair bit of business. They used to sell about 20,000 of them a year. We have a few empty car factories around here and I bet you I can have a Land Rover Defender coming off one of those lines in about six months.
What should the new Defender look like?
It should be rough and ready. The spec given to me was agriculture and military. I know that if they do a Defender now the spec will be purely leisure, not military or agriculture. It will be a different sort of vehicle with a different specification and application.
THEY FOUND OUR ENGINEER:
The Story Of Arthur Goddard: The Land Rover’s First Engineer by Michael Bishop
Much mystery and guesswork surrounds the early history of Land Rover. Obviously their focus was on producing globally adored vehicles and not recording their all-important history. Arthur Goddard played a pivotal role in the founding and early years of Land Rover. Michael’s book not only covers his role, but also tells the remarkable tale of how Arthur was found after disappearing off the British automotive engineering map for several decades. It is a must-read for any serious Land Rover historian and enthusiast.