James Shaw III

James Shaw and The Rover Company

Almost Thirty-Three Years of Vehicle Development

man wearing shirt and tie
Jim Shaw in 1953

Following his wartime service in the RAF as an engine fitter my father completed his studies for a HND (Higher National Diploma) in mechanical engineering at Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. He then worked for nine months as a civilian engine fitter at the RN Air Repair Yard, Donibristle, Fife.

Technical Assistant

In June 1950 he was offered a job as a Technical Assistant at the Rover Company Ltd. in Solihull by Arthur Goddard, Development Engineer. My father moved down to Birmingham, joining the Experimental Department on 3 July 1950.

At first he mainly worked on Land-Rovers under John Cullen, some of which occasionally he brought home. When we went to visit our relatives in Cumberland or Scotland this was always done in a works Land-Rover. On one particularly memorable occasion we were collected from a birthday party by Dad in a Land-Rover for the drive up to Cumberland. Imagine, a birthday party, a trip in a Land-Rover and a visit to our Nana all on the same day!

While I have fond memories of such trips I do remember that we would be six hours on the road and we children could well spend part of that time on the floor propped up against the spare wheel behind the front seats.

One of the projects that he must have been involved in was a short-wheelbase Land-Rover for the Queen, the sort of vehicle that became known as a 'Popemobile' (Rover and Her Majesty got there first!). This Land-Rover was open-topped with a conventional front bench seat. What would have been the load bed was fitted with its own windshield and glazed side screen. Behind the windshield was a horizontal grab bar to allow the royal party to stand and behind that, two arm chairs, angled slightly outwards. I remember my father making a pencil sketch of this vehicle. The Land-Rover itself was picked out with a red water-colour or ink wash. I believe this sketch was mounted and presented to the Queen.

Within the Experimental Department he carried out a range of tasks, including producing a Compression Test Machine with Harry Laight that was used by the company until metrication made it obsolete. Some of the work was car-related, such as electrical design work supporting Robert Boyle's ideas for automatic gearboxes and potential overdrive control schemes for Borg-Warner and Laycock de Normanville overdrives. Gradually he took up more and more car work under Chris Goode, at first for what was known within the company as the P4.

blue car cornering sharply
Experimental Department Rover P4 on the test pan at MIRA June 1953 (LUE 940, Rover 75, Jim Shaw at the wheel)

The first example of this range was the Rover 75 with its distinctive head light in the centre of the radiator grill. As originally designed this car had a steering column-mounted gearchange, but it wasn't very popuular. My father was involved with the development of its replacement, the distinctive floor-mounted gearchange that was retained throughout the lifetime of the P4 range. Its design allowed a third person to take the centre position on the bench seat that was fitted at the time. I must have travelled many miles in that position!I have cause to remember it, for in 1955, my father encountered an unexpected S-bend in Cumbria one dark night. The car hit a farm wall and I hit the dashboard, knocking me out and leaving a small scar. I remember coming around and seeing Dad trying the ignition and in my drowsy state registering that the warning lights weren't 'right'. My mother always maintained that it was 'touch and go' whether Dad would retain his job but I never asked him if that was so. If that had been the case then I am sure the company made the right decision. (It wouldn't have been the first or last company car to have a crash.)

One of the developments that my father was associated with were little tell-tale 'horns' that were mounted on the front edge of the wings and designed to reflect light from the side lights to the driver's eye. Early trials consisted of lumps of Plasticine supporting a ball-bearing. Having proved the principle approval was given to go into production and a set were fitted to a car belonging to one of the directors. The following day the now furious director stormed into the office complaining about the waste of time and money involved in making these 'useless' tell-tales. Of course, in fact, the tell-tales were working, it was the side lights that weren't!

Assistant Development Engineer - the start of P5

As an Assistant Development Engineer in 1957, working under Chris Goode he undertook some of the early development for P5, to be sold as the Rover Three Litre. The following year Project Engineers were appointed for each model range. Chris Goode took on P5 and P4 was given to B.C. Silvester, with my father as his Assistant Vehicle Project Engineer.

Vehicle Project Engineer - "Mr. P4"

In 1959 he became Vehicle Project Engineer for P4 and would go on to lead the development programme for the 80, 100, 95 and 110 models, bringing in such things as front disc brakes and engines with Westlake cylinder heads. Immediately post-war there was a shortage of steel and Land-Rover and the P4 range of cars had made extensive use of aluminium alloy body panels, there being a surplus from wartime aircraft production. A perennial problem with the P4 cars was a customer complaint that door panels were easily dented if, rather than using the door handle, they were closed by pressing the door with a hand (or other part of the body!). My father and his assistant, Ken Robbins, conducted trials with stiffened panels and the steel panels intended for use on P5 and eventually concluded that steel panels were the only viable option. (I remember a P4 running around with bags of lead shot on the floor to simulate the increased weight that the change of material would produce).

There must have still been a lot of developments that crossed the boundaries between the various vehicles at that time as my father assisted the director William Martin-Hurst who had a keen interest in the control of the Laycock de Normanville overdrive then being fitted to some models. The standard overdrive was an extra high gear, fitted in-line with the conventional gearbox, which could be engaged with an electrically controlled clutch. Normally the overdrive would be arranged to be operated by a column or gear lever mounted switch which was only effective when the conventional gearbox was in top gear. An idea, which was ahead of its time, and of which my father was joint patentee in 1963, introduced a dashboard mounted switch which allowed a 'town' or 'touring' driving mode to be selected. A handbook produced at the time stated: "On occasions when maximum speeds in the gears are used ... for speeds up to 70 mph 'close ratio gears' are available by selecting 'TOWN', for speeds above 60 mph 'close ratio gears' are available by selecting 'TOURING'. I don't think this arrangement was ever fitted to a production Rover, being restricted to 1275 WD, the P5 allocated to William Martin-Hurst. In more recent years this concept has been applied to cars with automatic gearboxes, allowing the car to adapt to the driving style.

Brake Project Engineer - Cross-platform responsibilities

Over the years my father became more and more concerned with vehicle braking systems, leading to the creation of the role of Brake Project Engineer in 1963. The safety of vehicle braking systems was concerning legislatures around the world and inevitably caused Rover to put more effort into brake system development and so my father relinquished responsibility for P4 vehicle development in 1964. As the company's brake specialist he represented the company on various SMMT committees, acting as chairman for two 'Anti-Lock' braking committees and serving on MIRA's Braking Research Advisory Panel until it became a commercial company. He represented British Leyland at a Swedish Anti-Lock Braking conference in 1971. During his term as Brake Project Engineer he had responsibility for the braking systems of P4, P5, P6, the P7 experiments, the cancelled P8 and P10, re-designated as SD1.

cars descending hair-pin bends
Camouflaged Rover SD1 on the Stelvio Pass

During the Rover P6 (Rover 2000) development phase he took cars over to the Stelvio Pass, between Switzerland and Italy, for brake trials. The Stelvio is remarkable for the need for near continuous braking as vehicles descend the mountain and negotiate the many hair-pin bends. As the brakes get hotter through continued use, with no chance to cool down, the brake material can produce less friction, (brake 'fade'), and the hydraulic operating fluid can vaporise. When this happens the movement of the brake pedal no longer translates into movement at the brake caliper piston but merely compresses the vapour in the caliper cylinder resulting in no braking at all.

Rather than go to the trouble of taking several cars across Europe and braving the various customs posts there was an attempt at simulating the Stelvio at MIRA. A Rover P5 'tug' vehicle was attached to the Rover P6 brake test vehicle by a hydraulic cylinder. The driver of the 'tug' endeavoured to maintain the cylinder pressure against numbers called out by an assistant from a 'profile' chart. The 'tug' pulled the test vehicle with a force representing the gravity component that the test vehicle would have experienced on the Stelvio while driving on the level at MIRA. There was a serious proposal following these tests to mount a second-hand jet engine on the back of a lorry to produce the same sort of effect but for a larger vehicle. In this case the 'tug' and the test vehicle would have been one and the same, the lorry being 'pushed' by the jet exhaust while the brakes were applied to slow it down.

Other trials on P6 took him to Greece, Kenya, Norway and Spain.

Principle Engineer

man standing outside alpine cafe
Jim Shaw taking a break in the Alps with diesel-engined SD1 ORW 565W

In the early stages of the development of SD1 he conducted brake trials on the Stelvio. Following the merger with Leyland Motors and the formation of British Leyland the company was re-organised. Development staff were moved out of Lode Lane and eventually to the corporate engineering centre at Gaydon. My father became Principle Engineer Medium Car Development in 1976. As a result he had responsibilities for the development of the fuel-injected North American specification SD1, organising Cold Climate trials in Canada and Hot Room tests in Germany. Other Cold Climate trials of FASD (Fully-Automatic Starting Device) on SD1 were carried out in Norway. Later on he had responsibility for development work on the Diesel engined version, running comparison trials in Switzerland and Canada.

With the creation of the Gaydon Engineering Centre, pulling together the development of the whole range of British Leyland cars, he had responsibilities for the development fleet including the ex-Austin Metro and Princess models.


large group at retirement presentation
Jim Shaw is presented with his retirement card

He retired on 29 April 1983, receiving fulsome praise from ex-Rover directors William Martin-Hurst and A.B. Smith. Other notable engineers appreciative of his work were Gordon Bashford, Tom Barton (Land-Rover), Spen King, Rex Marvin, Dick Oxley and Geoff Healey (Austin-Healey).