NB: Robert's report has been laid out in booklet form. If you wish to print the report, we recommend doing with page layout set to 'fit to page' and double sided printing 'flipped on short edge'.
Robert Siemsen's Report: Executive Summary
In September 2018 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship allowing me the opportunity to travel overseas to study my trade with traditional Coachbuilding shops in the United Kingdom.
In a concentrated area of the Midlands and South East England there is an exceeding amount of tradition and knowledge that has stemmed from a halcyon era of coachbuilding. England remains the spiritual home of coachbuilding, and because of the skills gleaned from a past era, England produces the absolute finest steel and aluminium car bodies in the world.
My travels from August to November of 2019 took me to Surrey to met Carl Neville, ex AC Cars, to learn about the history and culture of AC and what is was like to work in such a place. Whilst I was working with Carl he introduced me to Chris Eva who restores and produces replica Ace bodies and did his time under Maurice Gomm at Gomm Metal Developments Ltd in Old Woking. I travelled to Leamington Spa to work with JME Healeys in the historic Cape Works building to learn about the famous marque and the world-renowned work the company has achieved.
To further my own skills in the craft of shaping sheet metal, I worked under the guidance of some of the best Panel Beaters in the world. In Northampton I worked with Shapecraft Classic Motor Bodies alongside Clive Smart, Phil Linnel, Paul Mackenzie, Steve Matthewman and Ricky Matthewman. In Stanwick, Northamptonshire, I worked with Luke Chapman and his father Brian at Chapman Classic Panels. In Olney, Buckinghamshire, I worked with Bodylines Ltd alongside Alan Pointer, Paul Temple, Richard Trasler, Martyn Higgens and Mark Harrison, all of whom had worked for either Aston Martin in Newport Pagnell or Airflow Streamlines of Northampton. Alan Pointer also worked for Mulliner Park Ward of Williesden. I visited Daniel Kostakakis, a fellow Australian working at Aston Martin Works. I travelled to Coventry to work with Darren Welsh of Creative Classics and onto Nuneaton to spend a day with James Smith of RS Panels. Finally, my fellowship took me south to the hamlet of Ower in the New Forest District of Hampshire to work with Vic Mouland and Gary Yates. Their company Mouland & Yates specialises in the manufacturing of bespoke car bodies.
Every single one of these companies had a history of learning skills from great tradesman of the past and in turn were all respectively passing it forward to the next generation, myself included. The tradesmen I worked with all showed me ways of working that I had not seen before, and each part of England introduced me to different styles and techniques of panel beating.
The difference between Australia and England in regards to the coachbuilding or automotive industry in general cannot be understated. Traditional skills in England are much more intact, a lot more cherished among its admirers and I do not foresee a future in which this is not the case, however despite Australia’s geographical vastness and the fact that we do not have continental Europe on our doorstep we really do punch well above our weight.
Although my experience only skims the surface, this report was written to help share some of the knowledge which may have otherwise remained lost to us in Australia. I hope that the writings of my fellowship and its photographs can inspire others to push themselves and for it to help continue Australia’s culture of superior work and craftsmanship.
Keywords: Coachbuilding, panel beating, design, workmanship, tradesmen, apprentices, automotive industry, craftsman, trade, restoration