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Ken Smith Interview

By Julian Marsh

JM: Were you aware that many Slough catalogues used reversed negatives of  left hand drive cars?  I have a brochure for a vehicle with the badge 8imA on the bootlid.  And there are catalogues showing the fuel filler on the nearside.
KS:  Everything was done on a budget.  We continually had to justify our existence to Paris.  I have seen catalogues in English printed in France using such reversed images.

JM:  As a VAT and customs duties consultant, I am all too aware that the rationale behind setting up overseas factories was fiscal.  High levels of import duty meant that if production was undertaken locally, the amount of duty was reduced.
KS:  In order to qualify for the label “Made in England’, 51% of the content of the car had to be sourced in England.  It was straightforward to calculate the value of components but we also had to factor in overheads – salaries, property costs and so on. 
We also exported cars to the British Empire countries where “made in England” right hand drive was the norm and also to Belgium and Switzerland.  This had the advantage that duty paid on those components imported from France which were incorporated into the exported vehicles was recovered. 
Paris was quite adamant that no ‘security components’ could be sourced locally without their prior permission.  With this approval, we used torsion bars sourced from the English Steel Corporation on the Light Fifteen but we had to demonstrate to Javel that security would not be compromised as a result.

JM: Was this the rationale behind the ID 19 wooden dashboard?
KS: Ah! the plank.  No, it was not a “security component”.  It was a much cheaper solution than attempting to create a mirror image of the French dashboard.  Where the DS 19 dash was concerned, we made a plastic mirror image version of the French nylon dashboard.  We had a wood mill in the factory which had been used for the Light Fifteen dash and we had the expertise and this was the reason for the ID’s walnut dash.

JM: I must admit that I always though this slab of wood looked somewhat incongruous, sandwiched as it was between the futuristic plastic air vents.
KS: The first version of this dash was awful.  Later ones where the top of the dash overlapped the timber were much better.

JM: What was the reason for leather upholstery?
KS: I never liked leather.  It is not a suitable material for seats.  The Sales Department was convinced that it was essential to have leather trim in order to sell cars.

JM: Given that you are a vegetarian, is this a philosophical objection?
KS:  In part but my main objections are that leather is cold in the winter, hot in the summer and makes clothes shiny.  I remember driving a British Traction which was fitted with a leather front bench seat and when cornering rather enthusiastically sliding across the seat.  Fortunately I let go of the steering wheel and the car stayed on the road.  The Sales Department had concluded that customers of the Traction would want leather seats and a wooden dashboard and this was carried forward to the ID 19.

Click to see large version of image - will open in new window

JM: Slough D series cars were 12 volt from the outset whereas French cars used 6 volt electrics.  What was Javel’s reaction to this?
KS:  They really didn’t want to know.  I demonstrated the superiority of the 12 volt system to them – better ignition, cheaper, easier to assemble but they didn’t want to know…  during the preparation of the three right hand drive prototype Ds in 1955 at the rue du Théâtre, I was informed by the Electrical Section that they had no budget for the 12 volt, positive earth system and I must prepare it myself, which I did.  It worked at the first running test and our cars avoided some of the electrical incidents that affected early French market cars.

JM: My Dad had the voltage regulator fail on an ID 19 and he took it to a French dealer who looked under the bonnet and said, “Well here’s the problem.  Some idiot has fitted the wrong dynamo!”
KS: That must have confused them…

JM: Many Slough-built D Series used metal as opposed to polyester roofs.  Why was this?  Were they locally sourced?
KS: No.  They were all imported.  We had problems with the polyester roofs when it came to unpacking them.  Even with four people each holding a corner, a large number of them cracked.

JM:  I know that the Décapotable was never built in Slough but right hand drive versions were fitted with many of the components – dashboard, seats, electrics, etc. that were fitted to Slough models.  Was this done in Slough or in Paris?
KS: It was done in Paris.  We sent them the bits.

JM:  My Dad had a Slough-built DS19 Pallas.  Was the Pallas trim locally sourced?
KS:  The interior trim was sourced in the UK.

JM: Early IDs had an ‘upside down’ gearshift pattern compared to later ones.  Do you know why the change was made?  Was this anything to do with the different gearchange linkage required for right hand drive?
KS:  In fact early French and British cars had the same pattern and when the change was made in France, we did so too.  The linkage made no difference.

JM: My father owned a Connaught ID and a DW.  Given the pas inventé ici (not invented here) mindset at Javel, what was the attitude to these models?
KS: Connaught, who were Citroën dealers, used to buy complete cars from us and convert them.  Although there was technical liaison between us, the conversions were not officially sanctioned.  As for the DW, eventually Paris produced a manual DS.  But they were not that keen on our model.

JM:  Slough anticipated the three dial instrument panel that Paris introduced in 1968.  Were they concerned at this innovation?
KS: after the first three or four hundred cars, the DS and ID were always been fitted with round instruments.  We could justify this using the 51% rule.

JM: Which do you prefer, the BVH or BVM?
KS: I think I preferred the manual.

JM:  I always felt that the hydraulic change better suited the nature of the car.  One drove the DS with fingertips and toes, not arms and legs.  Later left hand drive IDs were fitted with a foot operated parking brake but those destined for right hand drive markets retained the handbrake.  Why was this?
KS: the engine was offset to the right in the DS.  This was done to allow access to components mounted on the left of the engine.  Since right hand drive had been envisaged from the start, it had been contemplated that the engine be offset to the left for right hand drive cars but it was decided that we would just have to put up with limited access.  This meant there was not enough room to fit a fourth pedal in the narrower driver’s footwell; for this we were duly thankful.

Above, above left and left the D series production line at Slough

JM: Since RHD production was envisaged from the outset, what was your involvement?
KS: From May 1946 I worked at the Slough Production Methods Department and this meant I always had a great deal of contact with Paris regarding adapting production methods from the large numbers built in Paris to the much lower volumes envisaged at Slough. So when the DS was being developed, management deemed it appropriate that someone from the British operation should be involved at an early stage. And the choice fell on me!  Within the limits of complete confidentiality, I had to find out all about the DS in all its details; to assess and acquire compliance with all the British Road Traffic Acts, Construction and Use Regulations, Vehicle Lighting Regulations and all other relevant Acts and Orders; to assess the changes necessary in order to assemble, trim and paint the vehicles at Slough.  This was a vehicle which was totally different from the Light Fifteen, Big Fifteen and Six Cylinder.  I had to become familiar with all the components, units, assemblies and items in the car and to learn how they functioned, in particular the hydropneumatic suspension, the hydraulically operated clutch and gearchange, brakes and steering and to prepare a summary of components and materials for local purchase before production could commence.From 1954, I spent 49% of my time at the Bureau d'Etudes at the rue du Théâtre in Paris until shortly before the launch of the DS at the 1955 salon. This meant I got to see all sorts of ‘top secret’ studies.

JM: Can you tell me about some of these?
KS: Paul Magès was a genius.  He realised that high pressure hydraulics could be used for many applications including window winders, windscreen wipers, seat adjustment, cooling fan, dynamo and even transmission.

JM: Ah yes, the hydrostatic transmission system.  I am told it suffered from cavitation noise.
KS: As was all too often the case, costs were what killed the idea. Paul Magès had also developed an ABS system for the DS as early as 1955 along with anti-roll suspension where you could vary the body inclination from banking like a motorcycle through a neutral, flat ride through to normal DS body roll.  Anti-roll suspension was first fitted to a 1955 Traction.  The roll was controlled by electric motors.

JM: The idea of his that I really liked was the one where the rear section of the roof was hinged and was hydraulically raised through 90 degrees to act as an airdam to both improve braking efficiency and increase the downforce on the rear wheels.  But I am guessing that costs were the reason this was never pursued.
KS: Yes, costs were always a problem.

JM: After production at Slough ceased, UK market D series cars continued to be fitted with Lucas tail and brake lights.  Why was this?
KS: British Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations again.  The French lights were not marked with the appropriate British Standards kitemark and it was easier to continue to use the Lucas units until the European ‘E’ markings on the lamps were acceptable in the UK.

JM: In the early sixties, my Dad had a car fitted with seatbelts – an unheard of innovation.  I remember arguing with him (as know-all adolescents do) when he told me off for wearing the belt since this indicated that I did not trust his driving.  “It’s not your driving that worries me, it is the other idiots…”
KS:  In 1960, we experimented with a four point harness.  These were fitted to our own cars.  But the cost was too high so we developed our own, three mounting harness.  This will be the one fitted to your father’s car.  This was long before Volvo made a virtue out of safety.

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