James Shaw and The Rover Company


Jim Shaw at MIRA June 1953

My father moved down to Birmingham to join the experimental department of the The Rover Company in 1952. At first he mainly worked on Land Rovers, 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.

Rover P4 on the test pan at MIRA June 1953

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

Following on from his work on Land Rover my father transferred to working on car development, starting with what was known within the company as P4. The first example of this range was the Rover 75 with its distinctive head light in the centre of the radiator grill. 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 a 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!

Another idea that was ahead of its time was a system for controlling 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 operated 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. The system, 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 but was applied to '1275 WD' which I think was a P5 allocated to Rover director 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.

Camouflaged Rover SD1 on the Stelvio Pass

Camouflaged Rover SD1on the Stelvio Pass

Over the years my father became more and more concerned with vehicle braking systems, eventually becoming the company's brake specialist and chairman of the SMMT Brake Committee. 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.


Rare Rovers - P7
James Shaw's Vehicles
James Shaw III
Lode Lane To Lake Marathon
Growing Up With Rover