My job was to assist two operators, Jake Ainsworth and Adrian Lowe, to load a bonnet inner and outer into a welding rig, where they would be combined for ever by a series of blue flashes, then to fit the united structure with its distinctive hinges.
After that, we’d unite the finished assembly with its correct Defender body, which just happened to be crawling past on a moving base called a skid.
The Defender production line isn’t Jaguar Land Rover’s most modern – in fact, the whole place is earmarked for modernisation after December – but it’s still an impressive process. No dirt floor here.
There are several robotised operations (constructing the complex scuttle panel is one), and everyone who lays hands on a customer car gets thoroughly assessed for aptitude and dexterity before being accepted for training. Every assembly operation is laid out in detail. There are even diagrams, a bit like dancing instructions, that show exactly where and when you move.
Because I was to be protected by the experience of Jake and Adrian, I was able to circumvent all that, but there was no avoiding the wearing of steel-capped boots and a high-vis vest. My heart was beating hard when the time came to lift a bonnet inner from a rack of pressings and place it in the welding jig.
There’s a knack to picking up big pieces of steel (you need thick gloves to prevent cuts, but they dull your touch), and I didn’t have it. It was also instructive to see the speed at which you have to work and how little time you get to settle the parts into place and start the welding process.
Still, with coaching, not least from plant boss Phil Cox, I managed to bed the parts in place, press a button to lower the spark-protective door and begin the welding process. That was quick. Within a minute, it was time to lift the new assembly onto a bench and fumble the two hinges into position (starting the threads by hand and then tightening them with a torque-limited power wrench). Then it was done. Three minutes’ hard work.
My impression? That process work is tough and there’s no time to spare; there was certainly none allocated to standing and admiring my handiwork. Jake and Adrian were already halfway through building bonnet number two million and one, I noticed, attacking it with exactly the same speed and skill as the one that created all the fuss.
Crossing the Atlantic in a Land Rover Defender
The most extreme Defenders ever made
Our Land Rover Defender memories