We’re used to Jaguar Land Rover revisiting its long and storied past, particularly with the new Classic division producing heritage editions of vehicles, such as the lightweight Jaguar E-type and XKSS.
The factory on Chester Road in east Birmingham was built in 1938 to assist with the build of the Spitfire fighter plane - taking the pressure off the facility in Southampton - as well as components for Lancaster bombers.
At its peak it was churning out 320 Spitfires per month, so unsurprisingly it became a target for Luftwaffe bombing raids. The area was hit by more than 200 bombs during the war, which in total killed 11 workers and injured 55, making the reason for an on-site hospital and the aforementioned morgue starkly and tragically clear.
Spitfire production ended in November 1945, and the Castle Bromwich became a car body factory, owned by Fisher and Ludlow, then British Leyland, and now by JLR. Some of the site has been significantly altered as JLR has modernised its production machinery and methods, but other areas are listed and must be maintained in period.
For years the morgue was used as a store room by JLR’s data department, housing old computers and other IT equipment. Now, though, it has been cleared out and is due to become part of the Castle Bromwich’s Classic Tour, during which enthusiasts get to see the factory and drive some fruity old Jags.
On Monday we were on site to collect Autocar’s new Jaguar XF long-term test car (more on which in the coming weeks) and got a peek inside the morgue courtesy of tour guides Matt and Tom.
As you walk through the double doors into a gloomy, sloped walkway, the first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s not unpleasant, just that distinctive musty smell of the past that pervades places that haven’t been subjected to a stiff breeze or daylight for a few decades.