Never having been inside a car factory before, I took up an offer from BMW to visit the Mini plant in Oxford yesterday. It’s one of the UK motor industry’s biggest success stories, knocking out 800 of the hatchback, Clubman and cabriolets every day – 260,000 for the year.
Yet despite the unrelenting pace of production, what really amazed me was the lengths taken to get each car perfect. This is best summed up in the paintshop.
To get the best finish, a car’s shell must be completely spotless before it gets painted. And to ensure this is the case, every Mini gets dusted down by an amazing machine that strokes it all over with female ostrich feathers.
That’s right, female ostrich feathers. The feathers from male ostriches are no good – they’re not soft enough.
The machine responsible for doing this looks like a bizarre carwash, but with feathers in place of the usual sponges. BMW claims it gets six months’ use out of these avian-based dusters – that’s working six days a week – before they get replaced by another set.
I was very lucky to see this brilliant example of car making at its weirdest. Visitors are rarely taken around the paintshop because of the dust they bring in; and this despite the glass barrier between you and the cars.
So next time you see a Mini, spare a thought for the ostrich that sacrificed its feathers to the cause of making its paint finish as smooth and even as possible.