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541 FML 541 185206 Bill Woodhouse

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by felixkk » Sat Jun 02, 2018 6:12 pm

I met a very nice gentleman and his wife at the Fantastic Plastic meet today in Lucerne with a Tornado. It turned out that the gentleman was Bill Woodhouse, and he himself had designed the Tornado and that it was his company. His wife mentioned to me that they used to have a 541 with a Jaguar D-Type engine, which they had bought or had originated from the Goowood estate with a personalized license plate FML 541. Based on a quick google, the owner may have been Frederick Gordon-Lennox, Duke of Richmond. The Jaguar engine had been in the car when they bought it.

According to Bill he bought the car in 1967 or '68 and they owned the car according to him for 17 years, and according to his wife for 10 years. They then sold the car to Germany. The 541 was very quick he said, doing 140mph. He took it to a garage to have the C-type heads replaced (which I think he himself had replaced from the original D-type heads) with B-Type heads, where one of the meachanics took the car out for a drive (not officially, I think), without fastening the bonnet properly. The bonnet crashed on the roof and caused severe damage. The car was then repainted from Moss green (in the Chassis book it is listed as Tartan green) with black roof to white with a vinyl roof. He also had the two front seats retrimmed, in red as original. In one year, when he was setting up various branches all accross the UK of his business he mentioned that he did 120'000 miles with the car. He then sold the car back to the agent or person he had bought it from (he may have traded an Aston Martin in for the 541 originally), and the car apparently went to Germany.

Originally he had begun working with Fiberglass while serving in the army during WWII. The Americans had all the patents for the Fiberglass (possibly many were held by Corvette/Chevrolet) and the UK was not thrilled with paying the US a lot of money, so they were trying to develop new formulas. He was involved with something to do with radars. After the war he was recruited by ICI, where he continued to work with fiberglass. He was then approached by someone from Microplas, which eventually led to him creating his own body.

I asked him if he had any contact with Jensen and he mentioned that he had gone to the factory in '64 or so, to buy parts (drum brakes?) from the 541 stock they were selling. Bill mentioned that Jensen did many prototypes for other car companies. The reason being that the people working for Jensen had no idea for who they would be doing the body and it could be kept from leaking to the public.

Bill then apparently went on to work for Aston Martin, where he was service manager and was resposible for the car in Goldfinger.

Bill gave me his mail adress as I told him I'd like to pass it on to the 541 registrars and to Richard, and he is very happy to answer any questions.
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by felixkk » Sat Jun 02, 2018 6:30 pm

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by Keith » Sat Jun 02, 2018 8:28 pm

felixkk wrote:He took it to a garage to have the C-type heads replaced (which I think he himself had replaced from the original D-type heads) with B-Type heads,


An awful lot of heads! Is this a vee-engine?
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by felixkk » Sat Jun 02, 2018 8:38 pm

Yes and I don‘t know. B type were cheaper than C type… ? The transmission was also mentioned. Much information and it was not always easy for me to understand everything.
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by Grant » Sat Jun 02, 2018 8:52 pm

Very interesting that info Felix and I guess a pleasure to meet and talk with Bill... Microplas was based about 15miles from us here,.. in Mitcham, they also (amoungst other things I guess) made some boats, 1 being the tinyest little thing.. here's one of the little gooses here >>>
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by felixkk » Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:04 pm

Cool boat. There was another owner of a Tornado there who I guess must be local to you, because he said he lived (or grew up?) near Microplas. He had his car done at a shop specializing in Jensens, based in Leamington Spa run by a man named Graham. But they closed down.
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by felixkk » Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:13 pm

And this is the Microplas that was there, 1 of 4 known to have survived. Total number produced unknown, there was a fire which destroyed the documents. The company later became TVR. Correct? Anyway, I did not find anything about the 541 mentioned here on the forum or elsewhere.
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by Grant » Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:22 pm

felixkk wrote: there was a fire which destroyed the documents. The company later became TVR. Correct?

I wasn't aware of that FelixImage
I do know that Jensen got involved with all sorts of engineering and fiberglass stuff, I met an ex-employee of Jensen experimental.. he said that they even made surf-boards/wind surfing boards at one pointImage
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by Keith » Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:50 pm

felixkk wrote: The company later became TVR. Correct?


Not correct. TVR pre-dated Microplas.

In the same way that Jaguar six-cylinder engines only have one cylinder head.
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by felixkk » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:45 am

I forgot to mention that he was not a member of the JOC and had no contact to the club. I have no idea why the head or heads of this engine were relevant, but he mentioned them several times. I was only listening to the Microplas story of the other owner with half an ear to be honest, which is why I wasn‘t sure.
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by todd » Tue Jun 05, 2018 3:00 am

Fiberglas was developed by Owens-Corning in Newark, Ohio. My grandfather worked there from the 1930"s until the early 60's. Chevrolet sent a clay mock up corvette body to Newark to make the molds. two prototype bodies were made with the new molds. One body remained in Newark and the new molds, the mock up, and one body were shipped back to Chevrolet before production started on the first Corvettes. The prototype body was sold to one of my father's friends many years later where he completed it and later sold it.
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by felixkk » Tue Jun 05, 2018 6:52 am

That's interesting, Todd. Bill I think (or his companion Dave) claimed that Chevrolet thought that fiberglass would be interesting for low production series- low to them being upto 60'000 cars!

I was fascinated to be speaking with a person who had designed a car and was interested to find out what his background was. I was expecting him to be in some automotive field. He talked quite a bit about fiberglass and the related products. Bill mentioned that they developed one product and then built a plant for 1 million to produce it- without knowing how this product could be later used. They were attempting to coat frying pans with it, but that didn't work.

The owner of a Trabant explained to me how they used several layers of Cotton and Resin to build up the skin on their cars. It was then pressed. There was an embargo on sheet metal at that time, the West was worried that it was going to be used for military production.

Back to Tornado. Bill at one point was asked by a Lord or a Duke if his son could work for Tornado, he felt that it would be good for him to get some work experience even though he had quite an allowance. So Bill took him on and he was in charge of parts, which he did quite well. At some point he asked Bill if they would build a Formula Junior race car for him. They developed a chassis, when the father heard of his son's plans he put a stop to it. In any case, that chassis was then the basis for the further Tornado cars.
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by felixkk » Fri Jun 08, 2018 10:54 am

Bill sent a picture of his 541 (which he said was the best car he ever had).
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by Jens » Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:03 pm

I met Bill and his wife a few years ago (2014) at the Revival.

A great and fantastic storyteller.
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by felixkk » Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:19 pm

Have you come across the car in Deutschland?
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