The way I work:
Stewart Bramham

A self-confessed petrolhead and a serial tinkerer, the engineer, took a foot off the career ladder to focus on a dream project – the Jaguar E-Type Concept Zero

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My official job title is classic electrification principal engineer and I’m part of the larger classic engineering team here at Jaguar Land Rover.

I have always been a serial tinkerer and have classic cars and motorbikes at home

Essentially I’m focused on the technical delivery of the electrification of our classic vehicles, but as we’re such a small team I’m actually involved in all aspects of projects – where we give vintage vehicles a full, factory restoration and convert them to run with zero-emission powertrain technology – right from concept development. There is probably around 40 staff in the wider classic engineering department and within the electrification team just five. We’re based in Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry.

I’ve been in this current role for about two years now but with Jaguar Land Rover for 20. I worked for a small company for three years before starting here as an apprentice, back when we were the Rover Group, and have since worked up through various departments from the manufacturing side, into product development and on into engineering teams. JLR does give people huge amounts of opportunity and right from being an apprentice I’ve been really well looked after in terms of training. They’ve put me through a mechanical engineering degree, something I did on a day-release basis, which has given me such a great grounding for my current role.

To be an engineer in our team you need to be good at problem solving – that’s basically what engineering is – and the core of that is understanding the problem as well as the context. There is a lot of listening involved, hearing other opinions and points of view and not prejudging things. And you’ve got to be a pragmatist and be prepared to try things even if initially they may not seem the best route to take. Being decisive once you’ve analysed the information at your disposal is important too, as is attention to detail, whilst keeping an eye on the big picture and not getting bogged down by the minutiae.

With such a small team I get my fingernails dirty too which, to be honest, was one of the key motivations to taking this role. I had found I was climbing the career ladder but that was taking me further and further away from the actual, physical vehicles and I missed that. This seems like a great balance between office-based business, technical challenges and actually being closely involved with the nuts and bolts.

Much of my time is spent on our current big project, the Jaguar E-Type Concept Zero, and there is a general pattern to each day. I tend to arrive around seven in the morning, getting stuck straight into emails and planning. Then I have a walk around our facility and see what’s happening on the shop floor, catching the other guys as they come in because we have quite a flexible working policy in terms of start times.

It’s nice to have a catch-up with everyone if I can, find out what they are up to and any concerns or ideas they may have. Then it’s on to meetings. Some of these are with suppliers and take place either here or I go out to see them, others with colleagues from JLR. There are probably two or three one to two-hour meetings during a day, bit of lunch thrown in there along the way and the day usually tops off with rounding up, where I get back in front of the computer, deal with emails that have come in and have a bit of a tidy up. I’m usually away just before six most days.

The idea for the E-Type Concept Zero came around the beginning of 2016. The thought of taking a classic British sports car, a real cultural icon, and replacing the petrol engine with an electric one all seemed a bit out there at first but the further we went down the path the more obvious it was that this was a great thing to do, especially with the ever more positive attitudes toward electric vehicles. Some of our internal team were quite sceptical but I think we’ve gradually turned them around. As a ball-park figure we’re looking at £300,000 for a full conversion, but for that the customer is driving away in a “new-old” car with an electric engine, if that makes sense. Their car will be completely renovated, a back to the metal process, full nut and bolt restoration. It’s incredibly difficult to pin down the number of man-hours involved with each conversion as no two are the same, but we’re definitely talking hundreds, running into thousands.

Damaging the legacy of the E-Type was always a concern of ours, but one of the key guiding principles of this conversion is that you can return the vehicle to original: we’ve made sure we don’t compromise the integrity of the base car, which was always important to us. But another thing we’ve considered is that although looking back 50 years at an original E-Type they appear quite quaint, at the time they were on the cutting edge and innovative, so us bringing that technology up to date is absolutely appropriate if it’s done in the correct way. I’ve not had any vitriol from fans of the original E-Type but I did go into this project knowing it’s not for everybody.

The best thing about the job right now is simply working with the E-Type – it’s the automotive equivalent of something like the Spitfire, a real British icon, and to me that’s fantastic. Not many people get the chance to do this and it’s such a cool thing, something that will never really be forgotten. And professionally I see myself as quite settled in classic electrification. There’s so much passion in this field and so many Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles to go at: I have plenty of work still to do here. The only negative is the long days but when you’ve got the bit between your teeth and you’re really cracking on that’s fine. And there is a lot of pressure on you in this job, especially on the E-Type project, as it’s always going to be so critically viewed.

What does the term petrolhead mean to me? It’s a positive thing that basically means a car and motorbike enthusiast, a term that sums up someone who appreciates and cherishes four and two-wheeled vehicles. I’ve always been a serial tinkerer and have classic cars and motorbikes at home, and while I don’t think it’s mandatory to be a massive fan of cars to work in my particular field of engineering, I can’t think of anyone I work with who isn’t. It does go with the territory, to some degree – that appreciation of what makes classic cars special and the way other people feel about them. People I work with are certainly of a similar mind-set to me.

Personally I think the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered, to be honest, and it’s quite a sad thought. We’re not there yet and we’re not as close as some people believe but there will come a time when petrol engine cars are no more. The closest analogy I’ve heard is how horses were once used everywhere. In effect they were the internal combustion engines of their time, but nowadays they’re used purely for leisure and enjoyment and sport. I can imagine petrol engine vehicles one day filling a similar role.

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    31 Dec 2018 21:01
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