No pleasure without Payne

Article by Simon Edwards, originally printed in Classic Motor Monthly.

Francis James Payne was an Oxford blacksmith who started a business in 1914 not too far from the premises of another Oxford resident, a Bill Morris, later to become Lord Nuffield. F.J. Payne concentrated firstly on repairing horse drawn coaches and then motor vehicles.

The business progressed as a motor vehicle repairer until the outbreak of the second world war, by which time Francis's son John had completed his engineering apprenticeship at the Oxford company of Allens, associated with Grove Cranes, famous for the Allen twin wheel powered grass scythe. It wasn't all harmony between father and son but young John, building up the business to a complete machining capability and a sound reputation for quality work, was able to influence a change of emphasis towards specialist engine reconditioning in all of its aspects, away from general while repairs.

Post 1945, an urge to further diversify led John Payne and a friend Tony Morgan into the developing world of plastic moulding and the unique design and construction of John's first moulding machine in the mid fifties. With the sale of Payne and Morgan to a large multi-national, FJ Payne, recognised as innovators and market leaders in their field, continued to supply specialist moulding machines to the industry, until a point where standard production moulding machines became dominant.

A request, to John Payne, by a local hospital for lifting gear capable of dealing with a very large patient resulted in a typical John Payne reaction and led to John setting up a separate company which successfully developed, manufactured and marketed a complete range of medical lifting equipment.

With the passage of time, John Charles Payne has retired divesting himself of his many business interests, including the sale of the automotive related business at Eynsham, F.J. Payne and Son to his son Tim Payne. The Payne engineering lineage has been maintained based on Tim's formative years as an engineering craft apprentice at the Royal Military College of Science, at Shrivenham, the extensive facilities of which afford the student a very comprehensive practical training and experience. Between Shrivenham and his acquisition of F.J. Payne, Tim developed a business specialising in the application and the retro-fitting of Laycock de Normanville overdrives to Rolls Royce, W.O. Bentley and Derby Bentley cars …. and other classic cars.

When I met Tim recently he said: "We currently fit our proven de Normanville adaptation on the old vintage and classic chassis, long propshaft cars, but we have added to the Overdrive Designs Ltd (a Tim Payne company) range by developing our own unit for the modem coil sprung Land Rover, certain Range Rovers and Discovery models mated to the LR/RR five speed gearbox.

Tim continued: "Although we do service work for local garages, as every day work, on modem engines and I bless the man who decided to introduce cam belts on modem engines. We have the knowledge, skills and the equipment to completely re-work the oldest of engines. With a workforce of 25 including many experienced engineers and machinists, we have people – now over sixty that served an apprenticeship with the company."

I asked Tim about the very comprehensive reconditioning capability of FJ. Payne and the oldest engine that the company had worked on. Tim described the engine of a 1903 De Dion Bouton 'which wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding'. The inlet valve seat was barely in contact, a thin line around a seat that was 'all pitted and nasty'. "With the valve seat replaced and the valve cleaned up we turned our attention to the bl**dy great single piston which was running in a bore that had upwards of 30° of taper. It was amazing that the engine had run at all! We rebored it, fitted an aluminium piston – ex Volvo making a stepped gudgeon pin to suit." The sum total was a smoother running veteran engine with a new lease of life and a satisfied customer.

This level of expertise is applied to damaged modern engines via vintage power units and the recognised classics… Jaguars, Aston Martins, Mercedes MG, etc., etc.. Head work includes thorough and searching cleaning techniques, head pressure testing, valve seat refacing, reprofiling of rockers, head planing and facing, new guides or K line bronze sleeve replacing the existing ones.

"We put valve seat inserts into aluminium heads as well as cast iron heads and engine blocks where they are side valve." F.J. Payne use a valve seat insert "of the very hardest insert material, harder than the devil's toenails", quotes Tim Payne. The four valve per cylinder, inclined valves, 41/2 litre W.O. Bentleys with their head and block in one have been receiving this F.J. Payne treatment for a number of decades. Irrespective of our latter day and impending leaded fuel problems F.J. Payne have used these high quality valve seats throughout. "In essence, we've been doing unleaded conversions for years". Naturally, every facet of line boring is within the Payne scope of capability.

Two crankshaft grinding machines of differing types allow the company to deal with cranks from the smallest of rotavators up to 'meaty' cranks – heavy commercial cranks 8 ft long. A worn out crank, costly in the case of some of the larger or rarer engines, can be recovered by welding up the journals on a rotary welding machine and regrinding.

Typical of the Eynsham company's work is the genuine compliment paid by the workshop manager of Cosworths whilst examining the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost crank, reworked by FJ Payne, on display at a Rolls Royce Enthusiasts event.

The white metalling bench is an original heirloom – the coveted equipment of a time served in-house specialist on white metalling, line boring and 'in-situ on-site' boring (a special 'out of house' service). "We do Austin Sevens, Alvis, Bentleys, Rovers, Phantom 3 V12 – the Phantom you've seen in the shop at the moment is typical – most anything that needs standard approach re metalling or specialist attention component recovery."

General engineering includes all of those component recovery and feasible 'make do and mend' items where the item is a one-off or a rarity. All the permutations of the 'broken stud removal' syndrome are handled by a Payne specialist. Boring and sleeving bearing housings features on the list of every day work.

The Eynsham facility provides this extensive range of services to competition and prototype engine builders. To this is added the capability of 'fusing' a variety of metals and materials, and a total welding and fabricating facility. Having built moulding machines for some years the company has constructed three machines of differing capacities for special component manufacture – including items as diverse as speedometer gears and rubber bushes. Clubs looking for a supply of specific re-manufactured items mind find this service particularly useful.

Now moving towards its ninth decade of existence FJ Payne are well placed to service the needs of automotive and general engineering, whether retrospective in terms of veteran, vintage and classic or as partners in new project work. Certainly the developing picture of the automobile transmission work currently being carried out by FJ Payne bears further attention.

This article by Simon Edwards, originally printed in Classic Motor Monthly