JE White Motors

Tel: 01279 730274

In 2009, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary. John White, the owner of the business wrote an article for the Hatfield Heath village magazine about his education and early experiences in the motor trade which lead him on to taking over the family taxi business and transforming it in to a car repair service and becoming involved in motor sport.

Below is the article that John wrote for the June 2009 edition of the village magazine:-

J. E. WHITE (MOTORS) 1959-2009


How did it all start? My father ran a taxi/car hire business from 1946, so I always had an interest in cars. I went to Epping Secondary Modern School in 1948; in those days it was a two year course and one day a week you went out on work experience. I chose to go to Epping Service Station. When I left school I went to work for them as an apprentice, which meant I would go to college one day and one evening a week to study for my City and Guilds in motor vehicle engineering at Chelmsford. After this three year course, I moved on to study the motor vehicle technicians course at Colchester and then did another two years on a specialised technical course, after which I felt that seven years was enough at college!

During this time I stayed at Epping Service Station up until 1959. The company was sold to FG Smith (Motors) of Seven Kings, Ilford during this period and for my last two years there, I was foreman/workshop manager. When the overall manager was on holiday, a customer came in with a Standard Vanguard with an engine problem. I instructed one of the mechanics to rebuild it. The customer went away happy with a car that was running well and with a bill for less than half the price of a new engine. When the manager returned from holiday, I was called into his office and given a right roasting and told that in future we must always fit new or reconditioned units and no more rebuilds. This is an early example of big brother for you.

I had been trained as an engineer, not a parts fitter, and so a few weeks later I handed in my notice. A few days before I left Mr Smith, who was the owner of the company, came to Epping. I was called into the office and asked if I would reconsider leaving the company and was also offered the job of manager at the Goodmayes depot. I declined his offer, stating that I was going to start my own business. He wished me luck and said that he was sorry to lose me. I was in a way sorry to go as most of the guys in the garage were there when I started and we worked well together. Although it could be a bit embarrassing having to tell men twice my age what to do, especially as they had known me since I was a lad at school!

Whilst I had been helping Dad evenings and weekends with the taxis during my time at Epping, and of course maintaining them, I had started servicing some of our customers own cars, so when I left Epping in 1959 to start JE White Motors I already had a customer base. It worked well in the early day’s taxi driving and working in the garage. What I really enjoyed was working on our Humber Snipes and Super Snipes. I got to know a local funeral director who ran Rolls Royce Limousines and this led to me looking after them for him. I remember rebuilding the engines on two of his Phantom 1s and a 20/25, they were engineering at its best; the old saying, in those days, that all you can hear is the clock ticking was right.

In 1960 I got married to Diana, who I’d met at college. She was studying a child care course and I believe the attraction was that I was the only student with a car! We went to live in Coggeshall and I commuted to Hatfield Heath every day to run the business. We moved back to the Heath to live, with the family, in 1995.

It was during the early sixties that I got involved with Witham and District Motor Club and started to compete in Rallies, Autocrosses etc which brought another side to the business, preparing competition cars in one shape or form, which we still do to this day.

When Dad retired, I closed down the taxi side and put all my efforts into the car repairs. Things were so different in those days; you could and did repair parts, rebuild engines, gearboxes and back axles and you could get the parts to repair them. Nowadays, with labour charges so high, you cannot afford to rebuild a lot of units, or get the parts for them, you have to fit new or reconditioned units. Going back over the years I can remember building a 1600 Ford engine for a club member to do the Circuit of Ireland Rally and rebuilding the 1600 engine in Peter Arundells Ford Anglia Estate; Peter drove in F1 and F2 and was Jim Clarks team mate. Peter ran a motor factors in Stansted. I built a works specification Dolomite Sprint rally car for a customer; that really was some car. Eventually I bought it back from the owner and used it myself. We did a ‘nut and bolt' restoration on an Aston Martin DB4 which was a really interesting project and more recently, we got a Rolls Royce Phantom 1 Tourer back on the road after 40 years.

All the cars I used for competition were sponsored by JE White Motors. I started with various Triumphs, mainly TRs, until 1965 when my association with Minis started and still carries on to this day. I still have the Cooper 'S' that I rallied, autocrossed and sprinted from 1969 for some 18 years. We were known as the Mini Preparation Specialists, anything from a total engine or gearbox rebuild to a normal service. We built one of the most powerful true Mini engines ever, putting out 160BHP, fitted in a Mini and then in a Metro; it won many championships in Rallycross. I then moved to a TR7 in Rallycross with a 16V engine, eventually exchanging that for a V8 I'd built.

One of our customers, Mark Poole, had a 970 Mini which he decided to change for a TR7 and we carried out the work on that car. Mark actually worked for us for a few years doing body repairs. Even now if you go in the workshop you will see a Legend race car being rebuilt, a Lotus Elise awaiting a rebuild to a Sprint car and a Citroen AX Rallycross, Autocross and Sprint car.

Over the years we have had several local people working here; Michael Garraway, who we always called the grease monkey, give him a clean job and he would always get dirty! Steve French came to work here straight from school; he always blames me for getting him involved in motorsport. Tim Whybrow was here for several years, Bill Skinner and Don Apps who was an absolute perfectionist with bodywork. Dave Ward, who works for me now, also blames me for getting him involved in motorsport! Dave my son in law is married to my eldest daughter Nicola who has also competed in motorsport. Dave came from Dons Coaches in Dunmow and has now been with us 25 years. He builds his own race cars and has been Autocross and Rallycross Champion over the years. The latest recruit to motorsport is my granddaughter Melanie, making it three generations. Finally, I mustn't forget my youngest daughter Sarah who works in the office. She started working for me on Saturdays and during school holidays from about the age of 11. After studying a two year motor vehicle engineering course at Colchester, a brief spell working at Mann Egertons and having her daughter Melanie, Sarah came to work permanently here in 1988.

Reading the above you would think that we only do competition cars, but in fact most of our business is the average road going car. We service and repair all makes of cars, check them for MOT, and in many cases take them for MOT. You could come in the workshop and there may be a 4 wheel alignment being set up, tyres being fitted and balanced, an exhaust system being replaced, a cam belt kit being fitted or a car connected to the diagnostics having fault codes read to help diagnose problems.

We constantly have to upgrade tools and equipment to be able to cope with modern cars. We have service routines on computer which covers 99% of cars, not like the old days when you had 1000, 3000, 6000 and 12000 mile services, which shows how much things have changed over the last 50 years.

When I started the business 50 years ago, we didn’t even have a ramp, just a trolley jack, 6 axle stands, socket set, spanners, pliers, hammers, screw drivers, grease gun, 6 universal pullers, a compressor, tyre levers and valve lifters; that was your basic kit. Cars were so much simpler then. Nowadays you have special kits to set the valve timing on 90% of cars and each model has a different kit, special tools to overhaul brakes, special pullers; the list goes on. Years ago a mechanic would have a tool box he could take from job to job; nowadays he probably has 2 or 3 tool cabinets to keep his tools in and has to bring the car to the tools. You also must have a ramp, tyre changer, wheel balancer and tracking tools to name but a few.

This just goes to show how the trade has changed over the last fifty years from when I first started in business.

Over the years we have also done our best to 'help out' in the village where we could, mainly by supporting the local school and pre-school in various ways. Also, with the re-invention of the village festival, we were able to 'bring back to life' the Classic Car Show, which we organise and sponsor. Hopefully this adds extra interest to the festival and encourages more people to attend.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and it's given you some insight into how things have changed over the years; it certainly brought back some memories for me as I was writing it, and I can't think of a nicer place to have spent the last fifty years.

John White.