Career Development

Frank Massey: Making a model technician

Frank Massey, Founder, ADS Automotive | 22 Jul 2019

Frank Massey: Making a model technician

Frank Massey, Founder, ADS Automotive | 22 Jul 2019

In this article:

In the first of a four part series, the country's preeminent diagnostician Frank Massey FIMI, looks at his own career to draw lessons for future generations

Three words sum up the most important qualities you need as a vehicle technician: passion, dedication, determination. Technology may change, but these qualities endure and are as important today as they were 50 years ago when I started out.

My story actually begins long before June 1968, the date I formally began my automotive career. It starts when I was a young lad living with my uncle and helping to build guider trucks: basically a wooden plank with a crossbeam at the front pivoting on a coach bolt – and fitted with the biggest pram wheels you could find!

These trucks had no brakes and were very fast given they had a low mass and low drag coefficient - and unfortunately didn't come with the advantages of the Ackermann steering principles! You see my skills in engineering were already forming, I just didn't realise it at the time!

On your bike

The next stage was ushered in by a boyhood interest in electronics. It fascinated me, to the point where I began building radios. It was my intention to have a career in electronics – and given what we know has happened to the motor vehicle, I ended up having one, just not quite in the manner l envisaged as a boy!

Another passion of mine that developed as a boy was cycling. That nurtured a further quality essential to being a good technician: endurance. I built my first bike at the age of 15; it's from my competitive cycling that my determination originates.

I left school at 15 with no job and no qualifications. My tutor, in spite of me gaining good exam results in the fourth year, thought me best suited to a manual career. I must confess to often thinking how an engineering degree would have affected my path, and am still annoyed by school career advisors who routinely direct low achievers into the automotive environment. This sector should not be seen as a dumping ground.

Fortunately for me a round peg landed in a round hole and I was offered an apprenticeship in the engine reconditioning industry. Despite being unfamiliar with the sector I took to it like a duck to water; I took great satisfaction from everything about the turning of a dirty worn engine into a fully rebuilt, serviceable unit.

From this humble beginning I developed several skills, dexterity being foremost among them. It was also an invaluable technical education. I was able to strip and assess the condition of engine parts and their fitness for reuse, and also identify by sight different thread types, not just by pitch and diameter but classification and torque settings - a skill set I treasure to this day.

Skilled up

I gained my next set of skills in remanufacturing and the precision machining of critical high stressed components. Cylinder boring, crankshaft grinding, valve and seat remanufacture – all requiring another critical asset: the ability to measure components to a tenth or thousandth of an inch! Metrication came in 1974. Does your toolbox have a precision drawer, micrometers and verniers?

My employer eventually made me a director of the company. His interest in vintage cars granted me opportunities in age-old engineering techniques. No measuring here, you had to feel the fit and the drag.

During this phase of my career I started dabbling in the world of motorsport, developing and racing a Mk1 Lotus Cortina and a Mk1 Spaceframe Escort. There were no bolt-on solutions then, you had to develop performance and chassis dynamics from scratch!

Next Monday, in the second part in the series, Massey explains his time building military aircraft and setting up his first business as a specialist in vehicle tuning – the beginning of the diagnostics era.

Richard Ellacott

+44 (0) 20 3771 7242

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