July 2017

 The story of K-Gate continued ...

The restored K-Gate signs on display in the British Motoring Treasures Exhibition

I am Cath Mayo, the Archive Conservator and you may remember, back in March, I wrote about the famous Longbridge 'K's that stood at the main gate of the factory for many years until the collapse of MG Rover in 2005. The 'K's were rescued by the Trust prior to the demolition of this part of the factory. They have been stored in the state that they arrived ever since, until the opportunity arose at the beginning of this year to restore them for display. Well, it's been a very busy few months and now the 'K's are looking fantastic and are part of our new British Motoring Treasures Exhibition in the Museum. Here is the story of their journey from delapidated wrecks, to glorious signs once more.

The 'K's had seen many years of exposure to the elements and in latter years had undergone very little maintenance. So it is not surprising that it took weeks of hard work to restore them to their former glory. The old paint was stripped, rust brushed away, bare aluminium exposed, old fittings removed and the 'K's polished. Here’s a reminder of what they looked like when they arrived in the Conservation Studio …

At first I just surface cleaned them, but on doing this, I realised that more interevention was going to be needed in order to make them ready for the Exhibition. I started to remove all traces of old paint, but saved some samples so that we would be able to match the correct colour when it came to repainting. Although the gates were white by 2005, a bit of research turned up some pictures showing them painted a lovely bright blue. One of our volunteers, John Baker, is a member of the Austin Ex-apprentices Association, and after making some enquiries with his contacts he came back to us with the news that all the Longbridge entrance gates had been painted this colour during the 1980s and that its name was 'British Leyland Progressive Blue'.

After taking the boxes back to the bare aluminium, I was ready to prime them ready for painting. We managed to find a company in Leamington who were able to scan the sample I had taken and create a perfect match for us. I masked up the 'K's with plastic and tape to make sure they stayed red, and then took the bases over to the workshops to spray on the progressive blue paint that we had managed to get. It took several coats and I did have to order more paint, but the results were very much worth it.

In the meantime, we had to think about the 'IN' and 'OUT' signs. These caused a bit of a problem, as we had two 'OUT' signs and only one 'IN' sign that had been damaged at some point before reaching us. Even the undamaged 'OUT' signs had deteriorated from UV ray damage. We really wanted to have the signs in place as the plan was to illuminate them and make them look like they had in the factory's heyday. Our Exhibition was being built under the direction of Chris Bond of CDI UK and he was able to find someone who could make us perfect replicas. This meant that we could keep the originals undamaged in the archive and use the replicas for display. We were also missing an aluminium frame, so one was fabricated for us. The original electrical light fittings were removed as they were completely perished and would not have been safe to use. As with the original plastic signs, these were boxed and stored in the archive.

Once all of the new parts were back and the boxes painted, we were able to reassemble the signs. To complete the look, the Exhibition fabricators constructed two wooden columns, decorated to look like the original metal ones at the factory. The 'K' boxes were placed over the top of the columns, which had been fitted with LED lighting and then screwed into place using the original holes in the frames.

The finished Ks now stand proudly on the mezzanine floor in the museum. The Exhibition opened in May this year and is a year-long fixture. Come along and see them - I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I have working on them.

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