Man Works 50 Years at Bentley, Still Uses a Fork to Build Cars

Noel Thompson has worked as a craftsperson for Bentley Motors for 50 years. But despite all that time with the company, he still uses a dining fork as one of the most important tools in his kit. A fork that's made perfectly hand (and fork) crafted steering wheels for billionaires and royalty.

Thompson began his career with Bentley in 1969, when he was just 16 years old. He was one of 60 apprentices to start that September 1st and he spent 12 months in training. He rotated around the company with extensive time in engineering, but eventually ended up specializing in coach-trimming.

"When I first started, the factory was a bit old-fashioned," he said in a press release. "We used to push cars around by hand on cradles in the production line. The floors were still bare concrete and the air raid shelters from the 1940s were still in place and being used for storage. We were only producing around 1800 units per year and with a very limited range."

For the first 22 years, Thompson worked at the Crewe factory with his father. Though the senior Thompson worked in the paint shop, not the interior trimming part of the factory. A true family affair, his grandmother worked at the factory during the war.

Noel Thompson has long met with tourists in the plant to show off Bentley's skills. Visitors include buyers, potential buyers, and others getting to see the place where Bentleys are still largely hand-built. That's lead to his travelling the world for the company, representing Bentley at motor shows and showing off the art of coach trimming. Thompson said that the highlight has been four days in Buckingham Palace, where he met the Queen along with other members of the Royal Family.

The Bentley factory has changed over the years, especially since joining the Volkswagen Group in 1998, Thompson says. "The factory is now bright and modern with an automated track and shows little resemblance to the old days. Virtually every aspect of the business has changed for the better."

But one thing that hasn't changed: Noel's fork. He uses a dining fork to ensure that each unique steering wheel he trims has stitches that are evenly spaced. Though we'll presume that it's a sterling silver hand-forged fork, not some cheap thing from Pound Land. He's forked a lot of steering wheels, too. Thompson says that he has sewn more steering wheels than anyone else at the automaker. "If it works, it works. So why wrap steering wheels any other way?"


Stick a fork in it 9/9/2019 3:50:29 PM