of the company name New Era has already been referred to on the ‘Before Minis’
page. Namely that in the late 1950s,
Ken Nightingale started a small automotive business at 1A Caroline Street in
central Birmingham. It was a small garage which acted as agents for
Alexander Conversions Ltd, a company that manufactured ‘go faster’ conversions
for the BMC cars of the time. Initially the
business was called Ecurie Rossignol Ltd
(Team/Stable Nightingale in French), but this was not a popular name with
customers! Later it was changed to New Era Ltd, the Era being an
abbreviation for Ecurie Rossignol Accessories.
It had to be New Era because
the company English Racing Automobiles had long since registered ERA as a
name. Initial work on New Era Minis took
place at Burt Brothers, a traditional Birmingham
engineering company where Ken Nightingale was managing director until it closed. The picture above shows the first and third New Era Minis outside the Burt Brothers premises. Later work on the cars moved to the Caroline Street
The New Era building in Caroline Street had a ‘modern’ brick front, but it was, in fact, a Nissen hut,
albeit quite well fitted out with a small showroom for Alexander Conversions
products, a garage area including a post lift, a stores and a toilet. The photograph to the right includes a doodle by
Ken Nightingale to indicate how the second New Era Mini could have been styled, but it also
shows the door to the garage and stairs leading to New Era’s adjoining
office. The garage business did not
flourish, the mechanic and assistant left, and the business changed to that of
manufacturing car accessories designed by Ken Nightingale. Some were specifically Mini accessories, such
as the seat adjustors, steering column rake adjusters, pedal extenders and dashboard
conversions. However, the ones that
sold in reasonable quantities were the more generally applicable anti-theft
devices for cars, lorries and trailers.
They were covered by patents, the most significant being the
‘Safelock’ steering wheel lock for which the patent has long expired, but it is
still manufactured in different forms today by several companies. At the height of ‘Safelock’ production, New
Era had 4 part-time engineering workers at Caroline Street plus an assembly line of 8 patients in the occupational therapy department of a nearby mental
hospital. New Era was not exactly one
of the engineering giants of the time!
The New Era gear lever lock was adopted by the Roots car company as
standard fitment to some export models while Halfords sold the ‘Safelock’ in
significant quantities for a period of time.
New Era was eventually sold to
another company in about 1974, but by that time production of the products had
dwindled to very low numbers.