When Warboys goes to war

WHERE does the army go when it needs to change its vehicle camouflage from green to sand or back again? Warboys, of course.

The MOD brings the paint and the armed guards. Gladwins do the work in great secrecy – as they did for both Gulf wars – on a site at which the company has been repairing vehicles for all but 50 years.

The firm was founded by Derek Gladwin, who still lives in Chatteris, in 1961. He sold it to the Death family (it’s pronounced Deeth) in 1988.

The Warboys bodyshop is now one of seven across East Anglia, though most are in Cambridgeshire. Over the years it has repaired anything from bubble-cars to potato-harvesters and combines.

One of its hidden gems, according to director Nigel Death, is the commercial facility in the Fenland village, where the huge jig can stretch a seriously bent HGV back into shape. Staff who operate it have been trained in the US and Sweden.

And because it can sort out damaged 4x4 vehicles, with separate rigid chassis, Gladwins is often asked to finish jobs that have defeated other body repairers.

The company, which recently moved its headquarters from Warboys to a strategically-located factory unit close to the A1 at Peterborough and which now employs nearly 200 people, is approaching two significant milestones.

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Even discounting Colonel Blimp and Major Major, the company will welcome look after its millionth customer at some point in the next few weeks, probably before Easter, Mr Death believes.

“It depends on the weather. Obviously, we get more work when it’s icy,” he said.

Then, more predictably, in the summer will come the actual 50 anniversary of the firm’s start-up on the former World War II airfield on the outskirts of Warboys.

What seems to have changed most over that half century is the noise. Gladwins’ latest acquisition is the former Vindis bodyshop at Swavesey, opened in 1999 and acquired by Gladwins last year. It is a state-of-the-art facility, that includes a special, separate unit for repairing aluminium panels, but it is almost eerily quiet.

Instead of an array of muscled panel-beaters with a rage of rubber-nosed hammers bashing bits of metal, much of the work is done by rather unimpressive and not very large machines that pull panels back more or less into shape before the craftsmen finish the job by hand.

“We are repairing panels now that we could never have done years ago,” explained operations director Paul Ostojic. “That retains the integrity of the panel whenever we can, and it also drives down costs.”

He also debunks the myth that repairers increase their estimates for insurance repairs. “If anything, it’s the other way round. Insurance companies keep very tight control. The reason we ask the question [if it’s not obvious anyway] is simply so that we know what to expect from the paperwork.”

So why are we having to pay so much more to insure our cars? “It’s not repair costs: it’s personal injury claims and fraud,” said Mr Death.