T.E. Killeen (1904-1991)


Tom's early Life

The story of Tom's early life was sent to me by his nephew Peter Hardy. Tom, born in Erdington, Birmingham, was the 6th of seven children born to Arthur Joseph and Annie Agnes Killeen. Peter's mother, Margaret (Peggy) was the 7th, born in 1909. According to Colin Cooper, Tom was 78 in 1982, that means he was born in 1904 or 1905, as confirmed by Peter. Tom's grandfather was born in Ireland. He joined the British Army, where he served for 25 years or so and he retired to Burton on Trent, where Tom's father was born. Annie Killeen was related to Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, the architect who designed St. George's Hall, Liverpool, which some say is the finest neo-classical building in England. One of his other nephews is a professional artist, who has exhibited at the Royal Academy. It is clear that there is a talent for art and design which runs through the family. In fact Tom and his wife Pat were also talented musicians and played in a dance band.

In his younger days, Tom and his brother Jack had been at Mount St. Mary's College, Sheffield around the same time as Rodney Lewis de Burgh Walkerley who went on to be sports editor of Motor in London. Walkerley worked with Laurence Pomeroy in the early 1950s, among other things writing Grand Prix and Le Mans race reports.

RLdBW, according to www.kingkong.demon.co.uk/ngcoba/ngcoba.htm, was born on 2/4/1905. His year of death is not known. This is the Web site for the New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors.


Time at Jensen Motors

I got some of the information below from Colin Cooper, and some from Richard Calver. The latter is a Jensen historian living in Canberra Australia who kindly contacted me in early 2006.

The Jensen Car Company was established by the Jensen brothers in West Bromwich in the English Midlands in the 1930s. As well as producing their own stylish cars, of which the Interceptor (and its Ferguson Formula 4 wheel drive FF variant) are the best known, they carried out a lot of contract work for other companies. Contracts included the complete body for the Austin Healey 3000 and complete assembly of the Sunbeam Tiger sports car for the Rootes company. Deputy Chief Engineer at Jensens, Kevin Beattie, came from Rootes as did his main man, Mike Jones. The Tiger was the big joint project with Rootes.

Tom Killeen was at one time an engineer and possibly became Service Manager at Jensens from soon after the war until about 1966. [This is not confirmed, C. Jackson doubts it.] In May 1965, Jensens recruited an understudy, David Millard, who worked with Tom until Nov'1965 and then became Service Manager when Tom left to do other things.

K9 was, we think, bodied at Jensens, presumably on Tom's say-so. Alan Fraser placed the order with Jensens in Jan'1966, just after Tom resigned (perhaps to work on K9 full time). In May 1969, Tom engaged the Jensen experimental department to carry out some further body work, it is not known for which project.

Richard didn't know when Tom joined Jensens but if he was with them before the war, then he would have had his place held open on his demob. He has seen a list of people who fell into that category but did not think he was on it so that means he might have joined after the war. His earliest trace on him dates from 1947. He was Service Manager at least by 1955.

The following Jensens photo from c.1950 may possibly be of Tom. Does anyone recognise this man?


It is certainly possible that he was with them before the war, though, so that he did not go away and have a place held over. However from the notes below that seems unlikely. Someone once told Richard that Jensens had someone on their staff around the war years who could design an engine, and he doubted this very much, but from what he now read that may have been Tom. He was known to have been a talented draughtsman. Jensens tried to productionize a Meadows straight 8 alloy engine in 1946, something Meadows had never done before and never did afterwards. It is possible that Tom designed it. It is also possible that he designed the front suspension for the 1938 Jensen H-type, an early independent system which as far as Richard knows was of a kind only used in one other car, the Fiat Topolino of 1936. The design of that was probably beyond the abilities of the Jensen brothers who didn't even have a staff draughtsman until 1946.

David Millard, who succeeded Tom Killeen as Service Manager in 1965, wrote the preface for Richard's last book and when he interviewed him he remembered Tom as having been a real character but unfortunately had no substantive recollection (they only worked together for six months).

Two of the secretaries in the 1950s, Pam Crook and Nora Langley, also remembered Tom - they called him TEK, for the TEK reference they would type on his letters. They liked him, thought him a very clever man who was well educated in engineering.

Other people working at Jensens include ex. Rootes employees Kevin Beattie (chief engineer) and Mike Jones (assistant) and Eric Neale (chief design engineer) who were involved in the Sunbeam Tiger project in 1964.

I met Mr. C. Jackson at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting in 2009. He had mentioned Killeen to Les Cszakow (a Ginetta G15 owner), so we got introduced. Mr. Jackson had worked at Jensens for many years and had quite strong opinions about the management but also vivid memories of various cars he had worked on. He said he knew TEK, who was eccentric and very strict - typically dressed in tweed. He was prone to telling drivers at race events if you haven't broken it, you're not trying hard enough. He also asked every visitor who had a car he had not seen before how much does it weigh?. Mr. Jackson joined Jensens in the mid 1960s just before TEK left and was involved in saloon car racing. He said he had driven a TEK car [which one?] but that the suspsension was held on with rivets. He considered this too risky and asked for something better. 2BA bolts were fitted although TEK said they were completely un-necessary.

Other memories of TEK included the fact that he had an office near the main gate, but that his role was not really known at that time [why?]. [???] suggested that he was an independent consultant. He drove a ``Frogeye'' Sprite which had a flat bonnet rather than the characteristic big headlamps. The reason was that his patented pop up mirror headlamps had been fitted giving a cleaner line, see Chapter 7. On other occasions he would turn up on a motorbike with perspex cover. Photographs of this are shown in Chapter 23.

[this was confirmed by ??? 12/3/13]

[URL his blog]

The K-Series Years

Our story of Tom Killeen's specials really begins during WW II. However Tom probably worked for Jensens prior to the Second World War and although knowledge of his exact position with the company seems to have been lost with time, he was known to have been a talented draughtsman. This skill was later to come in very handy indeed. During the 1939-45 conflict, Tom served his country in the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant and one of his main jobs was to oversee the repair of Supermarine Spitfires, for some time in Malta. It apparently never ceased to amaze Tom how the legendary British fighter could be riddled with Nazi bullets and flak and yet still stay in the air. Tom witnessed, first hand, several wheels up landings by Spitfire pilots too, and became an enthusiastic believer in the aircraft's monocoque construction where the outer skin was used as the main load bearing member. Back with Jensens after the war, Tom began to wonder if such a construction philosophy could be applied on the automotive front.

We have a photograph of a letter sent from Tom regarding his cars stating that I attach a snap of the machine which inspired the ``K'' series. It shows an RAF Spitfire with its pilot.

During the ``K1 years'', Tom lived at several addresses around Sutton Coldfield, an affluent suberb with some pretty areas on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Until Sep'1956 - ``Tudor Cottage'', Moor Hall Park, Four Oaks, Warwicks. (not now listed by Royal Mail).

There is now a Best Western Tudor Hotel on Moor Hall Drive off Little Sutton Lane which may be site of the former cottage.

Notably this was only around 3 miles away from where Jack Newton (who commissioned K1) lived at - ``Squirrels'', Talbot Avenue, Streetley, nr. Sutton Coldfield (now B74 3DD)


The next photo is an early press photo Jack (left) and Tom (right) with K1 from 1953.


In a letter of 5/11/54 Tom mentioned that his home phone number was Four Oaks 1286 and his work number was West Bromwich 1112. It was confirmed to me by Richard Calver, Jensen historian living in Autralia, that this was in face the number of Jensen Motors. This confirms that Tom was working at Jensens in late 1954.

From Oct'1956 - 111 Tamworth Road, Sutton Coldfield (now B75 6DZ)

This is a semi-detached house and was the home of one of Tom's sisters where he and his wife Pat lived for a few months while their new home in Hill VIllage Road was being made ready. Tom was also still using the Tudor Cottage address at least until Jan'1957.

From Jan'1957 Tom lived at - ``Mandolin'' 190 Hill Village Road, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, Warwicks. (now B75 5JG)


This was his stated address at the time of the patent deposition with GM Chevrolet. Tom was still there in 1973.

Killeen is mentioned on the following Web sites: http://www.krbaker.demon.co.uk/britcars/k/killeen.html http://members.iinet.net.au/~ricphoto/killeen.html.

The K16 was a registered design and production was by Springbok Engineering of 51-53 Newhall Street, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire. K18 was built by Rycam Engineering of 51-53 Newhall Street, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, obviously the same address as Springbok Engineering. Newhall Street is now the site of a car park to the rear of Sutton Coldfields new pedestrian shopping area.


In 1973 Tom Killeen became the technical director of the Innes Lee Motor Company, Factory D1, Stafford Park 2, Telford, Salop. This was created by Innes Lee Industries of Lutterworth, owned by Mike Innes and Bill Lee.

Tom later lived at - ``Finches'', Halcombe Lane, Moodlynch, Nr. Bridgwater TA7 9BX, Somerset

This was the time when Colin Cooper contacted him to get more information about the history of K1. This picture was taken by Colin and shows Tom re-united with his beloved K1 in 1983.



The Rest of the Story

It seems that Tom Killeen probably retired from Jensens in 1965 at the age of 60, but may have been kept on as a design consultant. He did not stop work, but designed K9 which was to be built by Jensens on behalf of the Alan Fraser Racing Team. Other designs, K16, K18 and K19 followed until 1975 as told in the rest of this book.

Tom died in 1991 and his wife Pat died in early 2000. They had no children, so his two nephews had the house cleared and sold. Any remaining papers relating to the cars would probably have been lost then, except for the K1 drawings which were given to Colin Cooper and are now safe with Peter Croft in New Zealand - a story told in a later chapter. Actually I was contacted by Peter Hardy, who had cleared the house with his cousin Richard McMahon, to say that in fact they had kept whatever they found, including a number of photographs of the K-series cars. Some of these are re-produced here.

What remains of Killeen's paperwork shows the man to have had a great technical mind. The K1 was designed and built with incredible attention to technical detail and how Killeen worked out and calculated the path for all of the stresses from engine, braking and suspension components to that outer skin is akin to a doctorate in mechanical physics! Further testimony to Killeen's engineering ability is that, on completion, the Killeen K1 weighed only approx. 10 lbs more than Tom had estimated at the design stage. Similarly the torsional stiffness of K9 was very similar to the design aims. A truly unique one off, the K1 was sadly created several generations too early to be as influencial as it deserves.

The following pages tell the rest of this story...

Rob Allan