THE MOTOR CAR suddenly became a reality in the late 19th century with the near simultaneous invention and rapid development of the internal-combustion engine in Germany and of the pneumatic tyre (by JB Dunlop) in Belfast. The progress of the internal-combustion engine - with its demonstrable metallic moving parts was always in the news. Its equally significant companion, the pneumatic tyre, received less coverage. Round, black, troublesome and unglamorous, the tyre took half a century to be fully accepted as a sophisticated engineering product and a vital component of all road-vehicles from bicycles to the heaviest lorries. The tyre's low profile was matched by that of one of the pioneers of this complex and still awkward process, Jack Hardman.
Hardman grew up in Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, and attended Bishop Vesey's Grammar School. He had originally wanted to train as an optician, but on leaving school he was allocated to Dunlop. He was not considered strong enough to serve in the forces during the First World War.
Hardman's career was spent in the technical division of the Dunlop company in Birmingham. Here his work encompassed the study of all aspects of tyre materials, tyre properties and their relationship to the vehicle as a whole. Textbooks or manuals offered little help. Even today the tyre is regarded by many vehicle designers and engineers as mysterious - not in the mainstream of their professional training experience.
The leading designers did recognise this 'black hole' in their portfolio, not least Alec Issigonis with his brilliant concept for the Morris Minor in 1949. Hardman was there to fill the breach, and crucial improvements to vehicle steering, comfort and safety were initiated by him on a wide front in the UK and Europe. He was one of those rare individuals who grasp and understand fundamental principles, however complex, and who possess 'state of the art' practical knowledge coupled with an intense drive to see new ideas become a reality. Vehicles of the last 40 years are much safer, and less like the 'mobile earthquakes' that characterise their predecessors, and Jack Hardman can claim much credit for this.
During and after the Second World War his talents were applied to the problems of aeroplanes and land-based military vehicles. Acute problems of vibration on landing and take-off associated with the tyres were alleviated, as were conditions of uncontrolled oscillation of the then universal tail-wheels and tyres ('shimmy'). I was then in the RAF flying in Mosquito aircraft and later learnt with gratitude of Hardman's contributions in this field.
Hardman was one of the first non- combatants to enter Brussels in the latter stages of the war, classified as an officer without rank, and by the American forces as a colonel.
Jack Hardman's main achievements, however, were with new vehicle designs after the war. Some designs were lacking in the better qualities of steering behaviour and stability and the calls on his talents were heavy. He acquired some young assistants (I was one of them). Mistakes were made, including some severe 'loss of control' accidents, but overall progress was real. During Hardman's career the tyre, while appearing superficially unchanged, was radically altered: the original natural materials (natural rubber and cotton reinforcement) were replaced by man- made materials (synthetic rubber, rayon, nylon, polyester steel reinforcement). Alternative tyre structures were evolved, notably the Radial Ply concept which altered the whole structure of the tyre: all of these factors had to be integrated into the tyre-vehicle relationship - with universally beneficial results.
In the midst of this, Hardman remained calm, low-key, good-humoured: he was a generous and patient teacher to others, particularly to younger staff. This was an industry where high-handed behaviour and displays of short temper were the norm. Jack Hardman did not aspire to fame, and after his long retirement was content to witness the continuing success of his efforts in the form of the superb vehicles now produced, still running on the pneumatic tyre.Reuse content