It started as an ambitious idea for an exhibition piece for James's education charity, and would end, three months later – on the 60th birthday of our founder and chief engineer – with the unveiling of precisely half an original Austin Morris Mini back at Dyson HQ.
Today, Helen Boardman is our head of communications. But when her manager took her aside to brief her on one of the more testing assignments of her Dyson career, she was a graduate – just two months into her first role with us.
"Finding a mint condition classic car then getting it cut in half was definitely not your average job in comms," recalls Helen. "But I instantly felt excited about the challenge, and honoured that I'd been trusted with making it happen."
Weeks of serious online research later (alongside much help from her classic car enthusiast father), Helen found herself waiting near a roundabout in Fulham for a man called Derek – a car bodyshop owner from Ipswich. Brown envelope of cash in hand, he headed off to Dorset to buy the Mini that Helen had unearthed.
But buying the Mini was just part of the challenge. Cutting it in half wouldn't just be a case of slicing down the middle – there were parts to remove, structural supports to add, and other headaches too. Including, for Helen, the job of ensuring such an unpredictable project stayed within a reasonable budget.
Thankfully, expert cutter ‘Wiggy' was waiting for the Mini's return back at Derek's workshop. Over the next month and a half, the car was stripped, unscrewed, banged, welded and jet washed. Pre-op lines were drawn (think nip and tuck), before Wiggy began to cut away with an angle grinder.
Incisions complete, one half of the car was painted, polished, and put back together. Left with its engineering innards now exposed to admire, and inspire.
Being James's 60th birthday, engineers dragged him away from his work (with difficulty) to surprise him with the car. "As the tarpaulin came off, James was speechless. He looked very touched," remembers Helen. "I felt very lucky to have been part of creating such a special – and rather unconventional – Dyson moment."
At Dyson, our graduates are often faced with sink-or-swim challenges. But for the right kind of person, they're an opportunity to create success that can live long in the memory. Just like Helen's Mini adventure.