It was a couple of weeks before Christmas 1997. Birmingham, the wider West Midlands and much of the corporate world in general, was a very different place back then.
Rover, owned by BMW, boasted a workforce of more than 10,000 down at Longbridge. The Germans employed thousands more at Land Rover.
Van-maker LDV had just announced a partnership deal with Korean giant Daewoo to produce a new generation of vehicles at Washwood Heath.
Jaguar, under the ownership of Ford, was still producing Big Cats in their spiritual heartland of Coventry. Peugeot was a significant presence nearby at Ryton, as was tractor manufacturer Massey Ferguson.
There was train-maker Alstom, formerly Metro-Cammell, in Washwood Heath. Daw Mill Colliery was hanging on in there as the last pit in the West Midlands, HP Sauce fumes wafted around Aston Cross.
With the exception of the Land Rover factory at Solihull, all have now gone, decades of manufacturing skills cast to the winds by a combination of globalisation, new technology, shifting markets and rapidly changing consumer habits.
That adds up to the loss of tens of thousands of relatively well-paid jobs providing livelihoods, supporting family households and local communities and generating wealth for the West Midlands economy.
At that aforementioned pre-Christmas point in 1997, I stepped into the business editor's shoes on the Birmingham Evening Mail , into that very same industrial landscape. I was joined by the redoubtable Chris Morley as new Industrial Correspondent. Life would never be the same again for me or Chris, a great ally over the years.
From day one the job was like the bucking bronco at a fun-fair. If you could keep tight and hold on, you were in for one hell of a ride.
And the greatest rollercoaster of them all – and the biggest story of my 17-and-a-half-year tenure as Mail business editor – was Longbridge.
As 1998 unfolded, it was clear that it was hardly sweetness and light up at Birmingham's most famous factory. Press Day at The Motor Show at the NEC in October that year crystallised events at Longbridge.
In the morning the Germans launched the Rover 75 saloon, a crucial model for a heavily loss-making plant. In the afternoon, they called a press conference and effectively threatened to close the factory if a new productivity deal was not agreed with the unions. It was hardly the best piece of corporate PR-style stage management.
In March 2000, the dam burst in spectacular fashion. BMW suddenly announced it was selling Longbridge to Jon Moulton of private equity fame, a man better known for running the Fatty Arbuckles fast food diner chain.
Moulton said he planned to cut 5,000 jobs at a stroke as part of proposals for a niche MG factory. I flew out to snowbound Munich the next day to find the TGWU – with its chief UK car industry negotiator Tony Woodley at the heart of the action – in a frenzy. Longbridge had been losing £2 million a day, threatening to put the skids under the whole BMW group.
We all know what happened. I was up at Q Gate two months later on a glorious May day as John Towers drank Champagne and we celebrated the start of the Phoenix dream.
Five years later, the dream had turned into a nightmare. MG Rover collapsed with debts of more than £1 billion with the loss of 6,500 jobs.
If the Longbridge story was to define my reign as Mail business editor, there was plenty of other stuff to get the teeth into as the years went by.
The Chinese takeover at Longbridge in 2005, the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata in 2008, the collapse of LDV in summer 2009, the hostile Kraft takeover of Cadbury in 2010, Jaguar Land Rover's brush with oblivion shortly after the October 2008 banking meltdown, the closure of Daw Mill Colliery in 2013.
But it wasn't all nose to the grindstone stuff. There was fun galore to be had when you could relax after a hard day charting the fortunes of Rover, LDV, HP Sauce and others.
The job brought frequent travel. I have dined on 12 courses in Lyon (a remarkable feast in which John 'Lord' Lamb of Chamber of Commerce fame somehow finished the last brandy snap), oysters and lobster in New York, luxury Chinese fare in Nanjing and Dongying, sumptuous Indian curries in Calcutta and Mumbai, and so much more.
I almost hit a fearsome wild boar driving a BMW 5-series along a mountain road in Sardinia, as the man in the passenger seat, the late, great James O'Brien, then of the Post , screamed 'STRAY PIG!' There were invitations to the Olympics, Buckingham Palace, Arsenal's only Champions League final in Paris.
But, as much as anything, the job was also about the characters out in the business world.
The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce PR triumvirate of the aforementioned Lord Lamb, Roger 'the Baron' Monkman (who once almost drove over his own head) and the utterly inimitable Tony 'Spasm the Butler' Bell were always only a telephone call away from a few attitude-adjusters at Hort's Wine Bar or the Old Joint Stock.
There were many other bar companions, from self-confessed lothario and man about town John James to the unforgettable Derry Crowley of Aer Lingus notoriety, the late, irrepressible Derek Harris of Aston Science Park to the now retired John Partridge of Unite union fame, the ultimate football nut.
But every job has its own shelf-life. In a newspaper world vastly changed from mid-December 1997 I leave the Post & Mail business beat before I reach my own Longbridge-style sell-by date, a million memories intact. I wouldn't have missed it for the world...