The Battle of Wills: Setting the Scene

Say hello to our new bloke Barrie. 

Here he sets the scene for future stories… Over to you Barrie

50 years spent working in the automotive industry across 50 countries brought me considerable pleasure despite the few ups and the more numerous downs of my career. I was fortunate to work with some very talented people, learning much from many of them. A number are counted amongst some of the industry’s greatest stylists, or ‘designers’ as they prefer to be referred, in order to avoid confusion with hairdressers. But then, some of Land Rover’s Gerry McGovern’s past hairstyles almost confounded that theory. The now-legendary Gerry is not, however, someone with whom I worked – for he is one of the newer fellas.

Those who I was fortunate to observe at work include a man that was possibly the greatest-ever designer, the founder of Jaguar Cars, through which I learned the business as a commercial apprentice. Sir William Lyons’s cars lived up so well to the company’s slogan of ‘grace, pace and space’. Another was Giovanni Michelotti, who gave the single-decker Leyland National bus, my first greenfield project after Jaguar, its distinctive and ever-modern appearance.

Others that I had the honour, and daresay pleasure to work with more closely included Tom Karen OBE of Ogle Design, who I first met during my time in the ‘70s, its halcyon years, with the second-largest British-owned vehicle manufacturer after British Leyland, Reliant Motor Company. Tom’s claims to fame include the iconic Bush TR130 wireless; the Raleigh Chopper bicycle; the design award-winning Leyland T45 truck cab; and the Marble Run children’s toy, manufactured by Kiddicraft. My time with Tom embraced the Bond Bug (his favourite design), the Reliant Robin, the Turkish Anadol saloon and estate cars, and two generations of the Scimitar GTE, the world’s first sports estate car.

My Reliant days. This was my actual company car at the time and this slightly impromptu looking shot was used as official Scimitar GTE publicity material – a wonderful car that my good friend Tom Karen OBE remains very proud of styling.

Next came Marcello Gandini of Bertone with whom Reliant chief engineer, the late Derek Peck, and I came up with the FW11, the intended replacement for the Otosan Anadol in Turkey. It was Gandini’s boss, Nuccio Bertone, who told me if you instantly like a new car’s design, it’ll be already dated. Wise words I remembered throughout the rest of my career. Sadly, an unwelcome takeover of Reliant put paid to that project, as well as my career there! During that period, Lofty England, Jaguar’s then-retired chairman, introduced me to Sergio Pininfarina, who told me the one car he regretted his company not designing was the Scimitar GTE. Within a year or so, he’d come up with the Lancia HPE – imitation being the highest form of flattery they say!

Next came the great Giorgetto Giugiaro, the stylist of the DeLorean. I still regard him as a good friend despite him speaking no English and me no Italian, except pronto, whatever that means! Indeed, former-Lotus director of engineering, Colin Spooner, and I were invited to Moncalieri for lunch with him and his interpreter, cousin, and commercial guy, Silvano Corvasce, as recently as 2013.

I couldn’t possibly omit the late William Towns, who seemed to draw only with a ruler and set square. He did a European version of the rear end of the DeLorean ‘on the cheap’ during the company’s receivership; young Gus Desbarats, straight out of the Royal College of Art, who gave the Sinclair C5 its unique appearance; Peter Stevens (with Julian Thomson, now head of Jaguar styling), whose ‘squashed frog’ M100 Elan I was asked to kick into production without GM knowing Lotus had called in an outsider to do the job for them.

Justyn Norek, formerly of IDeA Institute and designer of the Fiat Palio so-called ‘world car’, who was such a strong supporter of the late Peter Milner’s prismatic, aerodynamic, exterior mirror system – the only designer who was; ex-Ogle and Citroen designer Ross Heyward, who freshened the front end of Iran Khodro’s Peugeot 406-based Samand with me in Tehran; and former-Jaguar stylist Keith Helfet, who was designated to be design director of the MG Car Company, had our cash bid succeeded against Nanjing Automotive’s Chinese-government backed letters of credit.

Quite a bunch of talents and a privilege to have known them all – even though I only had one face-to-face with Sir William, which was when he instructed me to switch off my office lights before going home.

Barrie Wills – Warwick March 2020

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