Motoring heroes: the most inspiring people in the car industry

Henry Ford: “Henry put the world on wheels,” people said, and they were right. After a decade of fits and starts, this self-made inventor launched the Ford Model T, which was immediately successful and became so popular that 16 million examples were built in 19 years from 1908, including a million outside the US. At one stage, it accounted for half the cars on British roads. It was amazingly progressive, using high-strength steel for its (thus lighter) chassis and wood from parts packing cases for its flooring. Above all, compared with European contraptions, it was easy to drive, robust and advanced. It wouldn’t stay that way, but that’s another story…

Spen King: Head of new projects at Rover from 1959, King was one of Britain’s greatest engineers and the true father of the Range Rover. He worked with Gordon Bashford to not only design and develop the car’s progressive mechanical package (soft springs, self-levelling, centre differential) but also build the aluminium prototype body that became the inspiration for the all-important look that has helped shape every Range Rover since. A modest man, King always downplayed the latter, insisting that designing the body had required “only 0.1%” of his and Bashford’s time. Valuable minutes…

Colin Chapman: The founder of Lotus wasn’t just an engineering boffin with revolutionary ideas or an ambitious, impatient company leader capable of inspiring loyalty among talented acolytes: he was both. The 30 years of Chapman’s heyday (1952-1982), when Lotus progressed from being a builder of Austin Seven specials to a winner of F1 titles, must rank as the greatest years of technological progress in car history to that point. The fact that his discoveries soon spread to rivals’ cars shows how important they were. Lotus’s road cars benefited from the race-car know-how, too – a situation that continues today.


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