Spen King, father of the Range Rover among other ground-breaking vehicles, has died. He never regained full consciousness following a collision between his bicycle and a van two weeks ago; death was attributed to a chest infection and kidney failure brought on by the trauma of that collision.
King worked on a remarkable series of automobiles during his long tenure in the British car industry. Beginning with Rolls-Royce during World War II he moved to Rover in 1945, which was run by his uncles, Maurice and Spencer Wilks.
During the 1950s, King's expertise with gas turbine engines was put to use on a number of prototypes, including the Rover-turbine-powered BRM sports-racing car that ran at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963 and 1965.
Gas turbines were eventually rejected for automotive use due to poor fuel consumption and throttle response. But one of the prototype cars evolved into the brilliant compact sports sedan, the Rover P6 (known here as the Rover 2000). In fact, its engine bay was designed to accommodate either a gas turbine or a four-cylinder, although the Rover V8 was subsequently wedged in there as well.
But at the time of the P6 launch, Rover was being submerged by the British Leyland conglomerate. Top management was too busy fighting off the unions to dedicate any resources - financial or managerial - to product quality, so much of King's outstanding engineering went under-appreciated.
Among King's other accomplishments were the Triumph Stag, the Triumph Dolomite with its terrific twin-cam 16-valve four cylinder engine, the K-Series of fours developed for Austin-Rover following yet another series of corporate mergers, and an experimental all-aluminum car which presaged both the Audi A2 and aluminum-bodied Jaguars of later years.
But the Range Rover will remain his lasting legacy.
Odd, perhaps, that yours truly who has often whined about the poseur attitude of so many SUVs (and their owners) is lionizing the man who essentially created the beast?
Not really. In 2004, King criticised SUV owners who drive their vehicles in urban areas, saying that vehicles like the Range Rover he created were "never intended as a status symbol but later incarnations of my design seem to be intended for that purpose."
Amen, Mr. King. May you rest in peace.