Gerry Coker was a designer for the Donald Healey Motor Company, he was responsible for the design of the Austin-Healey 100 and Sprite, later joining Chrysler and the Ford Motor Company, where he invented the 3-postion tailgate. Gerry will be inducted into the Britsh Sports Car Hall of Fame on June 2, 2017.
For a full biography, I am going to bow to the Austin Healey Club of America …
Gerald Charles Coker, known to all as “Gerry,” was born June 24, 1922 in Northamptonshire, England. He is known in the Healey world for his body design of the Healey Hundred introduced in 1952.
Gerry’s design talent showed up early in life with his childhood “doodles” of motorcars. He began his training as an engineer in 1939 when he apprenticed at the Rootes Group, where he worked with experimental designs for armored vehicles and other military vehicle components prior to and during WWII.
He joined the Donald Healey Motor Company as Healey’s body engineer in 1950. His first job was to look after the Nash Healeys as they came from Panelcraft, the Nash Healey body makers.
Early on at the DHMC, Healey challenged Gerry to show him a sports car design, and in late 1950, he created the body design for what would become the Austin-Healey 100. This timelessly beautiful sports car stole the show in October, 1952 when it debuted as the Healey Hundred at the London Motor Show at Earls Court.
Gerry also styled the Austin-Healey Streamliner (the “pretty one,” he says) that was driven to 192.7 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1954 while establishing records in speed and endurance. And just before moving on from the DHMC, Gerry developed the preliminary body design for the forthcoming Austin-Healey Sprite, which made its very successful first appearance in 1958. Budget considerations caused the Sprite’s final design to be altered considerably. This early design did not include the unique headlamps which caused the first Sprites to be called “Bugeye” in North America and “Frogeye” in Great Britain.
Gerry and his wife, Marion, were wed in June, 1953 near Coventry, Warwickshire. Their engagement coincided with Gerry’s design work for the Healey Hundred. Their wedding almost didn’t take place, as that June weekend was also the race weekend at Le Mans. Donald Healey had entered four cars (two Austin-Healeys and two Nash Healeys) and wanted Gerry to attend the race. He did not. Marion recalls that “I won that one!”
In 1957, the Cokers left England for life in America. Gerry worked at the Chrysler Corporation for about five years before a move to the Ford Motor Company, where he worked until 1987, when he retired as a Senior Product Design Engineer. It was Gerry who designed the famous dual action tailgate for station wagons; he and Ford hold a patent on his ingenious design.
Gerry and Marion Coker are familiar faces to most Healey club members who have met them over the years at various Austin-Healey meets. Currently the Cokers reside in Sarasota, Florida and remain active at local and regional Austin-Healey gatherings.
When you see an Austin-Healey, you can thank Gerry Coker for its timeless design.
Note: This is part of an ongoing series focusing on the 23 individuals who will be inducted into the British Sports Car Hall of Fame in ceremonies on June 2nd, 2017, at the Hall of Fame in Petersburg, VA.