Note: We published an announcement of this A Life in Car Design – Jaguar, Lotus, TVR by Oliver Winterbottom last month, and now our friend John Clancy has contributed this review.
In my opinion, the wedge era of the 1970s and 80s was the high point of automotive styling. In particular, it was the sports cars from that period that really cut the mustard. Among the British entries into the market, there was one man who was behind more sports car styles than anyone else, Oliver Winterbottom. This is the autobiography of his career. From his apprenticeship with William Lyons’ Jaguar in 1961, working for Colin Chapman at Lotus, TVR, General Motors and his period as a consultant in China, this book gives an insight into what it took to get his designs into production [or not] with an authority that can only be relayed by someone who was there.
It is unlikely anyone will ever again enjoy the success that this man had in terms of laying down a sports car on paper and then to see it successfully enter production a few years later. It is widely known that Oliver was the man behind the Lotus Elite and the Eclat but he is not so well known for that outstanding TVR known as ‘Tasmin’. This was the car that ultimately transformed TVR from their notoriety as a manufacturer of fairly mundane, traditional looking two-seater sports cars into their exciting new identity as a producer of supercars.
His brief stint with TVR was at the start of the recession here in the UK (unemployment reached 3.5 million by the end of it) and as a result, sports car sales were not what they could have been. Just look at the downturn in Triumph TR7 sales figures during this time for a perfect illustration. A return to Lotus followed and Oliver was once more heavily involved with the infamous Colin Chapman and everything that went on at the Hethel factory.
It was a turbulent era but also an exciting era. It was a time when one determined person could make a difference. The Lotus Esprit and Lotus Elise also saw the Winterbottom input as well as other cars from other manufacturers. The 1986 Toyota Supra is perhaps another car for which he should be credited as it seems to have been lifted straight from the Winterbottom style for the proposed Lotus Toyota M90 – a car which never progressed beyond a full-size model.
The value of reading the history of the cars from someone who was actually there cannot be understated. “A Life In Car Design” by Oliver Winterbottom is an exceptional book that is lavishly illustrated, very well written, informative, entertaining and at times, laugh out loud funny!