Car designer Harry Webster dies

ONE of Britain's leading engineers will be remembered by many in Leamington and Kenilworth, as well as classic car lovers around the world.

Harry Webster, who died on February 9 aged 89, was instrumental in the revival of Triumph in the 1950s and 60s.

He worked on the TR series of sports cars and created the Herald, Vitesse and Spitfire with Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti.

Robin Penrice, a family friend and colleague at Standard-Triumph until 1968, believes the designer was the industry's most versatile engineer, being involved in every Canley-built model from 1946 to 1974.

Mr Penrice said: "Harry was the last of the greats of the British motor industry. There is nobody left of his stature."

Born on May 27, 1917, Mr Webster started as an apprentice at the Standard Motor Company in 1932, attending Coventry Technical College.

With a talent for simple, cost-effective engineering he rose through the company. After Standard bought the Triumph name in 1946 his instinct for creating stylish but affordable cars helped reinvent the marque through the 1950s.

Initially a research and development specialist, in 1957 he was made Triumph's director of engineering. Working with far smaller budgets than his counterparts at Ford, Vauxhall, the British Motor Corporation and Rootes, Harry Webster nonetheless turned out cars that competed with these and more prestigious rivals BMW and Rover.

Mr Penrice recalls a modest, quiet and unassuming man with a lively sense of humour. He said: "He was the first to admit that designing a car isn't a one-man effort."

In the late 1950s he moved to Barrowfield Lane in Kenilworth, where he lived until his death.

His first major success was the Herald, and models such as the Vitesse and Spitfire followed, along with the pioneering 2000 saloon in 1963.

In 1965 he snapped up Michelotti's workshop remodel of an old 2000 body to begin development of the Triumph Stag, launched in 1970.

Mr Webster became chief executive engineer at Leyland Motors in 1967 and replaced Mini-creator Alec Issigonis as the company's technical director following another merger that created British Leyland in 1968. He later became head of design at the Austin-Morris division. In 1974 he was made a CBE for his contribution to the motor industry, but resigned from Austin-Morris to work for Leamington-based brake and clutch manufacturer Auto-motive Products.

Mr Webster retired in 1982, and then became chairman of SKF Steel UK for five years. His wife Peggy and daughter Jean died before him.

Gaydon Heritage Motor Centre curator Stephen Laing paid tribute to Mr Webster's work. He said: "Harry Webster was a significant figure in the West Midlands motor industry and the motor centre is fortunate to have several examples of his work, ensuring his legacy lives on."

Mr Webster's funeral will take place at St Nicholas church, Kenilworth on Tuesday at 11am.


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