A few weeks before his death, I called Richard Parry-Jones, the Welsh-born engineer who in the early 1990s inspired a global shift in the appeal of Ford cars that continues today, to ask him to accept this year’s Autocar Lifetime Achievement award. .
Such has been his lasting influence, not only at Ford but also across competing brands, that he would have earned this award any year, but I felt safe doing it now because he was so visibly active. , having just joined the board of Aston Martin. There could be no indication that “the fulfillment of a lifetime” meant impending retirement.
Parry-Jones had won numerous awards but said he was particularly happy to accept ours as he always said that Autocar was the first to recognize his message of change. Its management and engineering teams took notice because they “believed what they read in the newspaper.” We had a cheerful exchange about how, at 69, he was “just figuring it out” and had many exciting projects ahead.
To their credit, Ford management in the 1990s quickly realized how much of a star she was. RPJ was particularly brilliant not only at recognizing the needs of individual customers (Ford had previously focused on fleet managers), but also at convincing senior management that his new way of doing things would change the company’s reputation and sell. cars. It inspired generations of young engineers – at Ford and soon via the Premier Automotive Group at Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin – to believe that great work would be recognized.
We also remembered the first sessions on the Lommel test track in Belgium, where Parry-Jones put a new model on a hoist and spoke passionately about the careful design of the wheel offsets, brake cooling, brackets. engine, suspension tips, exhaust mounts. and a discreet aerodynamic underbody all helped to create a car with stable, accessible and deeply enjoyable driving characteristics. Then we would go out onto the famous Lommel track seven and find out – rolling eleven – that it worked.
The first car to fully benefit from RPJ’s influence was the 1993 Ford Mondeo – the brass Blue Oval was amazed by the blizzard of positive publicity. After that, technical briefings with Parry-Jones became a must. Its greatest triumph will always be the 1998 Ford Focus, a car so far ahead of its rivals that it was truly shocking.
Our last memory, just before RPJ rushed off to another date, concerned a comment by Volkswagen Group supremo Ferdinand Piëch on the influence that Ford’s star engineer had on the cars of his rivals. “Yes, he’s very good,” Piëch told me in an interview in the late 1990s. “I tried to hire him, but found out that he was paid more than me. RPJ acknowledged the story, smiled about the paycheck and left. Parry-Jones went on to become Ford’s technical director and vice president of global product development, but retired in 2007 to pursue a career in management and consulting around the world. He had not been part of Ford’s payroll for 14 years when the sad news of his death arrived, but still they claimed a big place among the main mourners. Within 24 hours we had a statement from Bill Ford citing a unique contribution that endures today. Ford then took a page in the magazine to highlight their debt and regrets.
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This notice was published: 2021-06-08 13:31:24