First Range Rover designer dies
Charles Spencer King, the man behind the first generation Range Rover (and one of Britain’s greatest automotive engineers), has died after a traffic accident at age 85.
The man who gave the world the SUV has passed.
Charles Spencer King (85) died on Monday after a collision between his bicycle and a van two weeks ago.
Born in 1925, King served with Rolls-Royce as an apprentice during World War II.
After the war he was employed by Rover, managed by his uncles (Spencer and Maurice Wilks).
At Rover, King’s obvious engineering gifts and technical acumen came to the fore.
His Rolls-Royce background came in awfully handy during the development of the Rover JET1 and T3 turbine-powered vehicle prototypes.
At age 34 King was made head of new vehicle projects for Rover.
During the 1960s he would create the Rover 2000 and those admired British roadsters, the Triumph TR6 and TR7.
After Rover was placed within the (doomed) structures of British Leyland toward the end of the 1960s, King was appointed as Director of Design for Leyland Cars. At this time King’s criminally underrated SD1 was undone by the callous attitude of labour unions, who were slowly ruining the British motor industry during the 1970s.
The car King will be best remembered for is the Range Rover. Although the Americans had vehicles such as the Jeep Wagoneer at the time, there was no credible offering combining luxury and redoubtable off-road ability in a station wagon package.
King's design team buoyed by the Range Rover's ability by adding coil springs at each wheel corner, an unusual design feature for a low-range enabled off-roader of the 1970s.
Initially called the ‘100-inch station wagon’ by Rover employees during its development, the original Range Rover was a segment defining vehicle when launched back in 1970. It is today still rightfully considered to be the original SUV.
King was so highly regarded by Land Rover's management the company honoured him with a special edition model in 1990 called the Range Rover CSK, limited to 200 individually-numbered units.
After the Range Rover project King became chairman of BL Technology, a company specialising in lightweight, aerodynamically efficient prototype vehicles. King retired from BL Technology in 1985.
Even after his retirement King was regularly used as a soundboard by
journalists and young engineers when technically complex problems were
to be analysed in an erudite manner.
In later years he would become a critic of the SUV movement born due to the Range Rover’s success, noting that it was never his intension for such vehicles to be driven in an urban environment as status symbols.