Blog: Meeting your heroes

They say that you should never meet your heroes. Well, regular readers of this site will know that I have been in the fortunate position to meet one or two… and so far, I have yet to feel that the experience was anything but positive. Meeting Spen King was one such experience: the man was just how you would expect him to be – concise, entertaining and to the point. You could say, he’s just like his cars…

Well, a little bird tells me that a rather special person could be visiting the Princess and Ambassador Owners’ Club stand at the NEC motor show. Obviously, it should come as no surprise given the picture above, but in case you can’t recognise the scribbler in the photo, it’s Harris Mann, the Wedgemeister. Now, you’ve probably already read Richard Gunn’s brilliant interview on this site (taken, of course, from the pages of CCW), and you should probably have a good idea about what makes him tick, but I make no apologies for returning to the great man’s (sorry…KJA) achievements…

Look beyond the quirky Allegro, and you have the Princess and TR7, both cars that broke the mould in terms of styling… if it weren’t for niggling quality issues and a raft of bad PR stories, these two cars would have cleaned up in the mid-Seventies car market. They were bold, and daring; and if you relieve them of their unfortunate British Leyland baggage, they would be regarded as great cars, to this day. Of course, I might be a little biased, but is it not the case now, that today, companies like Renault, Mazda and Citroen are emerging Phoenix-like (sorry…KJA) from years of styling blandness.

Look at the Renault Megane and Mazda RX8 and tell me that these are two cars, which rejoice in the design freedom granted to their stylists. Well, the Princess and TR7 were just the same, only thirty years earlier. And look at Harris Mann’s trademark swooping beltline, which you see on the Princess and TR7… ahead of their time. Look at the new Mercedes-Benz SLK and A-Class, and you’ll see that same styling trademark.

But what happened to Harris Mann after the cars that defined his career met their makers? Well, he worked on LC10 proposals, created the Ambassador and Ital, before leaving Austin-Rover in 1983 to pursue a freelance career. We heard little from him apart from the odd mention here and there. His rejigging of the previous generation Subaru Impreza to turn it into the current version was a triumph (sorry…KJA), and there has been a return to the fold, acting as a consultant to MG Rover.

So… a great stylist, and one that deserves more popular acclaim (sorry…KJA). Richard Gunn stated that had he been born in Italy instead of London, he would now rank amongst the greats, and I tend to agree. If we think of Allegro as this

Instead of this…

Then it all begins to make sense.

So if Harris Mann makes an appearance at the NEC, and I manage to grab hold of him, I wonder whether I’ll end up congratulating him for being one of The designers of the 1970s, or will I freeze up and and babble incomprehensively… I’m hoping the former, as I really would love to have an insight into a great mind.

Here’s hoping that our paths shall cross. This is one hero, I can’t wait to meet…

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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