Well, it’s been a sad few days here in Blighty for the ‘geeks’ – first losing Sir Patrick Moore and then Alex Moulton CBE. I daresay the mean IQ for the UK has dropped a few points now from which it may never recover. As a Metro fan and the son of a bicycle enthusiast, I have known about Alex Moulton for a long time. But it wasn’t until I tried to explain to my work colleagues who he was that it dawned upon me how much of a recluse the man was when it came to self promotion, the polar opposite to the ‘celebrity’ of today one might say.
I still remember with great pride hearing the news from Steven Ward (pictured below with Alex Moulton) that we were going to be granted an audience with Dr. Moulton at his home in February 2009. The Macdroitwich forum had been planning a visit just to the Atwell-Wilson Museum in nearby Calne originally but several ‘phone calls from Steven and later a flurry of emails between himself and Dr. Moulton confirmed he would be delighted to meet us – not only that but he would give us a tour and discussion in his Museum, a viewing of his private fleet of cars with suspension modified to his standards (including a Bentley Mulsanne) and we would be given a Q&A session in the Great Hall with tea and cake. (Earl Grey naturally!).
It really was The Class of Gas – Dr. Moulton spoke for over two hours, answering question after question and sometimes even answering it with a question! The table (20ft by 6ft approx) was covered in books and publications about his works. He even handed around a draft copy of his memoirs – I’m not sure what the publishers would have made of that!
Some may have thought that, at 88, he should be well into his retirement and, while he had earned a rest, it just didn’t seem to be in his DNA to stop. He told us of visits he’d had from Toyota (a Prius was parked outside the front door) and of the consultation work he had been undertaking with Audi on a way of combining his suspension system with its quattro four-wheel drive system. He was also very intrigued in the engineering of the ‘airbag’ system in Steven’s late Discovery II.
One of the things I found immensely charming was the way Dr. Moulton relayed facts and information so that not only could a lay person understand but it was actually interesting to listen to. He spoke with passion about how he had driven a Citroen 2CV during the 1950s and was immediately impressed with the suspension system and wanted to develop something similar, if not better, back here in the UK.
But he did not rest on his laurels, he constantly wanted to make things better, hence why there is a Moulton bicycle company now. The sheer number of projects and proposals he has worked on is simply staggering: coaches, boats, bicycles and motor cars, the man was passionate and keen about them all. He even owned a Ferrari Daytona at one point!
As someone who worked with BMC and latter companies he was naturally privy to a lot of what was going on, what cars were being made, yet would not be disparaging, about anyone or anything. He held a dislike for the Morris Marina but, unlike others, he based that on purely engineering reasons. It is well known that, as time went on Sir Alec Issigonis and he drifted apart, and, while he regretted that, he still deeply respected Alec.
Such was Dr Moulton’s wont to make a car the best it possibly can be, he bought his own Austin Metro and interconnected the front and rear suspension himself after failing to convince Spen King at BL to do it when designing the car – again, he bore no malice towards King for this as he understood the cost constraints they were all under at the time.
However, technology won over economy a few years later when Michael Edwardes drove the Moulton Metro and informed new AR Chief Graham Day about it. Moulton himself had the last laugh when, some years later, Spen King visited him and was driven home by a member of Moulton’s staff in none other than the modified Austin Metro!
Sadly and all too soon, the visit was over and it was time for us to leave. I made a promise to myself to buy his book, which I did, directly from the Moulton Book Company itself. My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to go back and have it signed by the great man himself.
Rest in Peace, Dr. Moulton.