Seeing that photograph on the new ‘cycle-heading’ that you have on the AROnline Home page of the four luminaries associated with SD1 is a bit poignant now, because the sole remaining survivor of the four, Mike Lewis, died earlier in the summer.
Mike was a Rover man through and through, having started at Solihull as a graduate apprentice in 1954. One of his first projects was assisting transmissions chief Frank Shaw to develop the weird and wonderful ‘Roverdrive’ automatic transmission for the P4 105R model of 1957 (Roverdrive combined a torque converter, a conventional two-speed gearbox, a servo clutch, and an overdrive in quite a clever way, (it could well have been named ‘Idiosyncratic Transmission’) but was really something of an indulgence when proprietary automatic units were available off the shelf from Borg Warner and others!).
Mike then worked his way up the tree in the Research department at Lode Lane, being involved in the development of things like cross-flow radiators. He once told me that he considered himself more of a scientist than an engineer, which certainly indicated his cerebral approach to car development. I first had the pleasure of meeting Mike when working on the press material for the launch of SD1.
I had spoken at some length with Spen King, and he’d pointed me in the direction of Mike, (who had been Chief Engineer on the SD1 project) and his colleague, the late Rex Marvin, and from that moment the job of gathering the SD1 story became truly fascinating. Mike explained to me all the subtleties of the deceptively simple-looking SD1 chassis, and how they’d made it work so well.
Later on, Mike presented a paper on the development of SD1 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science and we enjoyed polishing the final words and diagrams together. I always looked forward to meeting Mike, he was good-humoured and interesting to talk to – a good egg.
During the Leyland Cars era he held several high-level Engineering posts, and his final role was as Spen King’s admin Chief in the BL Technology R&D operation at Gaydon. When Gordon Bashford retired from BL Technology, Mike helped me to sort out the press release photography and Gordon’s impressive Rover history.
Unfortunately, Mike suffered some heart problems not long after, that led to his early retirement to Cornwall. We got in touch all-too occasionally, but I was pleased, with his agreement, to publish his British Association paper about SD1 across a couple of issues of the Rover Sports Register club magazine ‘Freewheel’ a little while ago.
As always when certain key players in our automotive history depart, there’s a regret that we didn’t get their detailed working history down on paper. I’m sure that Mike could have written a really interesting autobiography, but when I suggested this, he maintained that he hadn’t kept enough reference material and that his memory wasn’t sharp enough to do it.
A shame – RIP Mike.