By David Benson
A car designer who looks more like the lead guitarist in a pop group is today the toast of the British motor industry. This is Harris Mann the 36 year old Londoner who styled the superb new Austin-Morris-Wolseley range with its sleek eighties wedged shaped look. This week he told me how he arrived at the new shape- regarded as a major breakthrough in modern car design.
“Most cars produced in Britain suffer in style because this is dictated by Detroit and for American tastes,” He said.
“We set out to build a new truly international car, not a scaled down American car, but a car that would have a distinctive flavour and would sell well in this country and Europe. The wedge shape was inspired by Grand Prix cars but it is also very practical as it has been proved on the race track. It gives better penetration through the air and in our case better fuel consumption. I also wanted the car to look firm and eager even when parked at the kerb. It is built with its wheels out to the full width of the body, sitting firmly on the ground rather than pouring over the wheels as American cars do”.
Harris Mann is now enjoying the fulfillment of a schoolboys dream. At 11 he spent most of his time designing cars in his school exercise book. At 16 he started the hunt to get into the car designing business.
“At that time it was very difficult to get any information on how to become a car designer. The normal thing seemed to become an apprentice in the industry. The nearest thing I could find was the Duple firm which makes coach and bus bodies. I enrolled as an apprentice draughtsman. I learned engineering, got involved in special requirements for customers and went down to the workshop to see the drawings being turned into real parts.”
After a short spell in Detroit, then national service and a couple of years with Commer Cars in Luton, Mann joined Ford as a design engineer in the styling department.
“One day I presented the chief’ stylist with a portfolio of’ car designs and he said I could transfer to styling immediately. It was very good grounding for me. I worked on the Capri right from the original model.”
When his boss left to join British Leyland, he took Mann with him. “It was an attractive move for a stylist, there were so many cars that hadn’t been touched for a long time.”
The first complete car he worked on was the Marina. “We created it as a nice easy step into the market place, nothing that would offend, something simple and honest, something that would sell straight away. I think it was successful in doing what it was planned for.”
Then came the Allegro and the first clashes between engineering requirements and the styling departments. The design chief left and Harris says modestly: “This left me at the top of the pile.”