On this day : A Beauty off the drawing board (1975)

On this day in 1975, and to coincide with the launch of the Austin-Morris 18-22 Series, the Daily Express profiled its designer Harris Mann – the firm’s new head of design.

Harris Mann takes charge in Longbridge

Harris Mann

By David Benson

“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.”

Keith Adams


  1. Appointing as Design Chief someone who had only worked on one complete car before, the unexceptional Marina – What could possibly go wrong!

    Does seem a strange move, I am sure he was a cheap option, but for a manufacturer with a desperate need to refresh itself, one would have expected the job to go to someone with a track record of success rather than entrust it to someone with such limited experience.

  2. For 1975, the car on the drawing behind Harris was far ahead of its time, in fact it looks like early 80s work!

    • True but remember that the glassy aero cars of the early 80s, were signed off in the 70s, for example the Sierra’s styling was signed off by Ford management in 1978, so no doubt Ford stylists had been penning glassy aero concepts in the mid 70s to create that.

  3. I’ve worked with a number of Design leaders both in uk and overseas. Harris Mann is one of the most genuine and product orientated guys. Not interested in the politics like some I could mention just totally centred on design. My last job with HM was on the Extreme MG ZT at ARA, Leamington Spa.

  4. If you look at the Cars launched in Europe by Ford, GM and Chrysler in the same year as this article – The Chevette, Cavalier, Escort MK2 and the Chrysler Alpine – I dont really see anything that screams Detroit about any of them. All aligned with 70s evolving European tastes, and certainly aligned with buyers tastes more than the Princess did.

  5. A few years later many Japanese cars were looking a lot more European, rather than that strange mixture of scaled down American looks with some uniquely Japanese styling had earlier in the 1970s.

  6. It’s funny with Japanese cars. In the early to mid 60s you had mostly a European look, with the likes of the Datsun Laurel, Bluebird, Silvia and Mazda 1800 amongst others either having strong European vibes or designed by Italian design houses. Then in the 70s they went all Transpacific, with US theme designs. In the 80s, they went all origami which the Europeans had moved on from. It wasn’t until the 90s that Japanese cars started to get closer to the styles of the Europeans, though we didn’t get some of the variations that were available in the land of the rising sun.

  7. Yes the Japanese styles in the 1980s were quite boxy after Europeans manufacturers switched to curvy designes, which weren’t common on Japanese designs until the 1990s.

    Some of the JDM cars even now have some odd styling.

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