Friday, 9 June 1995
The Jaguar motor company’s racing reputation was born in the 1950s and honed on the Le Mans circuit, which was where “Lofty” England practised his craft as competitions manager.
England was a commanding figure in every sense, and his 6ft 5in frame spelt authority, ruthless efficiency and, to his drivers, orders that had to be interpreted to the letter. England’s iron resolve, applied to Jaguar’s teams of superlative C- and D-type sports racers, brought a string of British victories that equalled those of Bentley in the 1920s.
Frank England was educated at Christ’s College, Finchley, where his fascination for motoring and engineering was readily apparent. This was fostered by his father, a director of a Unilever subsidiary, who bought his delighted schoolboy son a Douglas motor cycle. As a 14-year-old, in 1926, England moved with his family to Edgware and this new location meant that he could watch Bentley chassis being road-tested. The Cricklewood-based company had already won the Le Mans 24-hour race and although England applied for a job with Bentley, there were no vacancies.
He had more luck at Daimler’s London depot at Hendon and, in 1927, began a five-year apprenticeship. Despite the marque’s staid image, for England racing was never far below the surface and in 1932 he drove a customer’s V12-engined Double Six model into second place in the first RAC Rally.
After leaving Daimler, England worked in the six years between 1932 and 1938 as a racing mechanic for some of the best-known names in motor sport. He was soon at home at Brooklands track which was where his first employer of this era, Sir Henry (“Tim”) Birkin, mostly campaigned his Bentley, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. But when this venture failed, in 1934 England joined the American Whitney Straight’s team. Later he worked for ERA (English Racing Automobiles) cars that qualified him to maintain examples run by Richard Seaman and, later, the Siamese Prince Chula’s White House Stable, which prepared cars for Chula’s cousin “B. Bira” to drive.
Between racing assignments, England had worked for the London depots of the Alvis car company and, in 1938, he rejoined the firm at its Coventry headquarters as service engineer. He was soon promoted to superintend the department but was determined to see active service and, in 1941, joined the Royal Air Force. After qualifying as a pilot in the United States, in 1943, he returned to Britain and flew Lancasters on hazardous daytime bombing missions.
Following the end of the Second World War England returned to Alvis. But through a long-standing friendship, cemented during his Brooklands days, with the (by then) Jaguar development engineer Walter Hassan, England heard of a job, and in September 1946 joined Jaguar as service manager.
A successful competition debut by the new XK120 model in the 1949 production sports car race at Silverstone prompted the company’s canny but cautious founder, William Lyons, to support a team of cars at Le Mans in 1950. The result was sufficiently encouraging for him to make a bid to win theevent. And who better to run the team than the lanky Lofty England with his commanding presence and wealth of racing knowledge and experience?
The chief engineer, William Heynes, began with the design of a purpose- built sports racing car, the C-type, which won first time out in 1951. This heralded a golden era for Jaguar, and for England, with the cars from Coventry winning on no less than five occasions, from 1954 the accolade having passed to the C’s legendary D-type successor. The publicity from these wins was transformed into burgeoning saloon car sales.
The company withdrew from racing in 1956, the year in which England became service director, but he did not join the Jaguar board until 1961. As the business continued to prosper, other enterprises were acquired; in particular, Daimler was annexed in 1960. Yet despite these purchases Sir William Heynes, as he became in 1956, believed that the firm’s long-term future needed to be secured. In 1966 therefore it merged with the British Motor Corporation which, in turn, led to Jaguar’s becoming part of the unwieldy British Leyland Motor Corporation and Heynes continued to fiercely guard its interests until retiring in 1972. It was then, aged 60, that England took over as chairman and chief executive.
This was an unhappy period at Browns Lane, with the launch of the V12 powered version of the XJ6 saloon threatened by a 10-week strike. Appropriately, England decreed that the Daimler version of the XJ12 be named the Double Six. In January 1974 he announced his retirement, and later moved to Austria, from where he continued to take a close interest in Jaguar, a company which he had so memorably helped to shape.
Frank Raymond Wilton England, motor racing manager: born Finchley, London 24 August 1911; service manager, Jaguar Cars 1946-56, service director 1956-61, assistant managing director 1961-66, deputy managing director 1966-67, joint managing director 1967-68, deputy chairman 1968-72, chairman and chief executive 1972-74; twice married (one daughter); died 30 May 1995.