The converters : William Towns

William Towns is probably most closely associated with Aston Martin, having been responsible for the design of such cars as the svelte DBS and the futuristic Lagonda.

However, as early as 1969, Towns had become involved with British Leyland when he designed one of the so-called Triumph Puma proposals for project that would eventually deliver the Rover SD1. Later on, he also undertook a number of independent design exercises based on various British Leyland underpinnings.

Two of these – the Minissima and the Microdot – were even adopted by the company, and can be seen today on display at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon.

The Towns razor

Towns soon became known for his trademark razor-edge styling, which would be a common thread running through all his designs of 1970s. It was also during this time that he established his own company, Interstyl, to manufacture and distribute the Hustler kit car – a fascinating, modular concept which could be configured in a bewildering number of permutations, meaning that no two are likely to be quite the same.

Also worthy of a mention here is Towns’ stunning Aston Martin Bulldog concept, unveiled in 1980. Every published account of how this car came about seems to give a different version of events: Giles Chapman1 states that it was Aston’s attempt to throw off their traditional image. Jonathan Wood2 reports that the official line was that it was designed to publicise Aston’s newly-created external engineering facility and to demonstrate that the company ‘can build the ultimate road-going supercar’, while revealing that the car had actually been in gestation since 1977.

Better still, Peter Vann and Gerald Asaria3 claim that the Bulldog was specifically commissioned in 1979 by an oil-rich Arab customer who found the recently-introduced Lagonda saloon (another Towns design, incidentally) ‘too boring’ and wanted something even more exclusive, and that when this unnamed customer later cancelled his order, Aston decided to adopt the project as their own and issue the aforementioned official company line at its launch.

BL and Aston Martin: together?

All very interesting, of course, but where’s the BMC>Rover connection, I hear you ask. Well, most intriguing of all is the following brief photo caption which appeared in the May 1980 issue of the highly-respected Thoroughbred & Classic Cars:

‘The Aston Martin Bulldog, a one-off 190mph plus exercise from Newport Pagnell. Gullwing doors and a twin-turbocharged Aston Martin V8 mounted amidships are notable features of a project that sprang from a conversation between Aston Martin Chairman Alan Curtis and BL’s Sir Michael Edwardes two years ago when ideas of an Aston-Jaguar sports car were mooted.’

On to different things…

Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s worth noting that this proposed Aston/Jaguar pairing would not materialise until the 1990s, when Ford would once again be pulling the strings. In another twist, though, Towns would recycle one of the Bulldog’s most distinctive features for his Metro-based Tracer kit car (below)…

Just as production of the Hustler was coming to an end in the late 1980s, Towns took on a new commission to design a pair of Jaguar XJ-S-based cars that would relaunch the long-dead Railton marque. In deference to the age in which they were conceived, these models were noticeably more rounded than his other Leyland-based designs, and they would also prove to be his last work of any significance.

Sadly, Towns passed away in 1993.

Book references (see above text):
1: Cars That Time Forgot, 1997, ISBN 0-75252-083-0
2: Concept Cars, 1997, ISBN 0-75252-084-9
3: Extraordinary Automobiles, 1985, ISBN 778525-5-85


The Minissima was William Towns‘ vision of how the Mini should have looked by the end of the 1970s. Asopèe Simeli explains why that didn’t happen, and how the design eventually reached the marketplace in a different rôle.


The Guyson E12

This striking rebodied E-type came about as the result of a private commission following an unfortunate car crash…



Towns’ follow-up to the Minissima was this even more radical city car concept, featuring three-abreast seating. Smaller, smarter, and much, much greener – in more ways than one…



The utilitarian Hustler brings together the other cars featured in this section, as its modular design meant that it could be based on anything from a Mini to a Jaguar XJ12. It can also be regarded as Towns’ most successful Leyland-based design, with a kit-based production run spanning over 10 years.


The Aston MGB

When BL announced that it was going to close Abingdon, Aston Martin’s Chairman, Alan Curtis, led a consortium to buy the factory. The venture was a failure, but it did give us this interesting facelifted MGB, whose styling revisions were penned by William Towns…


TXC Tracer

The Tracer joined the Huster within Interstyl’s range in 1985, taking its inspiration from something rather more exotic…


The Railtons

In 1989, Towns got the opportunity to update and refine the thinking which had led to the creation of the Guyson E12 some fifteen years previously…


Keith Adams
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  1. William Towns had much earlier connections with Rover. He worked with David Bache on the P6 Rover (just compare the original extruded alloy grille with inset headlamp bezels and the near identical treatment on his first DBS) and also did the lovely re-style of the Rover BRM Le Mans turbine car – IMHO his best-ever design.

  2. @ Ian Elliott:

    You beat me to it with regards to the 1965 Rover-BRM Le Mans gas turbine car! A striking design which still commands immense presence to this day, despite the fact it was born (or should that be Bourne, as in the home of B.R.M.?) out of a redundant B.R.M. P57 grand prix race car chassis and a functional need relating to the inclusion of those twin ram air intakes to improve engine performance. Despite these inherited constraints, Mr Towns’ efforts to transform the original open body design by Aubrey Woods into an attractive closed-roof GT style certainly did not give that impression.

    Unquestionably a very talented designer and I still admire the sheer excess displayed in his sharp-suited Aston Martin Lagonda, a design theme that is unlikely to be rekindled in the future.

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