Obituary | Spen King | Range Rover

Published: 30 June 2010

It was sad to hear this week of the death of Charles Spencer 'Spen' King, the creator of the original Range Rover. His death following complications from a cycling accident was announced on Monday.

King was a big figure in the world of British Leyland and worked at Rover from 1945, rising to become chief engineer in 1959. Vehicles developed under his watch included the Rover P6, Triumph TR6, Rover SD1 and Triumph Stag, but we'll best remember him for the original Range Rover of 1970. This was a novelty at the time, as 4x4s were seen as workhorses not luxury cars – and the Range Rover spawned a whole sub-genre and brand that's still going strong 40 years later.

He lasted through several muddled reorganisations of British Leyland before retiring in 1985. But he continued to hold an interest in the car industry in his retirement and campaigned vociferously on motoring matters and – in particular – visibility on modern cars.

When Tim met Spen

This was how I met him seven years ago. I was working at What Car? magazine and King had got wind of the fact that we were about to conduct visibility testing. Modern cars with their chunky pillars, swept-back windscreens and safety-first body construction had become cocoons with thick A-pillars and blindspots galore – accidents waiting to happen, according to the wise King.

I went to visit him in his Warwickshire home, not far from the Birmingham and Coventry bases where his career had played out. He was in his late 70s then but his engineer's brain was still pin-sharp, as he showed me his research and pored over technical drawings and paperwork galore.

He was a classic engineer from the old school and spoke with informed, clipped tones over tea and biscuits. But he was friendly and enthusiastic, too, and intrigued to talk about the latest cars.

A thorn in the side of bureaucrats

King had been lobbying hard at Government level and with EU mandarins. He was shocked by the visibility of modern vehicles and had clearly become a thorn in the side of officials, judging by the weighty files of correspondence he showed me with a grin.

He helped us formulate our testing procedures (which went on to shame cars like the Vauxhall Meriva mini-MPV, with their faux quarterlights designed merely to pass official tests) and was a true gent, happy to talk about the Range Rover as much as the intricacies of EU visibility testing.

He's one engineer who'll be sorely missed by many. We wonder what he would have made of the new compact Range Rover, being unveiled next month?

>> Picture of Spen King courtesy of AR Online. Click here for their excellent in-depth obituary

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet