Charles Spencer 'Spen' King, one of the British motor industry's most famous, resourceful and prolific engineers, died last weekend as a result of injuries sustained in a collision between his bicycle and a van a fortnight earlier. He was 85.
Spen King was best known as the driving force behind the original 1970 Range Rover, whose amazing balance of capabilities sparked a far stronger demand for the luxurious-yet-versatile – and ultimately iconic – 4x4 than the Land Rover management of the time ever expected. It has changed the way off-roaders are viewed, right across the world, and spawned dozens of imitations.
However, King had many other strings to his bow. Born in 1925, he joined Rolls-Royce as an apprentice in 1942. At the end of the war he moved to Rover, the company run by his uncles, Spencer and Maurice Wilks, to work on the turbine-powered JET1 and T3 prototypes.
He showed such aptitude that by 1959 he was head of new vehicle projects, leading the teams that created the advanced and long-lived Rover 2000. Rover became part of the sprawling British Leyland empire at the end of the 1960s, he eventually took the lead in creating the Triumph Stag, Triumph TR6 and Triumph TR7.