Reports of the sad death of Tom Walkinshaw, aged just 64, are already eliciting tall trackside tales about his racing successes, his many battles with motorsport’s rule-makers, his Jaguar Le Mans victories and his vital involvement in the early career of Michael Schumacher. However, there’s another important tranche of his work that deserves attention: the road car design and engineering business he established under the TWR banner in a rambling former telecoms centre on an Oxfordshire hillside at Leafield.
In its ‘90s heyday TWR's Leafield business had everything: a fully-equipped design studio (with several star occupants, the most prominent of whom was Jaguar-Aston Martin designer Ian Callum), a full set of virtual reality viewing tools, impressive engineering facilities for creating both car structures and powertrains, and workshops capable of putting it all into three dimensions.
With personnel for the F1 and Volvo racing teams thrown in, the workforce totalled well over 1000 people and for three or four years it even looked as if Leafield could become a kind of British Pininfarina, where high design and modern vehicle engineering could combine with low-volume manufacture, until the crippling troubles of the Arrows F1 team took too much management time and money away. Group Walkinshaw’s road car achievements together and they look mighty impressive. Leafield developed the mid-engined Renault Clio. It created the Aston Martin DB7, a model that literally saved the company.