The term ‘car guy’ is flogged to death days, but I believe it must have been coined for Mike Kimberley, departing Lotus chief executive, who has been the inspiration behind many cars and car companies in a 56-year career that came to an end last week on doctors’ advice.
Born a car-nut in Brown’s Lane, Coventry, Kimberley’s main desire as a kid was to join the company across the road — Jaguar — and became an apprentice there in 1953.
He worked his way up from there, qualifying as an engineer and helping to develop projects like the mid-engined XJ13 Le Mans car, which showed much promise but never raced. At Lotus, his earliest (and most fondly remembered) project was to develop the Europa twin Cam, drawings of which were still hanging on his office wall last week.
Historians will always reckon Kimberley’s greatest achievement was keeping the company afloat after Chapman’s shock death — and the effects of the DeLorean scandal — in the early ‘80s, but the man himself can cite at least four other occasions when extraordinary action was needed to avert a crisis.
I can remember walking through the factory with him and being told — on the QT — that it wasn’t certain that banks would pay the wages on Friday. But they did. Since returning to Lotus three years ago, Kimberley has devised (and had approved) a five-year rolling business plan, returned the company to profitability, rebuilt the engineering consultancy and launched the Evora.