The story I like best about Spen King – whose sad death has just been announced – is the one about the styling of the original 1970 Range Rover, recounted just a couple of weeks ago on the icon's 40th anniversary. King and his colleague Gordon Bashford had been spending every waking hour working on the mechanical layout and design of this new, ultra-versatile “100-inch station wagon” which Land Rover had decided to launch.
When they needed a body, so prototypes could take to the road to be tested, they simply went ahead and designed their own. Its shapes, planes, apertures, driving position and overall proportions were so close to ideal that, when it came to creating a body for series production, styling chief David Bache decided he didn't need to design a wholly new shape.
He just improved the one created so casually by these two engineers, refining its proportions and edges, and improving stuff like grille, lights, mirrors, doorhandles and badges. It is a tribute to his Bache's own fine eye that he was able to see the inspiration in that original shape and set it free..
I spoke to King about this a few times. Though proud of the Range Rover and what it has achieved, he never tried to embellish his work as a de facto stylist. He insisted that the shape he and Bashford created was always meant as a stop-gap, and that they put “0.1 percent” of their time into creating it.