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.
Even the vaunted bonnet castellations, now a feature now considered essential to any new Range Rover, were included originally as convenient mountings for the wing mirrors carried by cars of the time, and to make the extremities of the vehicle more visible to the driver.
The “floating roof”, another Range Rover essential, came about because some bright spark in production realised the cars could be made more cheaply if bodies were produced with black pillars.
An ordinary man could have been forgiven for trying to add glamour and inspiration to his tales ODF these things, but King was only ever interested in telling what really happened. He was a wonderful, intuitive engineer – and a nice man – whose confidence and leadership in very difficult times continues to inspire the lucky generations that have succeeded him.