One of the world's most respected car industry leaders, Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, aged 63, was killed yesterday while practising for a classic bike race at Brands Hatch. Reports say Kalbfell ran wide while exiting a corner, fell, and was struck by another competitor. He was taken by ambulance to nearby Darenth Valley hospital but died of his injuries.
Kalbfell is best known for a long and all-encompassing career at BMW. On the engineering side he was responsible for the development of the M-series cars, led the team that developed BMW's F1 engines, was one of the instigators of both the Rolls-Royce and Mini projects and was instrumental in setting up the deals that put BMW V12 engines into the McLaren F1 and BMW V8s into the current Morgan Aero and Plus Eight models. He also had various senior marketing roles, and had an abiding sense that customers needed to be attracted to cars by their aura and reputation, not just their engineering.
In the mid-2000s he ran both Alfa Romeo and Maserati, before taking up wider-ranging consultancy roles in Russia and the UK that included a period as an advisor to Lotus. He had a considerable collection of British classic bikes, and raced them regularly, regarding his regular appearances at the Goodwood Revival as the pinnacle of his season.