Nature, cars and sport were loves from Appleyard's earliest years. He was the youngest son of J.E. ("Ernest") Appleyard, a pioneer of the British motor trade, and his wife, Mary (known to her family as "Pooh" because of her appearance in her ski-suit). The family went ski-ing in Switzerland every winter and both Ian and his brother Geoffrey, who was killed during an SAS mission to Sicily in 1943, reached Olympic standard. Ian represented Britain in the 1948 Olympics.
Appleyard senior opened his first garage in Leeds in 1919, four years before Ian's birth. He brought his children up to love the hills and wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. When Ian, aged 12, won an ornithology prize at his prep school, Earnseat, his father suggested that, rather than pursuing a general interest in all birds, he should pick one species and find out more about it than anyone else.
After a brief dalliance with owls, Ian and Geoffrey settled on the dipper, an endearingly chubby bird which nests by clear, fast-flowing water. By 1940, they knew the nesting site of every dipper in Upper Wharfedale - and could trace their family trees back to fledglings they had ringed in their nests five years before. Thirty years later, when an unknown bird flew across Appleyard's path as he drove up Coverdale with his wife, Philippa ("Pip") , they stopped and followed it to its nest. It turned out to be a ring ouzel and Appleyard vowed that he would once again learn more about one species than anyone else.
For 15 years from 1978, Ian and Pip Appleyard devoted hours to studying this shy relation of the blackbird, finally focusing on one remote valley. In all, they located 353 pairs and began to note details unrecorded by previous observers - such as changes in the plumage of the female as she matures and local "dialect" variations in the birds' calls. Ring Ouzels of the Yorkshire Dales (1994), illustrated by Appleyard's remarkable photographs - was one of his proudest achievements.
After Earnseat, Appleyard went to Bootham School and Bradford Technical College, where he took a First in Mechanical Engineering in 1943, while serving his apprenticeship with his father's firm. He joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, became an instructor at the Military College of Science (Tank Technology) and by the age of 23 had risen to the rank of Major. In 1946 he became a director of Appleyard of Leeds, by then a successful Morris, Jaguar and Daimler dealership.
In 1947, Appleyard borrowed a second-hand SS Jaguar 100 from the firm's showroom and headed off for the Alps with a schoolfriend, Peter Musgrave. They finished third in their class in their first Alpine Rally. Appleyard later described the car as the "most exhilarating" he ever drove, "absolutely petrifying" at high speeds.
Next year, he was back, this time in the only post-war SS 100 ever built by Jaguar. He and his co-driver, Dick Weatherhead - son of the Methodist preacher Leslie Weatherhead - achieved the best performance in the event, in spite of screeching to a halt mid-rally to help a fellow competitor who had been injured in a crash.
In 1950 Appleyard married Patricia Lyons, daughter of Jaguar's founder, and together they won Alpine Cups in 1950, 1951 and 1952 - a hat-trick which earned Appleyard the rally's first Gold Cup. Their white Jaguar XK120 is still preserved in running order in Coventry by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, of which Appleyard was a Trustee.
Appleyard also came second in the Dutch Tulip Rally in 1949, and won the RAC and Morecambe rallies. In 1953, the year he retired from serious sport, he won his fifth Alpine Cup and was runner-up in the first European Rally Championship. He preferred rallying to motor racing - but did compete at least once, beating Stirling Moss in the 1955 Production Touring Car Race at Silverstone.
His first marriage ended in divorce and in 1959 he married Philippa Ryder. Theirs was a long and devoted partnership, which saw the formation and flotation of the Appleyard Group of Companies, with Appleyard as chairman and managing director. He served as President of the Motor Agents' Association, Chairman of the Austin Rover Dealer Council and later the BL Dealer Council, and, in 1974, as President of the Council of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce. He was also a dedicated Rotarian, chairing the Yorkshire District in 1967-68.
In 1988, Appleyard retired as chairman of the Appleyard Group and, with Pip at his side, devoted the enthusiasm and determination which had marked his sporting and business careers to the pursuit of the ring ouzel.
Ernest Ian Appleyard, sportsman, businessman and naturalist: born Linton, Yorkshire 10 October 1923; married 1950 Patricia Lyons (marriage dissolved), 1959 Philippa Ryder (two sons); died Harrogate 2 June 1998.