Motoring: Our designers are the best - what a pity there is no large indigenous car maker left to work for

BRITAIN MAY be a motor industry minnow, without a single large car maker to call our own, but we still play a crucial role in designing some of the world's finest cars.

Just the other day I attended a presentation to launch the new Mercedes S-class, probably the world's most accomplished car. And during the speeches/video presentation/meal/handing over of press kits, it emerged that an English designer was responsible for the looks.

Steve Mattin, from Bedford, is a graduate of Coventry University's excellent car design course. Designs are team efforts, of course, and Mercedes has a vast design department with studios in Germany, Japan and America. Yet Mattin is given the credit for the S-class's look - a great achievement, for it is one of the beautiful cars of the fin de siecle, mixing grace, modernity and Mercedes tradition.

Mattin is also responsible for the external styling of the baby A-class, probably the decade's most radical car.

It's not just in Stuttgart - Mercedes' home town - where English auto artists prosper. Anthony Grade, nephew of the late Sir Lew, is vice-president for car design at Renault, in recent years perhaps Europe's most progressive maker in terms of form and function and renowned for its lateral thinking.

Its Scenic mini-MPV, which Grade helped conceive, created a whole new type of car. The latest Clio was also designed under his leadership, and he has had a big hand in the latest Espace and the Laguna. Grade, in turn, reports to Patrick Le Quement, who is responsible for all Renault design, including trucks. Le Quement, possibly Europe's greatest active vehicle designer, is an Anglo-Frenchman.

Volvo was never renowned for design, its cars - all square edges and boxy shapes - almost anti-style objects. That was until Englishman Peter Horbury came on the scene as chief designer. Horbury is responsible for the latest breed, including the S80 saloon and handsome V40 estate. He has made Volvos sexy.

Audi's street style, on the other hand, has been noted for years. Ask designers to list the best-designed cars, and most will mention Audi. Much of that good work is down to an Englishman, Chris Bird. He was responsible for the exteriors of the Audi A4 and A8 and had a big say in the A6 and the new TT sports car. These Michelangelos-of-the-motorway are four of the finest-looking production cars ever.

Admirers of Bird include Ford. The US giant, which has been in a very acquisitive mood recently, has just hired him to be its director of design for small- and medium-sized cars - a huge coup for Ford. Bird, 42, is a Royal College of Art graduate who began working for Ford in 1981 before moving to Audi in 1986.

There are many more talented Brits, big on road vogue. Martin Smith was one of the key designers of the original Audi Quattro. Based in Germany, he's now responsible for the look of upcoming small- and medium-sized Opels and Vauxhalls. Geoff Lawson, Jaguar's director of design, has the XK8 sports car on his CV, and that is reckoned to be one of the best shapes of the Nineties. He also did the current XJ saloon. Ian Callum designed the drop-dead gorgeous Aston Martin DB7 and the equally enticing Aston Project Vantage concept car, whose styling is set to hit production in a few years.

The list could go on and on. They are all making the streets a more cheerful and stimulating place and improving our visual environment, just as good architects and clothes designers do. It is just a pity that there is no large UK-owned car maker that they can work for. The biggest indigenous maker we've got now is tiny TVR. And what's TVR's main strength? You guessed it - great style.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Growing Law firm

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable law firm based in central London ...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    The Jenrick Group: Controls Engineer

    Negotiable: The Jenrick Group: A Controls Engineer is urgently required for a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

    £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an an exciting opportunity to jo...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas