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.

Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor