Harris Mann obituary


Harris Mann, who has died aged 85, got here to prominence together with his 1973 design for the Austin Allegro, maybe probably the most lampooned British automobile of current instances. Within the 4 a long time since its demise, the unfairly derided Allegro has change into a lazy shorthand for every thing that was improper with British Leyland – and even Britain itself – within the 70s, turning into the comedian flip of the traditional automobile world.

In reality, the Austin Allegro was way more warmly acquired than its latter-day critics would have you ever imagine. It offered respectably for 10 years in a market that was a lot harsher than the one its million-plus promoting predecessor had confronted. The much-loved Austin 1100 – famously thrashed by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers – was a troublesome act to comply with: when it turned frequent data that early Allegros leaked and would even pop their rear screens out if jacked up within the improper place, some instructed that Leyland had managed the uncommon trick of constructing a brand new mannequin that was worse than the previous one. The truth is, many Allegro gross sales have been misplaced to easy shortages at a time when the Longbridge manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Birmingham was embroiled in strike motion.

Mann was the primary to confess that dated manufacturing practices and construct high quality didn’t assist the reputations of any of the automobiles he designed for BL within the Seventies. He additionally identified that many different carmakers – overseas and home – suffered from the identical issues however have been more proficient at preserving quiet about it.

Because the UK ready to enter the EEC in 1973, a lot was driving on the success of the in-house styled Allegro. Together with his lengthy hair and flamboyant fits, the proficient and self-effacing Mann was groomed because the “face” of the brand new automobile: the British reply to the newest crop of younger Italian designers akin to Giorgetto Giugiaro, who shared Mann’s style for the unique wedge shapes that might be the defining pattern of the last decade.

Giugiaro’s much-praised 1971 Alfa Romeo Alfasud had been an affect on BL’s “track for Europe” Allegro, however it was Mann’s radical Triumph TR7 and Austin Princess of 1975 that might give the wedge-shaped vehicle mass market enchantment.

Not one of the Allegro’s ills could possibly be laid on the door of Mann. His renderings for the Allegro present a smooth design that’s laborious to reconcile with the barrel-sided actuality of the car revealed to the general public.

He was not chargeable for the notorious Quartic “sq.” steering wheel fitted to early fashions – a much-derided try to offer poor-man’s energy steering which, had it appeared on a Citroën, would probably have been lauded as one more instance of Gallic brilliance.

The pig-nosed Vanden Plas luxurious model of the Allegro was additionally not Mann’s doing. That automobile had such a agency following amongst aged motorists that one reviewer instructed it ought to come as customary with a bifocal windscreen.

Good natured, unassuming and significantly cherished by the automobile golf equipment that honoured his designs, Mann spent a lot of his retirement explaining to journalists that the proportions he envisaged on paper for the Allegro have been ruined by the Leyland engineers who, for value causes, wanted to utilize cumbersome off-the-shelf elements designed for different BL automobiles.

Mann was born in north London. His mom labored on the Struggle Workplace as a statistician, and his father owned a plumbing agency. After attending Ebury Technical School in Westminster and a brief stint as a physique engineer with the coachmakers Duple, Mann emigrated to New York within the late 50s to work on the Raymond Loewy industrial design consultancy.

There, Mann had little contact with the good French design guru and spent six months designing tread patterns and facet partitions for tyres.

On his return to the UK, his profession suffered a blip as a result of a prolonged interval of nationwide service, however in 1962 Mann joined Ford of Britain as a feasibility engineer, and inside just a few months he had charmed his means into the styling studios. He stayed for 5 years, engaged on the Mk2 Cortina, the unique Escort and the Capri.

The transfer to British Leyland – then nonetheless referred to as BMC, the British Motor Company – got here in 1967, when he was wooed over to Cowley, Oxfordshire, by his former Ford boss Roy Haynes to assist create what would change into the Morris Marina. Shocked by the fusty, prewar ambiance on the web site, Mann later recalled being handled with disdain by Alec Issigonis, the creator of the Mini, as a result of he didn’t have an engineering diploma.

When Haynes resigned in 1970, extra accountability fell on Mann. After the Allegro, as head of styling, he was given a freer hand to develop his well-known wedge shapes of the mid-70s.

The 18-22 Sequence (later renamed Princess) was a daring household saloon whose solely main failing was its lack of a fifth (hatchback) door at a time when the overseas competitors have been adopting this characteristic in ever higher numbers. His much more radical TR7, favoured over Italian proposals, shocked conventional Triumph sports activities automobile consumers, but went on to change into the bestselling TR of all.

Mann left BL in 1983 for BMW’s bike division in Germany, having labored on the Austin Metro and Maestro. He returned to the UK and the Midlands within the 2000s to work alongside Peter Stevens on MG and Rover initiatives whereas additionally lecturing at Coventry College.

In retirement Mann may typically be discovered at gatherings of 70s and 80s Leyland automobiles, speaking to lovers and generally judging fastidiously preserved examples of the as soon as vilified however now much-loved automobiles he gave life to.

In 1969 Mann married Anne, they usually settled in Worcester. She predeceased him. Their three youngsters, Hanna, Nathan and Laura, survive him.


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