Some names have become part of the fabric of motoring. Then there are other characters: men and women whose contribution is almost a great but who somehow don’t receive the fame and recognition you could argue they deserve. Here we look at four unsung heroes.
Instead of Henry Ford, what about David Buick?
Before Henry Ford introduced mass production and democratised owning a motor vehicle, David Dunbar Buick was revolutionising the engine. Born in Scotland in 1854, Buick’s parents immigrated to Detroit when their son was two.
Buick grew up with a fascination for engines which led him to shift the engine’s valves from the side of the block, as was fashionable, to the top. This was responsible for a hike in power and has subsequently been followed by every major engine manufacturer. Undoubtedly a great inventor, Buick was a rubbish business man. His car company was one of the building blocks for General Motors and has gone on to sell 35-million examples. Buick died penniless in 1929.
Instead of Colin Chapman, what about Malcolm Sayer?
While Colin Chapman was gaining fame through adding lightness and notoriety from shady business decisions, Malcolm Sayer was quietly getting on with transforming sports car design. After graduating as an automotive engineer, he went to work for the Bristol Aeroplane Company, helping to improve the efficiency of the Blenheim and Beaufighter aeroplanes.
Sayer joined Jaguar in 1951 and began using mathematics to design an aerodynamically shaped sports racing car. The result was the C-type that won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951 and ’53. Its successor, the D-type won the same race in 1955, ’56 and ’57. He then designed the E-type and beautiful XJ13. He died, ironically like Chapman, aged 54 of a heart attack.
Instead of Ettore Bugatti, what about Andre Citroen?
Bugatti’s success as an industrial designer was quite remarkable. But he couldn’t match Andre Citroen who was a designer turned industrialist. Born in Paris to Polish parents, Citroen invented double helical gears which were quieter and more efficient than traditional gears. Their chevron shape is also apparently the inspiration for the Citroen logo.
During World War One, Citroen produced arms for the French army and gained worldwide respect for the way he used industrial techniques to increase shell manufacture. In 1919 he founded Citroen Automobiles. He set up factories in countries like Germany and the UK to get round hefty import taxes. He was the first to use rubber engine mounts to cut in-car vibrations. And he revolutionised advertising with his company name spelt out with 250,000 lights on the Eiffel Tower. By the late 1920s, Citroen was Europe’s largest car maker. However by 1934, the company was bankrupt. A year later, Andre Citroen was dead from stomach cancer.
Instead of Michele Mouton, what about Jutta Kleinschmidt?
Think of a female rally driver and you doubtless think of Michele Mouton. However, Jutta Kleinschmidt’s achievements are as significant. She began work as a research and development engineer at BMW but left to pursue her Dakar Rally dream – on a motorbike. In 1995, she transferred to four wheels where she helped develop the Mitsubishi Pajero Evo into the most successful Dakar machine ever with 11 wins.
Kleinschmidt won the marathon herself in 2001. She then moved to Volkswagen where she helped develop the Touareg off-road rally car which won the Dakar in 2009, 10 and 11. She has since retired from the Dakar but continues to race in events such as the Nurburgring 24 Hours. She remains the only woman and the only German driver to have won the Dakar.
Touareg image courtesy of ‘krass’ licensed under Creative Commons 2.0. C-Type image courtesy of Bonhams.