HARRY WEBSTER, who died on February 6th 2007 aged 89
Harry Webster, Chief Technical Director of Triumph for many years and the man who recognised the potential of the Michellotti mock up which became the Stag. Harry insisted that the American market needed a V8 and hence our Stag was born. Harry was born in May 1917.
Had he survived Harry would have been 90 in May of this year. Harry was Triumph’s long term Technical Chief and was responsible for the Triumph Herald, Vitesse, Spitfire, GT6, 2000, 1300 a number of the TRs and the Stag. Harry started as an apprentice at Standard in 1932 and as a reminder he kept his framed pay tally on his wall in his den alongside the handpainted Christmas cards from Michellotti. Harry was in charge of all Triumph engineering by 1968 when he became Technical Director of British Leyland until 1974 when he moved to AP. Harry always declared that he was flabbergasted to see the cars he helped produce become venerable classics spawning at least14 separate enthusiasts clubs. In retirement Harry stayed close to his fellow engineers with regular meetings at the golf course and the Standard Triumph Club.
Some of you had the opportunity to meet Harry when he attended a co-ordinators meeting and later when I invited Harry and his fellow engineers to come on the SOC stand at the NEC in 1998 to celebrate 75 years of Standard Triumph. Celebrating the same anniversary Harry was one of the guests at the dinner the night before that hugely popular celebration when more than 1500 Standard Triumphs came together at the Heritage Centre. Harry was the obvious person to unveil the Standard Triumph Monument in Coventry in April 2000 and the plaque immortalises his role. He was proud to be an honorary member of most of the Standard Triumph clubs in GB and abroad and I know from his phone calls that he read our magazine avidly. He loved his cars and my abiding memory will be of him standing outside his house in Kenilworth waving to the Triumphs passing by on the Shakespeare Run from Coventry. Those of us who knew him saluted him with a pip and a wave as we drove past.
Harry Webster's obituary from the Daily Telegraph
Harry Webster, who died on February 6 aged 89, was a much-admired and respected automotive engineer whose team inspired the birth of successful Triumph sports cars such as the TR2 family, the Spitfire and the Stag, and was also responsible for the Herald, Vitesse, 2000 and 1300 family car ranges; in the same period, he supported the building of special cars which raced successfully in the Le Mans 24-Hour race.
Although all these cars have now become icons of the classic car movement, Webster always insisted that this was never the intention when they were designed.
He once remarked: "Can you imagine a product planning proposal of the 1950s and 1960s saying that: 'Finally, in making this proposal, I expect to receive an avalanche of greetings on my 80th birthday'. After all, I was only doing my job."
Harry George Webster was born on May 27 1917, and educated at Welshpool County School. Aged 15 he was apprenticed to the Standard Motor Company in Coventry. After spending six years in Standard's aircraft engineering operation as an inspector during the Second World War, he returned to the chassis design department in Coventry in 1945 and rose rapidly through the ranks.
By 1948 he was chief chassis engineer, and from 1952 was responsible for the design and refinement of the Triumph TR2 sports car which, along with its successors, was a great sporting, commercial and export success.
Having become director of engineering in 1957, Webster assembled an enthusiastic team which produced a series of charismatic new models to near-impossible development schedules, even though investment finance was always very limited.
It was Webster who discovered the mercurial little Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti in 1957, signed him up as a consultant to Standard-Triumph and ensured that a new generation of Triumphs would have much more flair than their ancestors.
Webster (a fast and enthusiastic driver) would often drive from Coventry to Turin and back in a weekend to confer with Michelotti about future products.
Because Webster was so successful with his new products, and could always convince his bosses (Alick Dick until 1961, Stanley Markland and Donald Stokes thereafter) of their worth, that generation of new Triumphs showed much innovation. In 1959 there were several types of new Herald, with a taxi-like turning circle. The 2000 saloon brought real refinement to the middle-class sector, while the TR5 was the first British sports car to have fuel injection as standard equipment.
At the same time Webster's team produced TRS racing sports cars which won the Team Prize at Le Mans, and later developed sleek, very fast little Spitfires which also won their capacity classes at Le Mans.
Webster was director of engineering at Standard-Triumph for more than a decade. After the formation of British Leyland he was moved to Longbridge to bring order to the faltering engineering operation at Austin-Morris.
But his six-year term was hampered by a lack of corporate vision and by industrial action, so in 1974 he moved on to become group technical director of automotive products in Leamington Spa. He retired in 1982, then was chairman of SKF Steel UK for five years.
A modest man, Webster was astonished to become an icon of classic car enthusiasts. Three years ago, when the two oldest TR2s of all were reunited, he was enormously proud to have them parked outside his house at Kenilworth for commemorative photographs to be taken.
So popular was he among his former colleagues at Standard-Triumph that a thriving appreciation society was founded in his honour.
He was appointed CBE in 1974.
Harry Webster married, in 1943, Peggy Sharp. She and their daughter predeceased him.