RIP Len Terry 1924-2014

| 28 Aug 2014

Celebrated car designer Len Terry has died. He was 90.

Terry was born and raised in London, and left school at the age of 14. He became a messenger for a theatre company before the war, then did his duty on fire watch in the first few years of the conflict. By 1943 he had joined the RAF – his only other option being to work the mines as a Bevin Boy.

His time in the armed forces was initially spent creating instruments and photographic equipment, leading him to Karachi for a brief period. A short time after that he became a trainee draughtsman for Ever Ready in Walthamstow and, later, Falcon Shells, which prepared him for his first stint in the world of motor sport – he joined Lotus in 1958. During his time at the firm he contributed to the design of the Lotus Seven, Eleven, 12, 15, 16 and 17.

Terry also became heavily involved in the specials movement that emerged in the 1950s after building his own Austin-Seven-based car. He moved on to a Ford Ten-powered JVT Special, which he raced with little success.

The JVT was then cannibalised to create his second car – the Terrier – which was pieced together in his front room in Tottenham, famously having to be taken out of the house via the sash windows.

He went on to form a company that manufactured replica Terriers, but just five cars were produced, and the conflict it caused with Chapman resulted in his being fired from Lotus.After that he went to work with Syd Green at Gilby Engineering, where he created a Climax-engined sports car, closely followed by a 1.5-litre Grand Prix car. A short time later Terry was involved in a serious accident in a customer's Terrier, and he returned to Lotus for a second time when he had recuperated. 

The next three years proved a defining period for both Terry and Lotus. While he was there the team took the Formula 1 World Championship, also winning in F2, saloon racing and the Tasman series. However, he considered his greatest achievement to be the 38, which brought Jim Clark success in the Indianapolis 500 in 1965. 

Following his hugely successful second spell at Lotus, Terry was lured to America to work with Dan Gurney and All American Racers. He created the beautiful Eagle-Weslake while he was there, which Gurney drove to victory at Spa in the '67 Belgian Grand Prix. He remains the only American to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix in an American car. 

From there, he once again returned to the world of freelance, producing a number of designs for BRM and Gulf Research. He also worked on the Shelby Can-Am Cobra, which prompted him to establish Transatlantic Automotive Consultants in partnership with Frank Nichols, founder of Elva. The car wasn't a success, leading to the dissolution of the partnership.

Once again Terry forged ahead alone, setting up his own firm – Design Auto – in Poole, where he created several cars including Tore Helle's Viking F3 racer and the flawed Stanley-BRM 207. It was the 207 that ultimately ended his interest in motor sport, and he played out the rest of his career making reproduction vintage vehicles until 1992.