Revealed: the secret life of a leading car designer

| 2 Oct 2013

Many of you will have read our news story about the Vintage Hot Rod Association event on Pendine Sands in September. Some of you may have spotted the footnote ‘Words and pictures: Peter Stevens’ and wondered to yourself whether it was that Peter Stevens.

Indeed it was, because the man behind the styling of the McLaren F1, the M100 Lotus Elan, the second-generation Esprit and a whole raft of MGs and Rovers is a dab-hand at writing, too.

He is also – and, for me, most importantly – a proper car nut. It’s easy to picture evangelical car designers in their glass-fronted ivory towers, eulogising about the latest sleek piece of technology, but in his downtime Peter couldn’t be further from that stereotype.

Because Stevens’ love is vintage Fords; proper oil-steeped pieces of machinery that he’s happy to get his hands dirty on, and to use.

I first found this out 11 years ago, when on one of our annual Poor Boys’ Tour the C&SC team rolled into the paddock for VSCC Loton Park and we found ourselves directed to park alongside a rather tasty Model T speedster belonging to one P Stevens.

We were to compete in our own class with our motley crew, ranging from Ford Anglia Estate to Westfield Eleven (November 2002 issue in case you want to look it up), and Peter was as interested in our cars as he was in the assembled exotics.

He helped us out with tools and advice when our machines inevitably broke, drove his own impeccably prepared racer hard and well (see main image above), then loaded up and drove home in it with a cheery wave.

So it was no surprise to learn that he drove all the way from his Suffolk home to Pendine on the Welsh coast not in some anaemic modern, but a Model A Ford Roadster pick-up (above, at Brooklands with photographer friend John Brooks).

"There was a whole bunch of friends of mine there, too," says Peter. "Ian who runs the student workshops at the Royal College of Art, Stefan who is a brilliant illustrator, Neil Tuckett the well known Model T man, Jonathan who is a big city broker with some other city mates – discreet tattoos, strictly above the elbows! – Paul of Krazy Horse motorcycles, Phil who installs solar panels and a couple of graphic design mates.

"It was quite a decent run in the Model A, because it took in the Salon Privé driving day [Tour d'Elégance] and did some judging, too. A fine trip!"

I'll leave you with a couple of Peter's favourite quotes, which sum up his – and the NHRA's – attitude towards motor sport.

Denis Jenkinson: "What you have to remember is that motor racing, like any sport, merely reflects the values of contemporary society at large."

Jan Lammers: "You have to remember that in motor racing we are doing something that is a privilege. It's nice, but it's not really important."