“Sayer uniquely blended science and art to produce timeless shapes of exceptional and enduring beauty. He brought science to the art of car design; and scientifically produced works of art.”
21st May 2016 marked the Centenary of the birth of one of this country’s greatest design geniuses. Malcolm Sayer was taken away from us at a relatively young age when he suffered a fatal heart attack, outside Parkside Garage, next to the Regent Hotel in Royal Leamington Spa, 1 month before his 54th birthday.
His legacy is a collection of iconic Jaguar Sports Cars – C-Type, D-Type, E-Type and the sublime XJ13 – the latter being his crowning achievement.
1966 to 2016 – 50 Years
Coinciding with his birthday, the first public “reveal” of my recreation of Sayer’s 1966 XJ13 took place at the London Classic Car Show at the Excel in London. The car is my personal tribute to this great, and perhaps under-appreciated, man whose final resting-place is unknown – even today.
The car replicates Jaguar’s XJ13 as it first left Jaguar’s Competition Department – as Malcolm Sayer envisaged it and before it was crashed and re-skinned in 1972/73.
At the end of 2014, the bark of Jaguar’s legendary No.2 quad-cam V12 engine was heard for the first time in 50 years. The starter was pressed by the same Jim Eastick who started the No.1 engine for the first time in 1964 in the presence of Jaguar’s Bill Heynes – this time, in the presence of Jonathan Heynes, son of the late Bill Heynes.
1916 to 2016 -100 Years
Just over 100 years ago, Gilbert and Annie Sayer became parents to a son they named Malcolm. Malcolm Sayer – a name which was to become synonymous with Jaguar’s classic and most beautiful iconic designs. Malcolm’s birth in 1916 no doubt represented a bright spot in the otherwise dark times during the middle of the First World War in that eastern corner of the UK – Cromer, Norfolk. Malcolm’s father, Gilbert, was a teacher at Great Yarmouth Grammar School where he taught the unusual combination of Maths and Art – certainly a man whose interests would have influenced the direction his son’s career was eventually to take.
Malcolm’s birth, preceded by a German Zeppelin attack on the Eastern Coast of the England, coincided with the introduction of UK Daylight Saving on the 21st May 1916. Cars were relatively few and far between on Norfolk roads with most being made by the Ford, Rover, Wolseley, Morris and Humber car companies. Smaller-volume manufacturers such as Crossley also had offerings. The kind of cars on Britain’s roads around the time the infant took his first steps were similar to those pictured below – a far cry from the designs later to emerge from his pen!
Malcolm’s Grandson, Sam (Founder of The Malcolm Sayer Foundation) takes up the story:
“From the start he was interested in maths art and science, and despite many childhood illnesses, he was a high academic achiever and gained the prestigious Empire Scholarship* at the early age of 17. This enabled him to attend the then Loughborough College, where he gained a first class honours diploma in Automotive Engineering. He was also Secretary of the College motor Club and for two years Editor of the College Magazine.
After graduation, Malcolm joined the Bristol Aeroplane Company, studying aeronautics and looking at ways of improving the efficiency and design of significant WW2 aircraft, particularly the Blenheim and the Beaufighter; and developing his expertise in aerodynamics as applied to mechanical design. Following the war he married Pat Morgan in 1947 and after his daughter Kate was born in 1948 he went to Iraq to work at Baghdad University. This turned out to only exist on paper, so he worked instead maintaining the fleet of government vehicles.”
*The “Empire Scholarship” referred to above were open to all British subjects living in any part of the Empire. These scholarships awarded the sum of £75 per annum which helped Malcolm complete his studies at the Faculty of Engineering at Loughborough College.
The pictures below show students working using Loughborough College’s wind tunnel during Malcolm Sayer’s years (pictures reproduced with permission from Loughborough University):
Malcolm Sayer – Aerodynamic Wizard
A few years ago the BBC recorded a tribute to Malcolm Sayer. The program was aired on Radio 4 and presented by Jonathan Glancey. Contributors included Sir Stirling Moss, Lord March of Goodwood, Philip Porter, Peter Wilson, Kate Sayer (Malcolm’s daughter), Jools Holland, Norman Dewis, Mike Kimberley, Mick Walsh and Yours Truly. The following video adds pictures to the radio broadcast:
Malcolm Sayer graduated from Loughborough College and joined the Bristol Aeroplane Company on the 22nd September 1938.
According to our friends at Wikipedia …
“The Bristol Aeroplane Company, originally the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was both one of the first and one of the most important British aviation companies, designing and manufacturing both airframes and aero engines. Notable aircraft produced by the company include the ‘Boxkite’, the Bristol Fighter, the Bulldog, the Blenheim, the Beaufighter, and the Britannia, and much of the preliminary work which led to the Concorde was carried out by the company.”
A few years later there was to be a tenuous link between Malcolm and Jaguar as Norman Dewis OBE was to fly as gunner in Bristol Blenheims. I wonder if Norman and Malcolm ever discussed this when they met up at Jaguar years later?
The Mysterious German
Sayer, by virtue of having a “reserved occupation” at the Bristol Aeroplane Company, was spared National Service during WW2. Instead, he put his skills to good use helping design warplanes and their engines for the Allied war effort. He married Patricia at the end of hostilities. Patricia gave birth to their first daughter, Kate, in 1948. I am sure Kate won’t thank me for mentioning the date … 😉 Malcolm and Patricia later extended their family with another daughter (Mary – 1956) and a son (John – 1953).
Malcolm’s First Daughter
In the same year as Kate was born, Malcolm was asked to establish a Faculty of Engineering at Baghdad University. He duly arrived in Iraq only to find the opportunity to create the Faculty didn’t exist! His time wasn’t wasted however and he instead spent a few days alone in the desert by a German Mathematician. he was later joined in Iraq by his wife and new daughter.
Malcolm learnt from the mysterious German and used his teachings to develop his own unique way of defining complex shapes in a purely mathematical way – much as we do nowadays using CAD and computers. He always kept the details of exactly how he did this very close to his chest.
Ex-Jaguar Competition Department and Author Peter Wilson described Sayer’s way of working as follows in his book, “Cat Out of the Bag” (no longer in print):
“Malcolm’s drawings contained no lines per se, but consisted of a matrix of dimensional points defined in three planes from a common base reference point, which defined the outer surface of the skin panel. His method was unique in the motor industry, but more commonplace in the aircraft design world. Malcolm claimed he had been taught this mathematical method of complex curved surface definition by a German, when they spent a few days together in a tent in the desert ….
… It was a system which was relatively easy to use: just a case of marking out the points defined by the coordinates on a sheet of plywood, cutting it out, then assembling each piece relative to its datum on a wooden base and ‘hey presto’, you had a complete skin former …
… Malcolm kept his method of mathematically calculating complex curved surfaces very close to his chest …”
Malcolm Sayer has left us with some of the most beautiful examples of sporting automotive design the world has seen.
Even today, at Jaguar, the essential elements of his designs can be seen in cars such as the C-X75. Jaguar’s concept (which may see production) unashamedly draws on its styling cues from Sayer’s XJ13. Check out the following pictures and video:
The words Jaguar, Jaguar XJ13, XJ13 are used in a historical/descriptive context and in no way suggest our recreations/replicas are approved by Jaguar. It is widely known that there was only ever one Jaguar XJ13 and any others can only ever be replicas, facsimilies, tributes, recreations, toolroom copies or similar.