Richard Parry-Jones, the legendary engineer who rebuilt Ford’s reputation for making great cars in the 1990s, died in a tragic accident on April 16.
History is likely to judge that nobody changed the automotive industry during the last fifty years like Richard Parry-Jones. He didn’t just make Ford vehicles great, at a time when they were not, his work raised the bar for every car maker. The effortless easy manoeuvrability of a modern car will be Richard’s enduring legacy. He was a fearsomely fast driver and loved cars, but his greatest skill was to understand how it operated at slow speeds in day-to-day conditions. He ran almost every RS car Ford made, Escort, Sierra Cosworth and Focus, talking animatedly with me about his love of the Capri 2.8 injection. Yes, he was a legend with all that sideways test track stuff, but his biggest gift was to make a car feel right from the moment you walked up to it.
We were decades apart in our time at Ford, so our paths didn’t cross until I wrote my first book a few years ago. The more often we talked the more I enjoyed it, many of these powerful people talk about themselves, but not Richard. We’d talk for hours about cars and, this is the best bit, he was great fun. Much has been written about his engineering skills but probably less about how entertaining a chat was with him. Our discussions made me feel, as others did that worked for him, that you were talking as peers – that’s undoubtedly how he got the best out of people. As we got to know each other he offered to write the foreword for Secret Fords. I felt it was a real honour – and, more importantly, a chance for readers to hear from him first-hand; “I spun an Escort RS1700T one night because the brakes were set for rallying”, or the failure of the Cougar; “Hands up it was me, I cocked that one up and got overconfident.” Richard was full of great stories, honesty and warmth.
I once asked him what makes a good Ford; “It should be driven from the wrists and not from the shoulders. People might know what good steering is but without a car is plain bad!”
Words Steve Saxty
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