6th May, 2021

Tributes paid to distinguished Coventry-born automotive engineer Robin Price

Tristan Harris 15th Jan, 2021 Updated: 15th Jan, 2021

TRIBUTES have been paid to a distinguished automotive transmission engineer, all-wheel-drive expert and enthusiastic private pilot from Coventry who died of Covid-19.

Robin Price passed away at University Hospital Coventry on Boxing Day following a brave and lengthy battle with cancer.

Robin was born in Coventry on December 30, 1941, in Coventry, and after leaving school at 15 he started a five-year apprenticeship as an aeronautical engineer at Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft at Baginton.

In 1971 he joined FF Developments based in Siskin Drive as a design engineer and then project manager. FFD was established by Major Tony Rolt to pursue the development of all-wheel-drive technology in cars and light commercial vehicles.

Bill Munro, who co-authored with Pat Turner the story of the Ferguson Formula four-wheel-drive system, interviewed Robin for a book on the subject describing how the technology transformed road cars ‘adding speed, excitement and above all, safety.’

He said: “Four-wheel-drive and ABS are commonplace today, but this wasn’t always so.

“The change began in 1950 when Harry Ferguson bankrolled Dixon and Rolt to design a super-safe family car that would reduce the unacceptably high number of road deaths.

“Their efforts, frustrating and arduous at times would produce the Ferguson Formula, in its day the most effective and safest system of full-time four-wheel drive and anti-skid braking for the automotive industry.

“The viscous coupling was invented in the late 1960s, in the dying days of HFR, and the silicone-based shear-thickening fluid that filled the canister was developed during WW2.

“Tony Rolt saw the VC as the key to developing a far better, cheaper, and lighter version of HFR’s mechanical systems, which is why he started FFD. It proved to be absolutely the right call.

“Crucially, Robin was the key man who made sure GKN Viscodrive, the company that finally started mass producing the viscous coupling for Ford and others, got it right.

“That was Robin’s real strength; he was one of those vital people working behind the scenes who know how to make stuff work properly.”

In 1981, Rolt’s son, Stuart, joined FFD as marketing director working closely with Robin to increase sales.

Stuart, who became chief executive in 1986, added: “When my father started FFD, he recruited Robin into our then small drawing office reporting to engineering director Keith Hamilton Smith.

“When Keith retired in 1987, Robin stepped into the role with his tremendous all-wheel-drive experience and expertise.

“But from the outset, he was always a key part of FFD’s success.”

Robin was involved in all FFD projects undertaken from its early days of converting Opel Senators to all-wheel drive patrol vehicles for the British army and transforming Bedford chassis cabs from the Vauxhall Luton plant into 4 x 4 utility vehicles.

He was instrumental in developing the prototype Ford Sierra 4 x 4 also Group B and then Group A rally cars.

A significant point of pride within FFD was its all-wheel-drive engineering for the prototype AMC Eagle, which became the first mass-produced car with full-time 4WD, beating the Audi Quattro to market by several months.

In 1987, Robin helped to secure a contract with General Motors to transform its Astro and Safari minivan to an all-wheel-drive variant known as the L van, which entered series production at the Baltimore plant in Maryland in the United States. This substantial all-wheel-drive production engineering programme was a first for GM and another significant commercial project for FFD.

Fellow engineer Gerald Andrews who was recruited by Robin to FFD and became Ricado’s director of transmission systems, said: “Around the same time, Robin led the development of the transmission and driveline for the Jaguar XJ220 prototype, which also had an all-wheel-drive system and was another first in an era of new supercars.

“Although technically challenging these programmes were great fun and Robin’s passion and unstoppable energy set an excellent example.

“They were the happiest times in my career – I am thankful to Robin for his part in all of that.”

Robin travelled the world visiting Rolt’s customers and in 1990 as the business grew he helped open the engineering in Detroit.

Stuart added: “Robin was fiercely loyal to my father, and with his love of flying and background in the aircraft industry he enjoyed the challenge of being asked to produce a small-scale model of the glider which my father had built in the attic in Colditz castle.

“For many years now, I have been the proud owner of the Ferguson Formula One racing car – the only Ferguson 4WD racing car ever built.

“Robin was a constant source of advice and unstintingly helped out as we continued to run the car in races and demonstrate its capabilities, and even late last year he was working on getting some new gears made for it.”

The P99 Ferguson Climax was the first successful all-wheel-drive Grand Prix car, and it remains the most famous example because of its twin claim to fame of being also the last front-engine car ever to win a Grand Prix.

In 1994, soon after the sale of FFD to Ricardo, Robin joined the motorsport transmission technology company Xtrac to manage the Opel Calibra racing car gearbox project, which then was Xtrac’s most complex 4-wheel drive transmission system.

When that project finished at the end of 1996, Robin set up Xtrac’s non-motorsport activities, which over time developed into the successful High-Performance Automotive (HPA) business unit that today accounts for more than a third of Xtrac’s business.

Xtrac chief executive Adrian Moore said: “Without Robin’s drive and enthusiasm this whole business unit would never have started.

“Memorable projects that Robin led at Xtrac include the gearbox for the Mercedes CLK-GTR road car in 1997, the gearbox for the Porsche Carrera GT concept launched at the Paris Motorshow in 2000, and the gearbox for the first Tesla Roadster in 2006.

“As well as leading non-motorsport projects, early in his tenure with us, Robin’s knowledge and understanding of viscous couplings proved extremely useful with the majority of the Formula One grid using this type of differential supplied by Xtrac during the mid-1990s.

“We can all remember Robin’s never wavering enthusiasm for engineering and for living life to the full, including memorably a skiing trip only a short time after his second hip replacement.”

Robin retired from Xtrac in 2012 but continued working within the industry, and as an unofficial ambassador for Xtrac helping the firm out from time-to-time with his tremendous knowledge.

Adrian added: “I was also fortunate to share Robin’s passions for skiing and rugby, as well as engineering and motorsport.

“In later years this made for entertaining discussions over pub lunches, and though we may not always have agreed, Robin was never anything other than sincere and genuine.”

In his private life Robin married Nicky on June 25, 1968, and she was a crucial part of his life.

The pair had two daughters – Michelle and Jackie and two grandchildren – Michelle’s daughter, who is 18, and son, 15.

Adrian said: “Nothing though could hide his pride in Jackie and Michelle and his grandchildren.

“We remained friends up to his sad passing, and I always marvelled at his seemingly boundless energy and capacity to continue working and enjoying life.

“We will all sadly miss Robin and our afternoons at the Falcon will not be the same!”

His daughter Jackie said: “Due to Covid-19 regulations only a few relatives and close friends can attend the funeral.

“Once we are allowed, we are planning a celebration of dad’s life where anyone who knew him well will be able to attend.

“Meanwhile, the air ambulance was a cause he felt strongly about, a crucial organisation that will gratefully receive any donations.

“We also invite donations to Cancer Research.”

To donate to Cancer Research in Robin’s memory click here.

Or click here to donate to the Air Ambulance.

 

 

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