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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006.



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11.12.2010

Roy Axe gives a sincere look at his career

Roy Axe: A Life in Style

Keith Adams is well known to many motorheads out there. We probably encountered him initially at his excellent AROnline, formerly The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource. More recently, some of us have got to know Keith as a writer for Octane, where his well researched articles remind me of some of the best motoring journalists’ work. They combine a love of history with a contemporary style.
   Keith turned publisher earlier this year by publishing automotive designer Roy Axe’s autobiography, A Life in Style. I was more than happy to purchase it: this is not a review of a freebie copy that Keith gave me.
   The book serves its purpose in giving a very sincere look at Axe’s career, beginning at Rootes, before his national service, then continuing with the same firm and setting up a design department closer to the ones we know today, before its takeover by Chrysler. Then at Chrysler, Axe worked on both sides of the Atlantic (various 180 and Avenger proposals are fascinating), and headed the programmes that gave us the Simca 1307 and Horizon; and in the 1980s, Axe was head-hunted for Austin Rover.
   After leaving Rover, he founded his own firm, Design Research Associates, which has worked on designs for numerous international clients.
   The book reflects the career of a true gentleman. Axe supplies wonderful anecdotes from his earlier days and he, and presumably Keith, supply some never-before-seen (at least to me) images of prototypes from the studios. DRA’s work is too new to be revealed, and Axe considers that he is bound by client confidentiality on a lot of those projects, with the exception of one for Bentley and some BAe aircraft interiors.
   It is a must for car buffs, as Axe’s designs will have been seen in most corners of the world and, as all books of this type, reveal some wonderful “might-have-beens” at Chrysler (which was increasingly strapped for cash in the 1970s) and Austin Rover (which seemed always strapped for cash in the 1980s, and hindsight says it should have gone with far more of Axe’s team’s designs). It makes for fun comparison with, say, Iacocca: an Autobiography when discussing the era that Axe and his boss were at the company, and seeing the same personalities mentioned, albeit from different angles. The story is told with a personal love for the industry and a great deal of authenticity.
   My principal complaint is the lack of subediting. While there are precious few spelling mistakes—much heftier tomes, such as one John Barry biography I bought years ago, were full of them—parts of a few chapters read as a simple transcript from Axe. And, perhaps for budgetary reasons or the size of the original artwork, some of the images are a bit small. Initially, the underleaded Sabon body type appeared hard to read but surprisingly, I soon adjusted to it, thanks perhaps in part to the good stories that Axe had to tell.
   Despite these reservations, I’d still heartily recommend it. You can order it directly from Keith’s website and it’s perfect for anyone who loves the design profession or cars in general. Even those of you who read this blog for its branding content might be fascinated to see how brands are translated into industrial design (especially important when Austin Rover and Honda worked off the same platforms), and, for that matter, the organizational structure.
   Sadly, Roy Axe passed away soon after the book’s publication, otherwise I am sure he will have received a great deal of fan mail over it.

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