Working with Bob Knight

Working with Bob Knight

Not only did former engineering director Bob Knight have the reputation for being very clever but also a chain smoker and someone who worked all hours, all of which I experienced first-hand.

When I joined Jaguar in the late-Seventies not only was he the managing director of the company but on the basis of how Jaguar’s founder Sir William Lyons had always operated, he’d also taken charge of what he called styling despite having no experience. Therefore, and usually after hours, he would come to the studio and try and take charge of the full size Jaguar XJ40 clay model that had been there for some time.

He clearly believed that styling was simply solving an engineering problem rather than aesthetics because that’s how he approached it. Given that also he was aware of Malcom Sayer’s approach of using his secretive mechanical calculator to determine certain points of the body, Bob also decided to use mathematics to solve the problem.

Bob and his assistant, Howard Snow, used a method that applied quadratic equations to create the lines and curves they were after. They would measure what was on the clay and put that into an equation, smoothing it out by changing some of the variables and then replot that onto the clay.

Bob would assemble an entourage of modellers plus one designer whose job it was to lay the tapes onto the model. Very often these changes consisted of moving quite a large amount of clay by millimetres. Once he got going he could keep going all night. He liked me to be there partly because I was a designer and partly because I had an engineering background and therefore understood the process he was using. I didn’t mind, though, since I was earning overtime. Invariably these sessions would end up as what were known as ‘ghosters’, in other words working all through the night. Next morning, Bob would change his suit and carry on. How he could keep that up, no one knew.

He was a typical Jaguar engineer of the day being very clever but also quite eccentric and totally dedicated to Jaguar, working all hours. Today he’d be known as a workaholic but that’s what his life was. A likeable person, he just had no truck for business or anything other than engineering.

In some ways Bob’s method of styling was quite effective but even though he did listen to me and would sometimes make changes, I still struggled with his view that it was more important for the designs to be mathematically correct than to look correct. So while he believed in maths, he clearly did not believe in the power of aesthetics.

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