Meet Steve Saxty: Former Ford product designer - and now author
After a career spanning thirty years in the car industry - starting out at Ford - and encompassing Mazda, Porsche GB sales and then consulting for the likes of Rolls-Royce, Lotus, McLaren, Lexus, Toyota and GM, Steve has come full circle – back to Ford.
“The Cars You Always Promised Yourself” is effectively a love-letter to the iconic RS cars, XRs and the Capri – cars that truly capture the imagination, now as much as then.
Here Steve answers a few questions on how the love-affair began…
HOW DID YOU GET INTO CARS?
It must have been in 1973, when I was still a child. I was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ Triumph as my mother drove up alongside three ugly-looking Fiats with disguised front ends. My mum had read about them, they were prototypes of “Ford’s new small car” then still several years away from launch. I was fascinated by this glimpse into the future and became hooked on cars and, after I left school, my hobby became my career. Because we lived near Dunton where Ford designed its cars in Essex, I wanted to do nothing else than work there in design. Although I was very young, I still had a wonderful time there in the ‘80s watching first-hand how cars like the Sierra Cosworth were designed. I worked for Ford for nearly ten years before moving on to a career in marketing at Mazda, Porsche and Jaguar. Although I’ve driven some wonderful cars during my work, I’ve always retained a soft spot for the classic Fords of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THE BOOK COME FROM?
I was at a U2 concert when Bono quoted the writer Toni Morrison – to “write the book you want to read”. I had just finished reading a car book at the time and was so disappointed to have learned so little from it. This got me thinking that very few insiders write car books today and that was also true of the many Ford books I’d read in the past. Most of them concentrated on the detail, and rarely the big picture – all very engineering-focused with lists of gear ratios and long-forgotten races. The book on Ford I’d always wanted to read was the whole story about how its most iconic cars were conceived and why the designers, leaders and marketers made the decisions they did – to allow a reader to peak behind the curtain into the secret world where I’ve worked for much of my career. I reached out to three of its most famous former leaders, Ford of Europe boss Bob Lutz, Special Vehicle Engineer Rod Mansfield and designer Patrick le Quément and each wrote lengthy forewords to the book – it’s like hearing from the actors first-hand before the story is told.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVE PROTOTYPE THAT WAS NEVER MADE?
That’s a tough one! Most of the time these prototypes didn’t progress because they were either the wrong concept or they wouldn’t have sold in enough volume. But there’s two in the book that I developed a soft spot for that might have been greats. In 1975, the Cologne Motorsport group took over an idea from AVO after it closed; an RS2800 Capri with wide arches and a 175bhp larger capacity version of the RS2600 engine, the car was quite a looker. But it was the right car at the wrong time and the 1975/75 fuel crisis killed that car. Buyers wanted fuel economy in 1975 but I can’t but help think that it could have served well as a technology halo car – instead buyers had to wait five years for the spiritually similar Capri Injection.
The other concept I uncovered was a mid-‘80s idea for an ‘RS Coupe’ that would have been co-developed with Mazda – Patrick le Quément a Ford designer for 16 years before 22 legendary years at Renault and he still retains a soft spot for this car today, I can see why. It was designed by Pinky Lai who went on to a hugely successful career at Porsche and, had it happened, this RS Coupe might have been a uniquely appealing car.
IS THERE SCOPE/PLANS TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK?
I’ve really enjoyed writing this book, it’s been 22 years since I did one on the Capri and this one has a much broader scope – to tell the inside stories of Ford’s coupes, XR, RS and ST cars. As I researched and wrote it, I found that people were fascinated by Ford’s abandoned designs and prototypes, so maybe that is a good follow-up book? What’s clear is that by working with social media it’s possible for a writer to connect with sources and readers in a way that was never conceivable before. I was able to connect to many retired Ford employees, designers and enthusiasts and it allowed me to include material that would have never been seen otherwise. Ford saw what was happening and became more involved as the project progressed and opened up their secret design archives for the first time – it was quite an honour to be allowed access. The other idea is to tell the inside story of Special Vehicle Engineering,
I worked closely with its legendary leader, Rod Mansfield and his team and they want me to write that book. Both are good books that seem a natural extension of this one – I’ll see what readers want me to do next on Facebook!
IF YOU COULD OWN ANY OF THE CARS FROM YOUR BOOK, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE AND WHY?
I’m lucky enough to have driven many of them and owned two – I used to drive a Tickford Capri every day to work and then later ran a RWD Sapphire Cosworth with 280bhp. One fast Ford I’ve not driven in thirty years, but still remember well, is the RS200. I had one signed out to me for the day by Boreham and it was the first midengined car I had driven – I loved it for the purity of its communicative steering and the sensation of the engine at the back. Writing the book also gave me an appreciation of the Racing Puma which I’ve never driven but would love to try. When you dig into its story, it’s an RS in all but name and seems, to me, to be one of the unsung heroes of Ford’s performance car tale. I suspect that there will be a Capri Injection or Cosworth in my future someday and I have strange weakness for the old Granada Injection model of 1983 that looks like a giant XR3.
With thanks to Retro Ford Magazine for allowing us to use this great Q&A on our website.