Two great engineers.—Let us pay tribute to two great automobile engineers. At the end of July, Peter Wilks retired due to ill health from the position of Technical Director of the Rover Company. He held this post since 1964 and had served the dignified Solihull concern for over 20 years. His versatile achievements range from the creation of the now-so-popular Rover 2000, the Rover V8s, the unfortunately still-born Rover mid-engined coupé, industrial Rover gas-turbines, to that single-seater Rover racing car now exercised to such good effect by Frank Lockhart. The last-named Wilks built in conjunction with Spencer King and George Mackie. There is a parallel with the Lightweight Special raced by Sir Alec Issigonis and George Dowson, both Wilks and Issigonis enjoying amateur motor racing and some of the suspension features of their single-seaters being used on their subsequent production cars.
We recall being granted an interview about the light-alloy Rover V8 engine by Mr. Wilks on the eve of his summer vacation. In fact, he was flying that very afternoon to join his holiday yacht. Where? At Monte Carlo, so that he could watch the Monaco Grand Prix. Wilks is a quietly-spoken, modest engineer of rare ability, who is essentially a keen driver and a motoring enthusiast in the true meaning of this sometimes loosely-applied term. Sad that he has had to retire at the age of 51. We wish him happiness and restored health in the years ahead.
In contrast, Director Rudi Uhlenhaut, Chief Passenger Car Development Engineer of Daimler-Benz AG, was 65 last July but instead of retiring will continue his work at Mercedes-Benz. Like Wilks, Uhlenhaut was especially concerned with car safety problems. Born in London of an English mother and going to school in England Uhlenhaut spoke excellent English. He graduated from Munich University in 1931, joined M-B as a research engineer, and from 1936 was responsible for testing and development of the new generation of Mercedes racing cars. This went on until the end of 1955 when Mercedes-Benz retired from racing.
Not only was Uhlenhaut able to drive the fastest F1 cars at speeds approaching those of his top-rank drivers but he is still a very fast road motorist. Many stories are told about this. Of how, with a twinkle in his eyes, he will change down and blast away into the mountains, en route to some ski-ing or sailing relaxation, but, coming to the outskirts of towns in which he is respected as a talented M-B engineer rather than for his ability behind the wheel, will drive sedately along, as befits the townfolk’s image of this quietly-voiced, elegantly dressed, unhurried yet very busy technician.
Or how, at an M-B Press test-day, Uhlenhaut would get into one of the faster models with a selected journalist friend and proceed to lap the circuit at very high speed, taking the elite of Fleet Street any way he could, on either side, into corners or out of them, to return to the Paddock with smoking brakes and walk quickly away—before any of his guests had time to realise that the grey-haired, softly-smiling Chief Engineer was the person who had out-driven them.