Sir Terence Beckett, who was famous for revolutionising the British car industry, has died at the age of 89.
A graduate engineer from the London School of Economics, Terence Beckett was described as ‘not a car man’ by his contemporaries; instead he was an expert planner and progressive thinker.
Snapped up by Sir Patrick Hennessy’s Ford graduate recruitment programme in 1950, Beckett found indifference and mistrust was rife among colleagues who had worked their way up from the shop floor.
Keeping his background hidden from staff, Beckett was appointed as personal assistant to Hennessy in 1951 and by ’55 was Ford’s youngest divisional manager at the age of 32.
Leading a group of 60 people, Beckett had the job of keeping Ford’s products competitive by analysing markets and compeitiors’ cars. This was something that had been sorely lacking, with the specification of vehicles often decided on a whim.
Beckett would later cite the Consul as the perfect illustration of this. Initially planned as a sub-1000cc car, it would be fitted with an 1100cc engine on the ‘instincts’ of Hennessy.
Beckett knew that this could not continue and he went on to open planning departments for light, medium and large cars, with programmes being strategised five years ahead of production.
He would later say: “It [model planning] didn’t work in the early days because we hadn’t got a trained team… It also didn’t work because the specific tools that we had in terms of cost and weight control weren’t understood.”
The Ford man’s chance to shine would come with his role as general manager of product planning on the Cortina project in 1961.
Key to the Cortina’s design was its simplicity and reliability and the formula worked, with the family car being bought by more than three million people and maintaining its market dominance for two decades.
Similar success would follow with the Transit van and D Series truck, and Beckett would introduce the ‘model replacement cycle’ that aimed to have new vehicles in development while current models peaked in sales.
By 1968, Beckett was the first Englishman to be Ford of Europe’s sales director and would go on to become Ford’s chief executive in 1974 and the company’s chairman from 1976-’80.
He would later take up the role as chairman of the Confederation of British Industry, a job that would bring him into confrontation with Margaret Thatcher.
Appointed a CBE in 1974 and knighted in 1978 Beckett, whose wife died last year, is survived by one daughter.
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