Richard Parry-Jones 1951-2021
Richard was Ford’s ultimate car guy and his tragic death on April 16 2021 on his Welsh farm is a loss to us all. This is my personal recollection of working with Richard over the past 12 months. He shared with me some of his personal photos, which I’ve included here, along with his foreword from Secret Fords Volume One and some quotes from the second article he wrote for Volume Two a few weeks before his untimely death.
In his words....
Recollections of Richard
History is likely to judge that nobody changed the automotive industry during the past 50 years like Richard Parry-Jones. He didn’t just make Ford vehicles great, at a time when they were not; his work raised the bar for every car maker. The effortless manoeuvrability, and ride and handling balance, of a modern car will be Richard’s enduring legacy. He was a fearsomely fast driver and loved cars but his greatest skill was understanding how it operated at slow speeds in day-to-day conditions. He ran almost every RS car Ford made, Cosworth and Focus, talking animatedly with me about his love of the Capri Injection. Yes, he was a legend with all that sideways test track stuff, but his biggest gift was to make a car feel right from the moment you walked up to it. He insisted that you had to be able to tell within the first 50 yards a car moved that it was good.
We were decades apart in our time at Ford so our paths didn’t cross until I wrote my first book about Fords a few years ago. The more often we talked the more I enjoyed it. Many powerful people talk about themselves – but not Richard. We’d talk for hours about cars and – this is the best bit – he was great fun. Much will be written about his engineering and management skills but probably less about how entertaining it was to chat with him. Our discussions made me feel, as it did others who worked for him, that you were talking as peers. That’s undoubtedly how he got the best out of people. As we got to know each other he offered to write the foreword for Volume One of my book, Secret Fords. It was a real honour – and, more importantly, a chance for readers to hear from him first-hand: “I spun an Escort RS1700T one night because the brakes were set for rallying” or, regarding the failure of the Cougar, “Hands up it was me; I cocked that one up and got overconfident.” Richard was full of great stories, honesty and warmth.
I once asked him what makes a good Ford. “It should be driven from the wrists and not from the shoulders,” he said. “People might not know what good steering is but without it, a car is plain bad!” He became even keener to help with Secret Fords Volume Two since it will cover the cars he was known for: turning around the Escort, the best-in-class Mondeo, and overseeing the seminal Focus. I’ve included Volume One’s foreword below and a few quotes of Richard’s from Volume Two. Enjoy them; sadly, they will be the last words we shall ever hear from Richard, a giant of the automotive industry.
Professor Richard Parry-Jones CBE
This talented engineer will always be credited with adding a unique appeal worldwide to the way Fords drive. His interest in cars came from his mother, a keen motor sport enthusiast who took him to watch Formula 1 races, and to see the RAC Rally in the nearby Welsh forests. By the age of 10 he had decided to be an automotive engineer and wrote to Ford two years later asking about jobs. He had to wait until he was 17 before joining as an undergraduate engineering trainee in 1969. He graduated from Salford University in 1973 with a first-class degree in Mechanical Engineering. During his 38 years with Ford, he’d go on to be its leading engineer.
In 1982 he became Manager of Small Car Programs and then moved on to oversee CDW27, the Mondeo. Unlike the CE14 Escort, the Sierra replacement was an outstandingly good car. A capably brisk driver, quite able to showcase the limits of his vehicles’ abilities to bosses, engineers and journalists alike, Richard gained fame initially because of the Mondeo’s ‘control weights’. Every element with which drivers interacted – steering, brakes, gearshift, and even the heater controls – had a natural weight, unencumbered by the friction of the parts in between. Press and public alike appreciated that Fords now felt notably different and nicer to drive, even if they couldn’t quite say why. RP-J, as he was universally known, took a leading role in the development of the Puma, which became a critical success because of its handling and its engine’s sophistication. Thanks to the stronger design and better engineering that Parry-Jones pushed, Ford’s reputation improved dramatically in the mid-’90s after a decade of darkness.
This led to Parry-Jones’ continuing ascendancy and he was awarded Man of the Year in 1994 by the UK’s Autocar magazine and again in 1997 by Automobile in the US. RP-J was promoted to oversee development of all Ford vehicles worldwide, as well as design, research and vehicle technology. As Chief Technical Officer he held board responsibility for all technical matters and led a staff of more than 30,000 across all Ford’s regions, as well as at Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo, until he retired in 2007.
He then became progressively more involved in policy-making at Welsh and UK government level, working to ensure the voice of business was heard in economic and infrastructure policy and that the role of the automotive industry was understood at the highest levels, and just a few weeks before his death took a seat on Aston Martin’s board