Friday, July 26, 2019

FAREWELL TO THE FRONTLINE

Paul & me - Aswan, Egypt, 1990
At the end of July I will bid goodbye to the day-to-day researching, writing and editing DRIVING & LIFE, and will hand that responsibility to my good friend of close to 40 years, Paul Gover.

Until recently Paul was the most senior automotive writer for News Limited in Australia, but he decided to release himself from the confines of a newspaper office and bring his skill, experience, knowledge, and his impressive Contacts List to a wider audience via the internet, podcasts and a select number of printed and online publications.

Paul has the coveted talent of being able to bring truly in-depth stories from the automotive world to DRIVING & LIFE, whether it be interviews with the auto industry’s leading CEOs; talking design with the world’s most skillful car designers; relating experiences behind the wheel of race and rally cars, or just explaining the fundamental stuff.

He can answer questions that anyone might ask about mechanicals, design, powertrains and business strategies.

July is my birthday month, and as of this year I have decided to truly retire from the frontline of writing about cars and the industry.

As I have related in a previous post, I have been a car enthusiast all of my life, and joined the automotive industry in 1977, and I think that after 42 years I will leave the focus and scrutiny of future developments to Paul Gover, who is more than capable of keeping up a high standard of connection and engagement with the automotive world, and bringing it to followers of DRIVING & LIFE.

I have always maintained that this Blog is a very personal project for me and I have only written about the things which interest me, or that I feel will have significant impact.

It has been self-indulgent, but I hope it has been enlightening and informative and I hope helped to put you in touch with the deepest levels of the industry.

Also, I have consistently said I led a charmed life among cars and the industry. As someone who received only a high school education, to have worked my way up to Board positions in three significant automotive companies, I feel I have achieved a great deal during my career, albeit it through sustained hard work.



I sincerely hope my achievements encourage other people to strive to succeed in this fascinating and volatile industry, regardless of their background.

Not only is Paul Gover a hard-working and well-connected individual, but he is an outstanding writer and a great journalist. He has a keen eye for a good story. He also has a well-tuned radar for BS, and spin, which many times over the last 40 years has landed him in trouble for telling the truth. So what?

Many times his reporting has been proven not only to be prophetic, but also deadly accurate, so I have no qualms about handing over DRIVING & LIFE to a great automotive journalist, but also a dear friend.

We meet regularly, so I will always be around to challenge him from time to time, but at 76 I think it’s a better outcome for DRIVING & LIFE to be driven by a skilled and younger professional with a lot of runs on the board, and a great deal more potential to inform and entertain in the years ahead.

Thank you for indulging me. It’s been a great ride.
John Crawford

NOTE: The Google Blogger platform is very difficult to modify, and its 'Help & Support' is virtually non-existent, so it may be some time before Driving & Life with Paul Gover makes an appearance.







Thursday, July 25, 2019

LONDON-TO-SYDNEY RALLY - THE END OF THE STORY

This really is the last thing I will post about the epic 1977 Singapore Airlines London To Sydney Car Rally.

Hans Tholstrup and I, and our three mechanics who were our service crew in the Leyland Terrier truck, finished the 30,000km rally in one piece thanks to Hans' detailed and meticulous planning, and strong team discipline. For Hans and I, and our mechanics - Doug Francis, Barry Allen and Allen Hausler, we were all very glad to see the Sydney Opera House.


My dear friend and work colleague at JRA Limited, Owen Peake, found this ad, which was placed in the Sydney Morning Herald in October 1977, to boost sales of the ubiquitous Mini Moke.

Thanks Owen. We had a close, and a terrific working relationship, and he looked after JRA's relations with the Melbourne automotive journalists very well, on my behalf. 

However, I think he achieved that result via quite a number of lunches at the Melbourne Oyster Bar! I know this, because I counter-signed his expense reports!

NOTE: For the record, the Moke finished in 35th place; and the Terrier truck in 33rd place. The Moke had a few small issues which cost us time, but the truck performed faultlessly powered by the V8 engine originally developed for the Leyland P76 sedan!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

THE JOB INTERVIEW, THAT WASN'T

I’ve mentioned a number of times that my career path was a combination of opportunities and serendipity, and following the story about my first corporate automotive job with Leyland Australia in 1977, in the previous post, I think the interview for that job counts as serendipitous.

I was approached by my good friend, Hans Tholstrup, to join him on the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-To-Sydney Car Rally. To do that I had to resign my current job.

I agreed only on the basis that I would get paid, so Leyland Australia agreed to stump up three months salary at my then-current rate of pay.

For that my role was not only the navigator for the ‘Coke Moke’, but I would also take responsibility for all visas, vehicle carnets, currencies, hotel bookings and general team administration.

This was also not without difficulty. In the weeks before the Rally I had to traipse around London to the many embassies to get passport visas for our team of five, and our vehicle carnets stamped. Plus there was also mechanical work to finish the Moke before we started.

The day I was to leave Sydney, bound for Copenhagen with Singapore Airlines, I got a call from the PA to Leyland Australia’s CEO, a generally jovial, pugnacious Scotsman (whom I had interviewed many times as a journalist). I was to meet him in Leyland Australia's new HQ building in Bondi Junction, in eastern Sydney (right, circa 1977).

He was also well known for fairly fruity language and expressions, so you were in doubt what he meant. He wanted to see me at 11am.

I presumed he was going to wish me good luck, take care, and ensure a keen watch over my admin responsibilities.


I sat down in his office overlooking Sydney Harbour, and after pleasantries, he looked at me sternly and said: “We’ve got (expletive) awful PR'. Our vehicles have got a (expletive) awful image.” Both comments I agreed with.

Then silence descended on the office for a few minutes, until he looked up and said: “Well, do you want the (expletive) job?”

Dumbfounded, I simply replied: “Job?”

“Aye, I happen to know we’re paying you for three months and when you get back, you’re jobless. Do you want the (expletive) job?”

Recognising the truth of his statements, I agreed, because when I got back home I would need a job.

“Well, finally,” he said. “Now that’s sorted, we’ll have a wee dram.” Thereby pouring two very generous servings of Johnny Walker Whisky. “Good luck, and I’ll see you in September.”

Two large Scotches later I staggered outside, and caught a cab to the airport for my 4pm departure. After check-in I called my wife, and said: “Hey, I’ve got a job when I get back.”

“Thank God for that” she said. “What is it?”

“I’m going to be PR manager for Leyland Australia”

“Wow, you obviously love a challenge.” She replied. Then, at 4pm I took off for the greatest adventure of my life.


It was a challenging job, but 13 years later when I resigned from the company, mine and my team's PR efforts had put both the company and all its products in very positive PR territory.

Then, in early 1991, my wife and I jetted off to the USA, so I could take up the role of Vice President of Public Relations for Jaguar Cars North America – a company that was once again in a very sad and sorry state. Once again I would begin the job as a ‘salvage merchant’ to try and help improve its fortunes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

FINAL COMMUNIQUE FROM A CORPORATE COMMUNICATOR

As I boarded the Singapore Airlines 707 in late June 1977 I already knew that at the end of the Singapore Airlines London-To-Sydney Car Rally, in September, I would be starting a new job. However, in years to come, I would enjoy moving into a series of corporate jobs working with some of the most famous brand  names in the automotive industry.

The Rally was 30,000km; through 30 countries in 30 days, and quite frankly at the end I was knackered, and hooked on Coca Cola! After I had cleaned up and settled back into family life in Sydney, I was announced as the new Head of Public Relations for the troubled LEYLAND AUSTRALIA.

I say troubled, because Leyland Australia was the offspring of the British behemoth, the BRITISH MOTOR CORPORATION, which in 1954 began assembling Austin and Morris cars at a huge plant in Sydney under the name BMC Australia. Things rolled along nicely until the mid-1970s when the British Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia decided to challenge the market leaders Holden and Ford, with a new, locally-designed and built sedan called the P76.

It was a well known disaster, and resulted in local manufacturing being shut down, the company renamed Leyland Australia, and it became an importer of a range of poor quality British-made cars, subsequently needing an injection of some high-powered public relations to try and turn around the community’s, and media’s negative perceptions of the company and its products into positive territory.

My decision to join Leyland Australia not only led to a challenging PR career, but also a fabulous opportunity to learn new skills, fine-tune my PR style, and generally broaden my knowledge, as Leyland Australia not only sold cars, but also Land Rovers, Buses, Trucks, Tractors and long distance tourist coaches.

My self-confidence as a communicator, bred from my careers as a motor racing commentator, automotive journalist and radio announcer provided many opportunities to be ‘on stage’ presenting new vehicles, emceeing dealer conferences and corporate events. My person-to-person communications skills were also boosted over the next 13 years as I became the public face of Leyland Australia and slowly began turning the tide of PR negativity around.

In 1983, under the energetic and skillful new Managing Director, Phil Hovell, Leyland Australia was renamed JRA Limited, and a new era opened up for the company. We had ‘weeded-out’ all the poor performing cars, introduced smart new models, taken on the Peugeot franchise, and the company was also the number one producer of bus and coach bodies in Australia. Low profitability vehicles like trucks and tractors had also been consigned to history.


In addition, sales of our most valuable nameplate, Jaguar, were rising fast, thanks to much clearer focus on marketing the brand.

The PR programs included a number of opportunities for me to host journalists from all over the world at various new car launches in Europe and England.

Yes, these media trips were fully-funded PR campaigns, but for me, the most eventful outcome was that I ended up increasing my circle of friends, because of our shared passion for cars, and they way they are designed and put together.

In terms of PR programs, I was required to think outside the box and come up with programs that were not only useful, informative and beneficial to the brand, but also innovative, low-key and jovial. There were also investments along the way in which I played a major role, like talking my fellow Board members at JRA into acquiring one of the most famous racing Jaguars in Australian motor sport history, to use as a promotional tool.

The famous 'Grey Pussy' one of Australia's most successful racing Jaguars

In the 1980s I was able to broaden my skill set even further, because I had decided that producing industrial videos about our company and its products would be a useful new tool to reinforce the strength of the company and its market dominance with models like the Range Rover, Jaguars and our contract with the Australian Army to supply Land Rovers. The videos were aimed at media, government departments, dealers and customers, and proved very effective.

I began by producing a series of videos showing off our Denning division's skills in producing tough and reliable interstate motor coaches, which ideally suited Australia’s atrocious outback roads. We were also producing bus bodies for commuter buses built on Mercedes-Benz chassis for two state transport services.


Then, to further promote the history of Peugeot’s presence in the Australian market since the early 1950s, in 1983 I arranged to bring on board the winner of Australia’s very first ‘Redex Round Australia’ trial, humble chemist Ken Tubman, to re-run the event in a current Peugeot 505 STi. In 1953 it was a Peugeot 203.

Wherever possible Ken followed the original route, made difficult by the fact that modern freeways had been overlaid over many of the dirt tracks and gravel roads they encountered in 1953.


This was so successful Ken and I were invited to Paris, to present a copy of the video to the head of the family, m.Roland Peugeot.

In the late 1970s, thanks to the drive and determination of our Deputy MD, Jack Heaven, JRA Limited won a huge contract to supply the Australian Army with a unique series of Land Rovers, in 4WD and 6WD designs. The army called it ‘Project Perentie’ named after the large Australian lizard which was easily the master of its outback environment.

The major PR benefit was that both the 4WD and 6WD models were completely re-designed, and re-specified by JRA exclusively to suit the Australian Army’s unique requirements.

With Jaguar North America CEO, Mike Dale
The next turning point in my corporate career occurred when Ford Motor Company acquired the, once-again, ailing Jaguar car company in 1989. Ford established a ‘Rescue Team’ and I was invited to join as Head of Public Relations for Jaguar Cars North America, the company’s biggest market.

The task was, again, very daunting. In 1991 sales were just 9,376, a far cry from its sales numbers in the late 80s, around the 20,000 unit mark. Because of my success in turning around Jaguar’s image and media perceptions in Australia, I was told by Mike Dale, President of Jaguar Cars NA, that if we didn’t save Jaguar in the USA, Jaguar would not survive. No pressure then.

My PR role also involved managing Jaguar’s racing activities in the USA, and working with the Head Office PR team to maintain a high level of visibility for the brand in motor sport. This was made easier having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988. Finally, by 1994 we had lifted annual sales to 15,195.


At this stage of my corporate career, despite the obvious challenges, I was having a ball. Yes, it required long hours, quick thinking, and creating unique and effective PR programs using not only Jaguar’s fabled history as an anchor for our communications, but also employing Formula One racing champions like Sir Stirling Moss, the late Phil Hill and Australia's Alan Jones.

Throughout my entire career in the automotive industry I was never far from the racetrack. Motor sport crossed my path in just about every PR role I was given.

I was very fortunate to be at Le Mans when Jaguar won the 24 Hour Race in 1988; and again in 2003 when the Bentley Speed Eight snatched the trophy.

In addition to motor racing, I was also instrumental in managing a number of key corporate sponsorships for the companies I represented. It's probably no surprise that a large number of these happened via the avenue of motor sport, but we worked hard to make sure they paid off.


During my 13 years with Leyland Australia/JRA Limited we were encouraged to take risks with our promotions and sponsorships and it certainly helped to raise our profile.

When my USA visa ended in 1994, I returned to Australia and joined the fledgling Daewoo Motor Australia which had just started business in August that year.

This role not only saw me managing public relations, but I was also head of Customer Care for a brand new badge, with ‘zero’ image value. The fact that most Daewoo buyers had previously only been able to afford used cars brought a different set of problems, as they didn't understand that maybe there was the occasional problem - even with a new car!

It was a new set of challenges, but the icing on the cake was that within four years we had gone from zero sales, to 21,000 sales per annum.

With former Chairman of Rolls-Royce & Bentley, Graham Morris
In 1998 I received a call from the Chairman of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars, an old friend from Austin-Rover days, Graham Morris. He told me that Volkswagen AG had acquired Bentley, and the brand’s presence in the US market was so low, it was invisible. In order for Bentley to succeed overall, it had to establish a new presence, image and healthy sales in the USA. I thought, “Here we go again.”

After I was appointed it took some time for the US Immigration department to issue my work visa, so in the interim I spent time at the HQ in Crewe, Cheshire, learning the detailed history of the Bentley brand.

Then one day I was asked to fly to Germany on the VWAG corporate jet, where I was introduced to VWAG Chairman, Dr. Ferdinand Piech. It was a private interview, and pep talk about building the Bentley brand in the USA. No pressure!


Dr. Piech told me that after Graham Morris’ reassurance that I was the ideal man for the Bentley PR job, there would be no budgets for marketing, advertising or promotion. Dr. Piech had decided the whole budget was to be directed into PR activities, and he was hopeful the company had made the right choice, and I returned to Australia to await my visa, and seriously consider the new challenge I was facing.

In 1998 Bentley sold just 880 cars in North America, and I’m delighted to say that global sales in 2006, when I retired had risen to almost 6000, helped along by the launch of the Continental GT coupe in 2003. More importantly, research revealed 81% of Continental buyers were new to the Bentley brand.

Two of the greatest elements I enjoyed in my 40 year career was the constant travel, and the chance to drive an extraordinary range of cars.

I managed to visit every continent, toured the Far East extensively, as well as Europe, north and south Africa, and of course the USA.

Not only did my various roles sharpen my communications skills, but added knowledge and broadened my experience. I have led a very fortunate life, but, no pain, no gain.

As far as cars were concerned they ranged from prototypes, handbuilt production cars, flash company cars and even the occasional race car.

I put in a lot of hours on the job; I was devoted and dedicated to being as professional as possible, but I also made a lot of great friends along the way – from the absolute top levels of automotive management, to world famous designers, racing drivers, personalities and great journalists, many of whom I count today amongst my most enduring friendships.

With Michael Parkinson, Tom Walkinshaw, Paul Newman, Captain Mark Phillips, Kim Cattrall, Derek Bell, Jay Leno and Bentley's hardworking Richard Charlesworth

Clockwise: Dr. Ulrich Bez, Fabrizio Giugiaro, Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, Michael Dale
I must mention my lifelong gratitude to the CEOs and Directors I served under. I learned important aspects from each of them, and senior automotive industry figures, and was rewarded with incredibly generous relationships with each of them. Thanks, my sincere gratitude.

There was also the opportunities I had to work with many of my heroes.
Top: Sir Stirling Moss, Bottom: Sir Jack Brabham; David E. Davis Jnr, who
was founding editor of Automobile magazine in the USA
As I’ve said before, my career was less planned, rather more a combo of serendipity and opportunities. The events and the photos evoke great memories of a life well lived, simply by being a car nut.

Here's where it started, and here's where it ended. What a buzz and what a ride it was!


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

BENTLEY BARNSTORMS PIKE'S PEAK - AGAIN!

I am immensely proud that my former employer has beaten the production car record at this year’s Pike’s Peak hillclimb. This is a magnificent victory over time and conditions.


The weather this year was atrocious, and maybe that’s a factor in a big, heavy, 4WD production car smashing the record by over 8 seconds!

The Bentley Continental W12 coupe, with Pike’s Peak Master, Rhys Millen, at the wheel, stopped the clocks at 10:18.488 seconds over the 12.42 mile course, taking 8.4 seconds off the previous record, and averaging an amazing 70mph.

The start line at Pike’s Peak is situated at 9,300 feet, and climbs to 14,100 feet through 156 bends, where the air at the finish line is 1/3 less dense than at sea level.

The weather included rain and snow, a big contrast to the cloudy, but fine day at last year’s event, when the Bentley Bentayga SUV claimed the outright record for a production SUV.

The Bentayga completed the run in 10:49.4, taking two seconds off the previous record.

This year’s record run is an appropriate victory to celebrate Bentley’s Centenary year.

Already famous for its victories at Le Mans in the 1920s and 1930s, plus its impressive victory in the 24 Hour endurance race in 2003, Bentley continues to use motor sport as a critical endorsement of its performance credentials.


Monday, July 1, 2019

SKODA CONCEPT WHICH PASSED ME AT JET-SPEED

This one slipped by me back in 2014. It’s a product of a team of student designers harnessed by Skoda Design, known as the Design Akademie.


This is the Citijet, based on Skoda’s micro hatch, the Citigo, with a one litre, 55kW three cylinder petrol engine.


It was the very first project completely designed and built by the student designers, although they eschewed the four seats in the micro hatch, opting for a basic two-seater concept.

If this was available I’d be putting my name down, except that like many dreamy concepts, this one is not all that practical for the sub-tropical Gold Coast – as it’s minus a roof – so it’s only for sunny days.

The student lineup changes every two years, but the new faces followed up the initial 2014 project every year with a range of wild ideas, based on topless recreation vehicles, and even an off-road pickup this year called the Mountiaq.

I have always admired the inventive, innovative and very good-looking vehicles which emerge from Skoda Design, and its encouragement of budding Czech Republic designers is one explanation why this division of the Volkswagen Group, manages to stay ahead of the design curve.