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Roy Lunn, father of the “Big Red” Super Truck, Ford GT40, modern SUV, dies at 92


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Automotive News  /  August 16, 2017

American Motors Corp. didn't have enough money to subject the original Jeep Cherokee -- the first modern SUV -- to a traditional durability testing program ahead of its late 1983 launch.

But Roy Lunn, the Cherokee's chief engineer, who died in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Aug. 5 at age 92, steered around the obstacle by securing credentials for the punishing Paris-Dakar Rally. Lunn's engineering team prepared two Cherokees for the event, not to compete but simply to run the brutal desert course and monitor how the Cherokee's "uni-frame" body would take the constant pounding over the bruising, potholed 6,200-mile course.

Only the shock absorbers needed frequent replacement and both vehicles finished the rally in good condition. Lunn knew his groundbreaking design, which featured a steel ladder frame welded to a unitized body, was robust enough to take almost anything consumers were likely to subject the Cherokee to.

Last year, just ahead of his induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Lunn told Automotive News the fuel shortages and price shocks of the 1970s influenced his thinking on the Cherokee's technical design. "I chose unitized [construction] because it is stronger pound for pound, and it is lightest for meeting fuel economy requirements," he said.

The most fuel-efficient Jeep Cherokee, a two-wheel-drive model with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, was EPA-rated at 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway in 1985 -- figures that rivaled many family cars at the time.

The Cherokee not only was a monster hit for American Motors, and later Chrysler -- more than 3 million were sold before production ended in 2001 -- but it also became the template for the modern SUV and continues to be copied by virtually all major global automakers.

"What's amazing about Roy is he had a laser focus on what the issue or problem was and he put all of his energies and thoughts into making it right," said automotive journalist and author Martyn Schorr, who first met Lunn in the mid 1960s.

The Cherokee's light weight, four-wheel drive, and high ride height but low floor for easy entry, offered rugged off-road capability but in a vehicle that felt and behaved more like a car. Earlier SUVs, such as the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Series 1 (later called Defender) and other competitors were body on frame, or truck-based.

"The unibody was 400 pounds lighter than the competition," said Chris Theodore, who briefly worked with Lunn at AMC and later became Chrysler's vice president of platform engineering.

"The other key to the Cherokee was the four-door model," Theodore told Automotive News. "Competitors quickly copied four doors when sales took off, but it took a long time for them to switch to unibody."

The Cherokee was not the first time Lunn led a team that created a groundbreaking product. Nor would it be his last.

Early years

Roy C. Lunn was born in Richmond, England, in 1925 and earned degrees in mechanical and aeronautical engineering at KingstonTechnicalCollege. He served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II, then began his automotive career at AC Cars as an engineer in 1946. Lunn moved to Aston Martin and worked on the DB2 grand touring car, and then took a turn at British automaker Jowett. He joined Ford Motor Co. in 1953.

One of Lunn's early projects at Ford of Britain was a stylish compact called the Anglia 105E. The car was such a huge sales success that it set in motion Ford's climb in the 1960s to unseat the struggling British Motor Corp. as England's highest volume automaker.

The Anglia's success was noticed in Dearborn, and Lunn was offered a management job in product development. From 1958-69 Lunn headed Ford's advanced vehicle department and advanced concept group. One of the cars Lunn's team worked on was the midengine Mustang I concept car, which debuted in 1962 and morphed into the Falcon-based Mustang in 1964. He also worked on concept trucks and the GT40, which was the culmination of Ford's total performance drive of the mid-to-late 1960s. From 1966-69 Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, defeating Ferrari, a personal goal of longtime Chairman and CEO Henry Ford II.

"The team that put together the Ford GT of today was inspired by the work of Roy and his team and we will be forever grateful for the work they started," Raj Nair, Ford's president of North America, said in a statement. "His legacy as the godfather of the original Ford GT40 was well known throughout the company, and he helped bring Ford a performance car that is just as legendary today as it was in the 1960s."

With Ford's racing activities winding down, Lunn took a job as vice president of engineering at Kar-Kraft, a Detroit outfit that oversaw production of the thundering Boss 429 Mustang.

In 1971, American Motors came calling and offered Lunn the post of technical director for Jeep -- then a niche brand of enthusiast-driven, off-road vehicles.

Another project that Lunn was instrumental in creating, said Schorr, was the AMC Eagle wagon, the first modern American all-wheel-drive car and the precursor to today's awd crossovers.

Lunn was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016.

Furniture designer

Lunn joined AM General in 1985 as vice president of engineering to steer the HUMVEE military compliance program at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Even after Lunn retired, he never stopped working, Schorr said.

He designed and created furniture, built a wooden dingy and, at the time of his death, was mentoring engineering students at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Before Lunn quit driving in 2015, he regularly drove a bright-red, four-door Jeep Cherokee XJ. Said Schorr: "He just loved his Jeep and wouldn't give it up until he had to surrender his license."

Schorr said Lunn suffered a stroke in late July and never regained consciousness.

Related reading - https://www.bigmacktrucks.com/topic/32038-ford’s-futuristic-gas-turbine-“big-red”/.


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'Godfather of the Ford GT40' Roy Lunn: 1925-2017

Autoweek  /  August 16, 2017

Celebrated engineer crosses the finish line at 92

Roy Lunn, the “Godfather of the Ford GT40,” passed away on Aug. 5, 2017, after suffering a stroke at the age of 92. His wife of 70 years, Jeanie and two daughters, two granddaughters, a son-in-law and one great-grandson survive him. 

Lunn was born in Richmond, England, in 1925, one of three children. He earned degrees in mechanical and aeronautical engineering at Kingston Technical College and was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. When World War II ended, he transferred to the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough and worked on the design and development of gas turbine generators for the first turboJet aircraft.

He started his automotive career at AC Cars as an engineer in 1946, and, in the late 1940s, he became the assistant chief designer (1947-1949) at Aston Martin and built two DB2s that competed at Le Mans. After three years as chief designer and engineer at Jowett Cars, in 1953, he joined Ford of England as an engineer and product-planning manager.

In 1958, Lunn moved to the U.S., taking a position at Ford Central Advanced Engineering. Some of the projects he was responsible for included: Mustang I, Big Red -- the Superhighway truck and all the GT40 variants.

He left Ford in 1969 to become vice president of engineering at Kar-Kraft where he oversaw the production of the Boss 429 Mustang and development of Mustang concepts with mid-mounted 429 engines. In 1971, Roy was recruited by American Motors Corporation to become the technical director of engineering for Jeep.

A dozen years later, he was responsible for the vehicle that changed the automotive landscape in America and beyond: the ’83 Jeep Cherokee XJ, considered the first modern, lightweight four-wheel-drive unibody SUV. The Cherokee was the first American-branded vehicle to be manufactured in China and a huge success for AMC and then Chrysler. Over 3 million units were sold by 2001.

Lunn is also credited with the AMC Eagle, the first production four-wheel-drive car. He was elevated to chief engineer of AMC and president of Renault Jeep Sport and centralized all AMC-Renault competition programs in the U.S. Lunn developed the first SCCA spec-racing car in 1983, the SCCA Sports Renault.

Lunn served as chairman of the technical board of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1982 to 1983. He was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1983.

After retiring from AMC in 1985, he joined AM General as vice president of engineering to head the Humvee military compliance program for the Pentagon.

In 1987, he retired to Florida and continued to work on automotive projects. Aside from sailing his monohull "Cat” boat built to his specifications, building two houses and playing golf, he authored three books: "The Oil Crisis: Sooner Than You Think!," "Globalization - A Worldwide Quest For A Sustainable Future," and "The World Crisis - It All Started With 9/11." His story about the history of Jeep is still on the drawing board, as are his tireless efforts toward designing a new "Peoples Car" out of entirely sustainable materials.

After relocating to Santa Barbara, California, in 2015, he again set up a working home office and continued development of his new concepts that drew the attention of the local college, University of California, Santa Barbara. Within six months, he was a mentor to their mechanical engineering program, meeting with students weekly to advise and teach them. He was rewarded with an in-depth research project focusing on his plans for the "Peoples Car" and a 3-D model of the concept.

Lunn is one of the industry’s original disruptors, the product of an inquiring mind and a relentless ability to use it. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 for overseeing the development of the legendary Ford GT40 -- a car that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1966 to 1969. He felt it was the proudest moment of his life when his peers in the industry recognized his work. His goals throughout his career were visionary, with a clear eye to the future. Lunn was especially proud of the 1967-winning Mark IV, the first GT40 designed, engineered, powered, developed and built in the U.S.

"All of us at Ford are saddened to hear of the passing of Roy Lunn," said Raj Nair, executive vice president and president of North America, Ford Motor Company. "His legacy as the godfather of the original Ford GT40 was well known throughout the company, and he helped bring Ford a performance car that is just as legendary today as it was in the 1960s. The team that put together the Ford GT of today was inspired by the work of Roy and his team and we will be forever grateful for what they started.

"We like to think that his GT40 and our GT of today are both cars that showcased the best of what Ford Motor Company can do."

In lieu of flowers, the Lunn family suggests that any donations should be made to UCSB. Gifts will support engineering and design education of the department of mechanical engineering. Checks should be made payable to the UCSB Foundation (in memory of Roy Lunn) and mailed to Steve Ramirez, lead director, engineering development, College of Engineering, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, 93106.


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