William Towns was a British designer who penned a small range of interesting cars.
He was born in 1936 and started his automotive career at the Rootes Group in 1954, initially as an interior designer working on mostly seats and other small components. He was then included in the team that started the design process for the range that became the Hillman Hunter – however he had left before that model reached the market.
In 1963, Towns moved to Rover and was involved in a more exciting project than a boring saloon – the Rover-BRM Le Mans racer. Towns designed the body shell that was fitted to a crash damaged BRM F1 car (possibly a P57) and fitted with a gas turbine engine – one of a handful of racing cars that went down this path. Styling was classically early 1960s sports racer.
1966 saw another change of direction with a move to Aston Martin where he started out designing seats again. This lead to his most famous work, two true classics of the British industry: the Aston Martin DBS and the Aston Martin Lagonda. The DBS was a transition car for the marque. The DB6 was due to be replaced and the preferred design house, Touring in Italy went bust. Towns was asked to design the car which started out wth the engine from the DB6 and then was fitted with a new V8. This then went into the Aston Martin V8 that replaced the DBS. Towns had successfully moved the marque into new territory.
Film buffs would recognise the car that James Bond had in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and other spy series on television. Towns did it again with the Lagonda – this was a long four door saloon that was all new. One of the DBS models was stretched to be a four door and then the whole new vehicle appeared. It was one of the first to have an electronic rather than an analogue dashboard and was very futuristic.
Whilst working on the DBS, Towns was contracted to help Triumph with some design work which was at a time when BMC was morphing into BLMC and the marques were getting mixed up. The designs that he did for Triumph apparently ended up as part of the Rover SD1 range of saloons.
During the early 1970s, Towns also worked on some design features of the Jensen-Healey, which a mixed bag of design and equipment. It was built as a joint venture between Jensen and Healey powered by a Lotus engine! Towns worked on the design to allow the engine to fit and the inclusion of larger rubber bumpers for the US market.
As well as the Jensen-Healey, Towns designed a replacement for the Austin Mini called the Minissima using the same running gear. BLMC bought the design from him and then sold it to GKN who wanted to turn it into a vehicle suitable disabled drivers. Towns helped to convert the design for this purpose. Some did get made after GKN sold the rights to Elswick a bicycle maker.
The Guyson E12 was another oddity from Towns. This was a very limited run conversion for a Jaguar Series 3 V12 E-type. The middle of the shell is clearly Jaguar and the front and rear have hints of Jensen-Healey! Apparently Towns wanted to make it a conversion for other owners, however that didn’t materialise – possibly because the Jaguar design was far superior (in my humble opinion). Towns produced a couple of cars that looked very similar to the Minissima, the first was a hybrid car called the Microdot with a 400cc petrol engine powering a small generator. The other car was the Hustler, also based on Mini running gear. This was turned into a kit car and I did see one for sale recently in a British classic car magazine!
The late 1970s saw Towns design a concept for Aston Martin called the Bulldog, powered by their 5.3 litre V8 with twin-turbos to add some extra push. This car was styled like a mix between a Lotus Esprit and a Lamborghini and used gullwing doors with similar electronic technology to Towns’ Lagonda. Only one was built and it was deemed too expensive for production.
Interestingly, the Aston Martin Bulldog came about when Aston and Jaguar were talking about a joint venture similar to Jensen-Healey, although that didn’t come to anything. Following on from his work on the Guyson E12, Towns also did some work for an attempt to revive the Railton marque using a Jaguar XJS as the donor car. Aston were also looking at buying MG from British Leyland and Towns even produced an updated model to be known as the Aston-MGB. This project was also stillborn.
Some of his last designs were for Reliant, the SS2 and Scimitar Sabre. These were for Reliant but originally bankrolled by General Motors for the US market. Like much of his work, it was part of a bigger team although they did get to market unlike many of his designs. One thing that does occur quite regularly with his work, is that he does the original design and then hands it over to others who rework it and often remove some of the subtleties that Towns had put in.
He died of cancer in 1993, too early and too soon. One wonders what he would have been designing today had he had the opportunity.