Walter Belgrove

A Liverpudlian, born in 1900, Belgrove attended Liverpool Art College and started as an apprentice at a Coachbuilders in the City. By 1927 he had joined the young Triumph Company as a draughtsman. There was rapid promotion, and he became Chief Stylist from 1934 – being responsible amongst others, for the sublime Dolomite Roaster of 1939.

 

At the outbreak of war, Belgrove transferred to the Standard Motor Company, who employed him on drawings for the Airspeed  Oxford airplane that Standard was to build.  Later he was involved in tooling development for the Mosquito Aeroplane that was Standard’s most significant contribution to Wartime production.

By 1945, the Triumph Company’s factory had been damaged beyond repair, by the Luftwaffe, and there was no job for Belgrove to return to. Indeed, Sir John Black was to buy the remnants of Triumph and also, based on his performance as a successful stylist, offered Belgrove a permanent job.  Standard had no formal styling department until then, so Belgrove was tasked with forming one.

 

Sir John had become wedded to a one-model World car policy and it was Belgrove’s responsibility to design it. So he was despatched to London with a sketch pad to copy the designs of current American cars that he spied outside the American embassy. Returning to Coventry he set about drawing what was to become the Standard Vanguard of 1947. Sir John, used to being his own product planner before the war, is reputed to have insisted on the specification of an extremely short wheelbase, a cabin to seat 6 with enough room for him to jump in whilst still wearing his trilby.

The Vanguard became a popular success. Next came the Razoredge style of the Triumph Mayflower. Initially the idea of Mulliner’s Les Moore, Belgrove became involved in 1948. However during this period and later, there was increasing animosity between Walter and Standard Engineering Chief, Ted Grinham, who frequently accused Belgrove of designing cars that Grinham could not build.

The next design proved to be a case in point, the TRX Roadster. Sir John wanted a sports car to compete with MG and Jaguar in the USA. The prototype TRX was a “Tour de Force”. It was built with an aluminium double skin and a surfeit of electrical and hydraulic accessories that quickly proved to be unreliable. The car was going to be far too expensive to sell competitively, so after the third prototype the project was scrapped.

As Sir John’s ambition was unfulfilled, Standard had another attempt at building a Sportscar. This time Belgrove’s offering, the TR2, was stripped back to elicit more performance from the Vanguard engine in a light car capable of 100mph. This time the formula was right. The car started selling in large numbers, particularly in the USA.

The restyled Vanguard, now called the Vanguard II did not sell in the same sort of numbers. Sir John looked to an American, Carl Otto to revamp the design. This must have been a snub to Belgrove, although  he was allowed to fine tune the design to UK tastes. There was increasing hostility between him and Ted Grinham. The Vanguard Phase 3 was launched at the 1955 Motor Show and at the same show the two men had a complete falling out.

Belgrove returned to Coventry, cleared his desk and resigned. Whilst he received many offers of new employment Belgrove thereafter only accepted minor commissions, including the Ferguson R5 4-wheel drive saloon and the body work for the Ferguson 4-wheel drive Formula 1 car, the P99.

He later retired to Devon, where he became a Postmaster, and died in 1983. His departure from Standard-Triumph left a design vacuum that wasn’t filled until Webster recruited Giovannoi Michelloti from Italy.

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