From the Harwell News #225 December 2020
Not many Councillors have joined Harwell Parish Council when in their 70s, but Don’s obituaries in several publications in October showed that before he joined the Parish Council, he had enjoyed a long career in the motor industry. He worked on the design of the MGA and MGB before becoming Chief Engineer at MG Cars from 1973 until his retirement in 1980. You just have to search for his name to see how widely he was regarded.
Don was co-opted onto the Council in September 1997 as one of two applicants for a vacancy that had occurred, and stayed a member until 2011.
The Times: Don Hayter obituary
Designer behind the MGB sports car which became a classic and sold all over the worldElsewhere, the picture is captioned as: Don Hayter (left) congratulates Alec Hounslow (right) on his retirement in early 1974. Hounslow was the foreman of M.G.’s development department, and the one-time riding mechanic to legendary racer Tazio Nuvolari. The car is the prototype of the right-hand drive MGB/GT V-8.]
Last December a colourful fleet of MGB sports cars drove past a care home in homage to the man inside who had played a key role in designing them.
Don Hayter was a member of the small British team who developed the two-seater that would become a design classic and symbolise the freedom of the roads. With streamlined styling, a powerful 1798cc engine and a top speed of 107mph, the MGB became a popular model here and overseas. By 1963 the British Motor Corporation’s Plant at Abingdon, in Oxfordshire, was turning out almost 600 a week.
Hayter helped to conceive, draw, plan and develop the various versions of the MGB, starting with the soft-top (the fixed roof was introduced in 1965). When safety legislation could have killed off the car, he modified its design; and when the US introduced new regulations, he again redesigned the car without losing any of its status. Special models were built, racing cars were developed, and in 1989 Stirling Moss (obituary, April 12, 2020) drove one into third place in the Pirelli Classic Marathon.
The MGB’s status was enhanced when it featured in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). The singer Geri Halliwell spent her first pay cheque as a Spice Girl on an orange MGB roadster before eventually giving it away at a charity auction; many years later her husband, Christian Horner, principal of the Red Bull Formula One team, tracked it down and, to her delight, bought it back for her.
Wherever he went in the world, Hayter recalled his pride at seeing MGBs “in such wonderful condition”, adding: “They are better than when they left the factory in a lot of cases.”
Donald Hayter was born in Maidenhead in 1926, the son of Edgar, a police inspector, and his wife Amy (née Brewer), who worked in a munitions factory.
Young Don was educated at Abingdon Grammar School, Oxfordshire, and was awarded a scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford. However, with it being wartime he instead went into an apprenticeship in aircraft design at the Pressed Steel Company in Cowley, working on several models including the Avro Lancaster. “The first curvy thing I drew was a 500lb bomb nose,” he recalled.
After the war he migrated to cars, creating engineering drawings from a scale model of what would become the Magnette ZA. He drew the doors, tail-lamps and interior panels.
In 1954 Hayter joined Aston Martin in Feltham, west London, as a draughtsman. “One of my first jobs was to design a new front-end radiator shape for the DB2/4, which was to become the Mk3,” he wrote. When Aston Martin moved to Newport Pagnell in 1956, he joined MG’s design office at Abingdon. As well as developing the MGB, he was also charged with making the MGA coupé’s design production-ready and styling that model’s final run at Le Mans. “Syd [Enever, MG’s chief engineer] gave me the job to draw up a lower, streamlined roof that used the same windscreen,” he said. “That was the last and fastest Le Mans MGA, as driven by Ted Lund.”
When Abingdon closed in 1979 Hayter returned to the Pressed Steel Company, transforming the Honda Ballade into the Triumph Acclaim, before taking early retirement in 1982. That year he married Mary (née Haythorthwaite), who survives him with two stepchildren, Simon and Sue. He is also survived by two children from a previous marriage that was dissolved: Alison and Ian, a logistics administrator for Miele.
Hayter regularly attended events in his own racing-green MGB GT V8 and served in 2001 as honorary vice-president of the MG Car Club. He also travelled the world giving talks about the MGB and wrote Those Were the Days (2012), packed with design sketches, photographs and reminiscences of the MG design office.
In retirement Hayter became involved in manufacturing medical equipment, later learning that the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford needed an engineer to design products for people with disabilities.
“I designed a wheelchair installation with a foot control for a 30-year-old guy who only had motor control of his right foot,” he told Hemmings Motor News. “He’d never been independent before, but once he got that chair, he wore it out in a fortnight. That was one of the best jobs you can have, helping people like that.”
Don Hayter, designer and engineer, was born on January 24, 1926. He died on October 9, 2020, aged 94
The Telegraph: Don Hayter, engineer who played a crucial role in the creation of the MGB sports car – obituary
He took the famous vehicle from design concept to showroom and saw it become an enduring symbol of the Sixties and Seventies
Donald Hayter, who has died aged 94, was more than a motor engineer – he was the embodiment of the golden era of post-war British automotive engineering, and a key figure in the design and development of the MGB soft-top roadster.
The MGB was the best-selling model MG (Morris Garages) ever produced; more than half a million of the cars were sold worldwide and it was also manufactured in Australia.
From its 1960s sales as part of the British Motor Corporation, to a sad demise under the British Leyland banner, the MGB and its MGB GT coupé derivative fashionably defined British engineering excellence.
Famous MGB owners included Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Pierre Trudeau, Sharon Stone, Sting and Margaret Thatcher.
As part of the MG design team, Don Hayter was the man who engineered the MGB into reality – taking it from design-concept sketch to showroom car. With 1950s MG design led by the Rhodesian car styling genius Gerald Palmer, MG was on a high and, after joining in February 1956 Hayter revelled in MG’s success: he spent more than 30 years with the company and was to become the last chief design and development engineer at MG before the company’s demise in 1980.
MG’s mid-1950s design and engineering team was led by chief engineer Syd Enever, and included Jim O’Neill, Terence Mitchell, Roy Brocklehurst, Eric Carter, Alec Hounslow, Harry Herring and Peter Neal.
Don Hayter’s career at MG started under Enever, who gave Hayter the task of taking the prototype of an MGA Coupé to production. Despite severe financial and design constrictions, Hayter designed a new, aerodynamic roof, and the car became the final and fastest MGA to run at Le Mans, driven by Edward Lund.
However much he was lauded, Hayter was always keen to remind people that Syd Enever was the MGB’s engineering leader and that the MGB was ground-breaking in design terms.
MG, and its famous 1950s-1960s Competitions Department, raced cars in America, and in European rallies: Hayter was an MG team support driver on many of these forays.
In the MG EX-181 streamlined land-speed racer prototype – which Stirling Moss took to 245mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1957 – lay the origins of the MGB’s shape, which Hayter developed into the production car.
In the 1950s many cars used a separate body mounted on to a chassis, but MG built the first of its all-in-one monocoque, chassis-less car bodies for its Magnette saloon, and then developed the idea further via Hayter’s and Roy Brocklehurst’s joint development work into the MGB’s ultra-strong monocoque body.
Following encouragement from MG’s managing director John Thornley, who had an interest in aerodynamics, the new MGB launched in 1962 used the one-piece self-supporting body which Hayter engineered using aviation techniques and wing design ideas.
This made the MGB body both wind-cheating and very stiff; the technique also allowed the designing-in of a softer, front crumple-zone as a new safety feature which few car makers had then considered or even researched. Safety was a key engineering discipline for Hayter and for MG.
Don Hayter was extremely proud of the MGB’s strength and crash safety and later insisted that: “This stood us in good stead when the 1970s American safety rules came in, because the MGB was exceptionally strong from the start.”
Hayter did not just engineer the MGB’s overall design into production reality; he also contributed to its shape and designed some of its key features including the dashboard and the alloy windscreen frame. Use of aircraft-style light alloy in the body was suggested by Hayter but it proved to be soft and few early MGB owners knew that their alloy bonnets had hidden wooden supports to stop the metal bending.
Born in Oxfordshire on January 24 1926, Hayter was the son of a local policeman and was educated at Abingdon Grammar School. He won the Bennett Scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford, after which he joined the Pressed Steel Company at nearby Cowley in 1942 as an aircraft engineering apprentice. There he worked on aircraft production engineering for the war effort.
He attended Oxford Technical College and attained a Higher National Certificate in metallurgy and engineering. Post-war, Pressed Steel Ltd designed and supplied body panels for major car marques including Jaguar; Hayter said he was captivated by the curves of the Jaguar XK120 and these inspired him to focus on car design.
By 1952 he had secured a draughtsman’s role with Aston Martin at Feltham, working on the early DB2 series and the Lagonda. When Aston Martin moved north from London to Newport Pagnell, Hayter moved back to Oxfordshire and MG in 1956 as chief draughtsman.
Originally part of a small team at MG’s new Abingdon-upon-Thames engineering base, Hayter joined MG just as the MGA model was being further developed: he worked on the MGA Twin Cam high performance development, and on the EX-series land-speed record cars.
As the new MGB and MGB GT and the later MGC Lightweight cars as MG’s last racers, were all evolved, Hayter developed the cars and made the MGB meet the new 1974 American safety legislation, most notably with stronger bumpers. His solution was better than those of most other car-makers and was typical of his ability to solve engineering problems quickly and elegantly.
Appointed to succeed Roy Brocklehurst as chief engineer at MG in 1973, Hayter experienced the machinations then rampant inside British Leyland and saw MG starved of funds by Donald Stokes and denied proposed new designs and new engines – these being given to MG’s internal rivals inside the British Leyland edifice.
Contrary to British Leyland’s industrial unrest and proven Trotskyist and Communist activities in the Morris factory at nearby Cowley, MG’s men up the road at Abingdon had a good industrial relations record, yet MG was closed down and its famous name relegated to re-badged Austins.
Hayter thought that such events were the “death knell”. He retired in 1980, and after acting as consultant to the first Honda-Triumph car project collaboration, he turned his ever-active mind to improving the lot of disabled people by working as engineer to the Nuffield Orthopaedic concern.
There, he designed improvements to wheelchairs and equipment for patients at the Churchill Hospital who had limited control of their limbs and movements; previous problems with mobility were soon overcome.
An approachable character who enjoyed membership of the Oxford Wine Circle, he loved fine red wines. In retirement, Hayter built his own, unique MGB V8 roadster. Latterly he toured the world lecturing on the history of MG cars and was appointed as honorary vice-president of the MG Car Club in 2001. He told of his life at MG in the book Don Hayter’s MGB Story, published in 2012 (below).
Earlier this year, as Hayter’s health failed, MG Car Club members visited him at his care home in Witney, crowding the car park with MGBs in tribute.
He is survived by his wife Mary, and by their daughter and son.
Don Hayter, born January 24 1926, died October 9 2020
- Classic & Sports Car Magazine
- Classic & Sports Car Magazine Feature
- The Drive
- MG Owners Club
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