Malcolm Sayer

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Malcolm Gilbert Sayer
Born21 May 1916
Cromer, Norfolk, England
Died22 April 1970 (1970-04-23) (aged 53)
Leamington Spa, England
EducationLoughborough College
Notable work
E-Type Jaguar

Malcolm Sayer (21 May 1916 – 22 April 1970) was an aircraft engineer during wartime and later automotive aerodynamist. His most notable aerodynamic work being partly responsible for the engineering body development of the E-Type Jaguar and early style guidelines for Jaguar XJS.[1] He spent the last twenty years of his life working at Jaguar Cars and was one of the first engineers to apply principles of aircraft streamline aero function to cars.

Early life and education[edit]

Sayer was born in Cromer, Norfolk.[1] He was educated at Great Yarmouth Grammar School (where his father taught Maths and Art). At age 17 he won the prestigious Empire Scholarship and attended at Loughborough College (later Loughborough University) in its Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering, earning first class honours.[1]

Early career[edit]

He worked for the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the Second World War, which exempted him from conscription by way of reserved occupation protection.

Sayer traveled to Iraq in 1948 to work at Baghdad University where he was to establish the Faculty of Engineering, which on arrival he found not to be a realistic venture.[1] While in Iraq he reportedly met a German professor who helped him recognise the mathematical relationship to curve shapes and identity.[2] He worked instead maintaining the fleet of government vehicles. He returned to the UK in late 1950.

Career at Jaguar[edit]

Sayer applied for an engineering position at Jaguar. He was interviewed by William Heynes Chief Engineer (1935) and Technical Director (1946). Heynes who had a mathematics honours degree recognised Sayers' aerodynamic mathematical approach and also importantly Heynes had been involved during wartime with aircraft production and was familiar with aircraft fuselage alloy construction. Sayer started work at Jaguar Cars Engineering drawing office in early 1951. He described himself as an industrial designer and artist.[citation needed] He loathed the term 'stylist',[2] saying he was not a hairdresser.

His aerodynamic work under the guidance of Heynes at Jaguar concentrated on racing car air flow design. He assisted in the aero design of the competition cars during the 1950s

His prime concern was that a car body 'worked' both aerodynamically and visually. Some of his particular contributions were the introduction of slide rule and seven-figure log tables to work out formulae he invented for drawing curves, work which is now undertaken by complex Computer Aided Design software.[2][3]

Sayer's first aero contribution for a sports racing Jaguar was successful and the C-Type won Le Mans in 1951 and 1953. (Sayers 1952 long tail with lower frontal nose was not successful) The C Type overall design was the work of William Heynes with body structure, frame, suspension, mechanical, and engine design was the responsibility of William Heynes, R J (Bob) Knight T C Jones. The C-Type has been lauded for its beauty and is still considered one of the world's most desirable car models.[1][2]

To surpass the C-Type, Sayer assisted with the development of the D-Type Jaguar as aerodynamist. The new to racing body alloy tub monocoque structure, was designed by Heynes and the engineering team of Knight Jones Emmerson Bailey who designed and developed the full car which was one of the most successful racing cars of all time, winning Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957.[1] On the Mulsanne Straight, D-Type could achieve a speed of 192.4 mph (309.6 km/h).

Heynes and the engineering team later commenced design and development in 1957 for the Jaguar E-Type which was launched to world acclaim in Geneva March 1961, the icon of 1960s motoring. Even today, many of the design elements associated with the E-Type Jaguar can be found on the company's cars. The long bonnet, haunches over the rear wheels and the stance are all features incorporated into Jaguar's XK8 coupe designed by the late design director Geoff Lawson, which have continued on in the current Jaguar line-up by his successor Ian Callum.

In 1965, Sayer developed the body aero style for Jaguar XJ13, a mid-engined Jaguar sports racing car that was intended for competition at Le Mans. Cost constraints and a rule change at Le Mans meant the XJ-13 was never driven in international competition, but it exemplified all of the classical Sayer sophistication in aerodynamics as his earlier work. In 1971 the XJ 13 prototype was brought out of storage to help promote the new V12 E-Type when it was largely written off in a major crash. The car was rebuilt in 1972/73 albeit with changes from the original — losing some of the classic lines in the process.

In 1967 following his work on XJ13 Sayer commenced early style proposals for William Heynes for an E Type replacement, later (XJ27) with modifications to evolve as the V 12-cylinder Jaguar XJS in 1975. The XJS never perhaps achieved the same iconic status as the E-Type, but it was acclaimed for its Heynes / Hassan / Knight designed V12 performance and comfort, luxury and grandeur as a grand tourer. The XJS remained in production for 21 years (1975-1996).

Personal life and death[edit]

Sayer married Pat Morgan in 1947. They had three children: daughter Kate (born 1948), son John (born 1953) and daughter Mary (born 1956).[4]

He was a watercolourist and musician,[2] playing piano, guitar and other instruments.

He suffered a fatal heart attack outside Parkside Garage,[citation needed] next to the Regent Hotel in Leamington Spa, one month before his 54th birthday.

Honours and awards[edit]

A memorial plaque to him was unveiled at Loughborough University on 21 May 2005.[5]

On 24 May 2008 a plaque was unveiled at his birthplace on Cromer, and another at Great Yarmouth Grammar school.[6]

A blue plaque dedicated to him was unveiled on 28 April 2010 at Portland Place (his last address) in Leamington Spa.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Loughborough graduate and designer of E-Type Jaguar honoured". Loughborough University.
  2. ^ a b c d e Glancey, Jonathan (5 June 2013). "Jaguar: Malcolm Sayer - the man behind the curves". BBC. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  3. ^ Vettraino, J.P. (2 May 2011). "England Swung". AutoWeek. 61 (9): 41.
  4. ^ "Malcom Sayer Biography". Malcolm Sayer Foundation. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  5. ^ "Loughborough graduate and designer of E-type Jaguar honoured". Loughborough University. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Commemorative Plaques Guidance Pt1" (PDF). English Heritage. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  7. ^ "Blue Plaque Scheme". Leamington Spa Town Council. Retrieved 19 January 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cole, Lance (2017). "Chapter 5: Malcolm Who? Malcolm Sayer – from Bristol to Baghdad and Back to Browns Lane". The Classic Car Adventure: Driving Through History on the Road to Nostalgia. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Transport. ISBN 9781473896413.

External links[edit]