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Modern Classic - Steve Harper Interview

Modern Classic - Steve Harper Interview

Thu 24th March 2016

In late 2015 Keith Adams of Modern Classic interviewed Steve Harper in his Studio about this past...

Designer workplace - Exterior Styling Studio 1979

Having trained as a Technical Apprentice for Austin Morris at Longbridge, Birmingham, Steve Harper had always planned to work his way into the Styling Studio, by teaching himself to render and sketch in his own time. 

This paid off in late 1977, after an interview with Rex Fleming and the Styling Studio design management, when he was given the opportunity to spend a 3 months internship, under the guidance of Chief Designer Harris Mann. 

This was then followed by further periods in both Exterior & Interior Studios, up to September 1979, when Steve began his studies at the Royal College of Art. 

Even in between semesters and after the RCA, when he was employed as a Junior Designer, he remained as part of the Longbridge Styling Team, until the studio was moved to the new Austin Rover Styling facility at Canley, Coventry, in late 1982. 

Shown here are some of the varied projects that took place, in addition to the major projects of Metro, Maestro & Montego during that period. 

The first image shows a collection of pre RCA sketches circa 1979. 

The Mini was 20 years old in 1979, and the 2 Special Edition cars, in silver and rose metallic had a commemorative badge designed by Steve.There were also a number of other Mini projects at this time, including an Aero Mini, which had a very notable roof and ‘Elvis Collar’ rear spoiler combination, which was complimented by a deep spoiler under the front bumper, seen here as a clay model under development.

The final image in the Mini collection, was a photograph taken in the Longbridge Plant Fire Station, at a time when BL was in negotiations to sell the Mini tooling to India. The sales pitch for the Mini Pick-Up was that it could seat a total of 8 people. So designers: Adrian Griffiths, Steve Harper and Clay Modellers: Geoff Beachim, Bob Machin, Ken Edwards & Alan Gee were shoe-horned into a car to prove the point. Finally donning Paper towel “Turban’s” to add some jollity to the occasion. 

In 1980, the Austin Allegro was still very much BL’s volume seller, and as well as being involved in the Allegro 2 facelift programme, there were also some design programmes for a number of special editions, to stimulate customer sales options. 

Initially produced as graphical design sketches, and later mocked up on actual cars, 2 of the designs are shown here.

The first was the ‘LE’, which was identified by a chosen design of a simple set of graduated horizontal stripes and logo on either the Tara Green or Astral Blue metallic 4 door 1500cc cars. This was the first ever piece of design by Steve Harper to go into production. It did well for the first limited Edition, in fact, Steve was surprised to discover that even his father bought one.

The second was for the Allegro Equipe. A 2 door 1750cc sport version, inspired by Steve’s own car. Shown here mocked up as a broad horizontal stripe, but later replaced by the infamous distinctive ‘Hockey Stick’ graphics by designer Tom Owen. 

Before the Metro received its first of many facelifts, there was always an opportunity to suggest a reskin. The orange coloured concept sketch, produced in 1982, showed an awareness of Aerodynamic style, which would later be seen on the ECV3 advance technology concept car. 

After the Montego programme, the initial concept work for the Rover 800 (Project XX) was carried out at both the Longbridge and Solihull Styling Studios. Here is one of many Steve Harper sketches from mid 1982.