Classic Car Designer Of The Day looks at a famous designer in the automotive world and examines their success. John Polwhele Blatchley came from an aeronautical engineering background and he made a name for himself with Rolls-Royce. Blatchley created cars like the Bentley Mark VI and Roll-Royce Silver Dawn. He was a phenomenal British designer and earned his place as one of the greatest of all time.
Blatchley was born in Hendon in 1913 and at twelve-years-old he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. This kept him bedridden for three years, though he kept himself occupied by sketching car designs and building models. Blatchley failed his entrance exams to Cambridge University, so his parents sent him to the Chelsea School of Engineering and then to Regent Street Polytechnic.
Car design career
As a student, Blatchley’s talent was recognised by A. F. McNeil of J Gurney Nutting & Co Limited. McNeil became his mentor and hired Blatchley when he graduated in 1935. The young designer started at Gurney Nutting by preparing concept drawings for customer approval. At the age of twenty-three he replaced McNeil as Chief Designer after his mentor left Gurney for James Young & Co.
Blatchley was unable to fight during WW2 because of a heart problem, which meant he was moved to Rolls-Royce Aero Design in Nottinghamshire. He was put in charge of the Merlin engines found in Hurricane and Spitfire fighter planes and he described the work as “intensely boring.”
At the end of the war, Rolls-Royce’s car division had prepared a postwar vehicle with a factory-supplied bodywork. Blatchley refined the new body’s design and added a passenger compartment. This design first appeared on the 1946 Bentley Mark VI and went on to be used for the 1949 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn.
In 1951, the Styling Office became a separate department and Blatchley became Chief Styling Engineer. After moving to the Crewe factory, he assumed responsibility of Park Ward coachwork. Development of new models continued, but Blatchley’s designs were rejected for being too modern. In the space of a week, Blatchley produced a completely new concept and the board accepted it on the spot. This design became the Silver Cloud.
The final car Blatchley was associated with before his retirement was the Silver Shadow. Changes in management style frustrated him and it led to him retiring in 1969 at the age of 55.
His deputy Bill Allen recalled Blatchey’s leadership. “I had only five bosses during my career of 49 years and John was the best. He had that quality of leadership which tends to defy analysis; once I saw this described as ‘the art that conceals the art’. Whatever problems he had with those superior in rank to him were never allowed to disturb the even temperament and quiet confidence with which he dealt with us.”