Sunday 8th September 1963
Maurice Wilks (59), the automotive engineer responsible for the inspiration and concept work that led to the development of the Land Rover off-road utility vehicle, died. At the time of his death he was the chairman of the Rover Company. Born in 1904 Maurice Carey Wilks was educated at Malvern and gained his initial experience of the motor industry with General Motors, for whom he worked for two years from 1926. From America he moved to the Hillman Motor Car Co. at Coventry, where he worked as a planning engineer for a further two years. In 1930 he joined the Rover Company as chief engineer, which position he held until he was made technical director in 1946. In 1960 he was appointed managing director of the Rover company, and in 1962 he became chairman. This position suited him as he could devote more of his time to engineering policy rather than day-to-day management. In 1930 with his brother, Spencer, who was then managing-director, he was largely responsible for taking the decision to produce only high quality cars.The boldness of his decision can be appreciated when it is remembered that the economy of the country and the industry in particular was at this time at a low ebb. During the war he headed the Rover team responsible for the development of the first production version of the gas-turbine aircraft engine. He was convinced that gas turbines would eventually play an important role as power units for wheeled vehicles.His foresight led the Rover Company to continue this development after the war and resulted in the first gas-turbine car being produced by the Rover Company in 1949. At this time he was a moving spirit in the development of the Motor Industries Research Establishment proving ground which ultimately became of such value to the industry as a whole. The decision to produce the Land Rover was also that of Maurice Wilks, in conjunction with his brother. Essentially a quiet, shy, studious man he shunned publicity and preferred to remain in the background. He had a brilliant knowledge of engineering detail and was regarded as one of the industry’s outstanding engineers, In addition, he had great boldness and the ability to foresee the requirements of his company for years ahead.